Why Are We in Business?

When I look at my work in software testing, I find myself at the intersection of three disciplines:

  • Technology
  • Philosophy
  • Business

I have business training, with a focus on technology. Sometimes I forget about the business, and focus on testing ideas, technology concerns, and following a process. As a tester, I think about the product, and its impact on users, but I forget about what really keeps us in business: the sale of a product or service. Whether a product might be saleable or not might be a testing question we should ask.

It matters not a whit what our process is if we aren’t bringing in as much or more money than our business is shelling out. I have seen fabulous execution of software development processes in companies that went under. I’ve also seen completely chaotic development environments in wildly successful companies. What was the secret? One group focused on sales, on making the product easy to use, and really listened to the customer. In the end, the difference between the development teams having a job or not did not come down to technology or process decisions, but whether the company could sell the product.

Technology, process and engineering considerations are useful to the extent that they help the company feed the bottom line. If a process helps us deliver a product that customers are happy with, then great. However, we need to be careful on what we are measuring. We need to look at the big picture, and not be self-congratulating because of adherence to our favorite process. If the company isn’t making enough money, it simply won’t matter. In time we’ll be a project team looking for work, lamenting about how great our process was at the last company we were at.

As Deming said, everyone within a company is responsible for quality. I also believe we are all responsible for the company’s success in the market. Focusing only on engineering, technology and process may not help if we are a company that can’t sell our products, and can’t satisfy and impress a customer. If we reward employees for adherence to a process, how long will it take for those rewards to become more important than the goals of the business? At the heart of every business is this equation:

Revenue - Expenses == Profit

Without profits, the business will eventually cease to exist. In software development, it pays to keep this in mind. Too often we are distracted by details in our daily work, and forget the basics of business.