Re: Quality/validation

Subject: Re: Quality/validation
From: Charles Good <good -at- AUR -dot- ALCATEL -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 31 Jan 1996 23:54:15 GMT

I think it is possible to determine the accuracy of document content
and to note any deficiencies such as overlooked topics. It is also
possible to grade documentation based on the number of spelling
and punctuations errors found, or the number of incorrect steps,
or the number of incorrect references, etc.

However, most quality systems are based on being able to measure
something exactly and compare it against a recognized benchmark
(which should NOT be your competitor's offering). The problem
you run into with documentation is so much of the quality aspect
is subjective. It's partially dependent on style, layout design,
quality of illustrations, usefulness of tables, etc. These
characteristics are harder to define as measurable parameters.

In addition, quality deals with repeatable processes and controllable
environments. However, if there is little automation and a lot of
human creativity involved, then the process becomes less exact.
A writer's mental and physical health affect his or her productivity
and level of quality. Even the person reviewing the documentation
in the quality/validation process must be considered susceptible to
personal values and preferences, as well as being vulernable to
biorythms and general health. Neither the writer nor the reviewer
are machines that can be monitored to determine peak efficiency
periods when they will do their best work. Therefore, can a human
being become an instrument for measuring quality of a subjective
product? Doubtful.

Soooo... Quality of documentation is subjective and since quality
is defined (nowadays) by your customers, I doubt you could even
get a concensus among your various customers as what constitutes
quality documentation. At best, they will make some generic statement
like, "we want it accurate, easy to use, and portable". Unfortunately,
those types of qualities are difficult to qualify in terms of measurable
parameters that will yield meaningful trend data for continuous improvement
of quality.

On the other hand, validation is much simplier because it deals
mostly with something either being right or wrong, or something
is either documented or missing.

Anytime you start to use validation as a sign of quality, you
invite the guardians of semantics and philosophy to challenge
your methodology and terminology.


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