Re: What is quality?

Subject: Re: What is quality?
From: Charles Fisher <decrsc!charles -at- UUNET -dot- UU -dot- NET>
Date: Wed, 5 Jan 1994 16:53:34 -0500

Pam Tatge asks:

> So, if you were going to benchmark your documentation, who would
> you treat as the "industry leader" for documentation?

> I'm also wondering if it's necessary to restrict the comparison to
> the same industry. <<SNIP SNIP>>
> For documentation,
> could you consider "the industry" to be all companies that produce
> technical documentation?

> Anyway, who would you consider to be the benchmark?

Ahh, benchmarking...

I had to fight hard to stay out of this latest quality thread, but the "B"
word has forced me to throw in my $.02 worth. [BTW, I agree with most of
what everyone has said so far regarding measurements....]

Benchmarking is really a nebulous area of quality efforts, and a lot of people
are scared off by the mention of the word. Many people consider it to be
an "advanced" technique to use in quality efforts, but here at Datatel, we
get into it during the second day of our quality training sessions (somewhere
around late morning, after the coffee kicks in...).

Anyway, back to your questions. If I were going to look for an industry
leader in documentation, I'd get my hands on some of the manuals that won the
top awards at the international level of the STC publications competition.
These documents have been scrutinized over and over again, and they have
won the right to enter the international level of the competition by winning
top honors at a local chapter competition. The manuals that win the big
awards at international are truly the top of the top.

There are other potential sources for benchmark candidates as well. One thing
we do here is to ask our clients about software that they feel has excellent
documentation. If a certain product's documentation keeps popping up, we
at least give it a look.

Another source is the documentation from any of your direct competitors. If
you can get your hand on these documents, you can perform an in-house
evaluation and compare it against your own.

As far as finding someone in the same industry, I think that you might need
to stay in the technical documentation realm, but you could definitely
venture outside of the hardware environment. You could even safely look
outside the computer environment: think about things like auto/motorcycle
repair manuals, for instance. A quality team here at Datatel that was
assessing our release delivery process chose LL Bean and Domino's Pizza as
benchmark candidates for the process of order fulfilment. The idea is to
boil down your process to look at and compare your essential system to the
essential system that another company uses.

I won't get into the details of techniques for benchmarking (If I did, this
message would be tooooo long for anyone to withstand), but I want to emphasize
that the process of benchmarking is used to help you set your goals for
process improvement. If you only want to be as good as your clients want,
then set your goals to be as good as what your clients think is good. If
you want to beat the competition, however, you've got to benchmark them to
determine how good they are so that you can perform better. Lastly, although
the existing industry leaders might offer some valuable ideas and insights,
you probably shouldn't launch a full-scale benchmark of a current industry
leader unless your company's goal is to be the new industry leader (with the
financial backing necessary to take them on).

There. I've gotten that urge to respond satisfied for a while. As always,
comments, refinements, etc. are welcomed, both public and private.


"No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else's draft."
-H.G. Wells


Charles Fisher
Senior Documentation Specialist
Program Manager/President-Elect, STC Washington DC Chapter

Datatel, Inc.
4375 Fair Lakes Court
Fairfax, VA 22033
(703) 968-4588 (voice)
(703) 968-4625 (FAX)
charles -at- datatel -dot- com

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