Thursday, November 21, 2013

Acceptance criteria. A real life example.

Once, while travelling for business, I spent a couple of days in one of the most famous Italian art city. My staying was limited to a single night; anyhow my company booked me a 4 stars hotel. I knew that hotel classification in Italy goes to 1 to 5 stars. Therefore, I was more than pleased with the accommodation.
When I arrived at the hotel, I was a little bit puzzled. I genuinely thought to have entered through the wrong door. The hall was disordered and gloomy, crowded with horrible knick-knacks and decorated with cheap paintings. The walls would have greatly benefited from a new coat of paint. Many couches, scattered around with no evident purpose, impeded the way toward the hotel’s bar, who, in turn, seemed to have run out of every kind of international drink.
The elevator would have been more at its place in a warehouse than in a high standard hotel. My room was a mix of heterogeneous old cheap furniture, and there were no tents on the window. The television was a very old and economic model of an unknown brand. The bathroom was small, without windows and enlightened by an undersized fluorescent lamp. There was a problem with the shower's hot water tap, and the sink drain was not working very well. The room was very clean, I have to admit it, But I consider this a prerogative more than a feature.
Obviously, my company had no fault, since they have based the hotel's choice on the high rating. 
I had to stay for just one night, and my schedule was very tight, so there was no point in searching another accommodation. Besides I can adapt myself to far worst situations than that.
Still, once at home, I remained with the curiosity to understand how such a terrible hotel could have been rated 4 stars out of 5.
So I searched for and eventually found on the internet the last Italian national regulation in matter of hotels rating. I read it…and finally understood. 
I won’t report the entire normative; I will just give some examples of characteristics that a room of a 4 stars hotel must possess in Italy.

Double Room
  • Surface of at least 15 squared meters.
  • Private bathroom (surface at least 4 square meters).
  • 1 double Bed, 2 bedside tables, 2 chairs, 1 small table, 1 armchair, 1 wardrobe, 1 mirror, 1 wastepaper basket, 2 bedside lamps, 1 stool.
  • Satellite television.
  • Phone and internet connection.
  • Safe.
  • Mini bar.

As I have previously reported, these are just a few excerpts from the normative, but I think that you will have got my point by now. 
We have a list of requirements…but how about their acceptance criteria and quality constraints?
We have prescriptions about the rooms' size and the number and the kind of necessary furniture pieces...but nothing about their quality, their age, their aspect.
There must be 2 chairs in the room, and they can be different. One of them could even be a plastic garden chair, for what concerns the normative.
The requirement about the television could be equally satisfied by a plasma monitor 65 inches wide or by an old 13 inches CRT. It is not even mandatory that television is equal in all rooms.
The list could continue.
I understand clearly now that the hotel in which I have been is, without any doubt, a 4 stars hotel. 
The lesson I learnt on that occasion is that quality is the essence of a project and that requirements and deliverables without quality and acceptance criteria, are almost useless and deceptive. More precisely, a lack of care in registering quality and acceptance criteria for each requirement or deliverable, could seriously impede the project execution, raising an abnormal quantity of quality issues. This situation will inevitably have a huge impact on the project constraints and stakeholders satisfaction.
Please take a look at Figure 3.

Figure 3.

On the horizontal axis, a qualitative representation of the delivered quality can be found, while on the vertical axis there is a qualitative representation of the expected quality. 
The violet line is the locus of point for which the delivered quality is equal to the expected one. 
Under the violet line, there is what I call the “waste area”, a zone where the delivered quality exceeds, without purpose, the quality expected by the project’s stakeholders. A project manager, who get caught in the “waste area”, is probably wasting resources that could be saved or used more profitably elsewhere. A long permanence in this area could lead to constraints issues.
Above the violet line, there is what I call the “disappointment area”, a zone where the delivered quality is below the quality expected by the project’s stakeholders. A long permanence in this area could lead to rework, quality issues and, more generally, to problem in getting along with the project’s stakeholders.
In both cases, the implications and repercussions of a project manager’s deviation from the violet line are obviously proportional to the deviance's magnitude.
Inside the dotted rectangle, there is what I call the “safe area”, that is the locus of point for whom the delivered and expected quality, although not alike, can be considered satisfactory from all the project’s stakeholders. This area is generated by registering quality and acceptance criteria for each requirement and/or deliverable. It is a zone where the project manager can safely exchange quality with satisfaction, causing no harm. Understanding clearly the “safe area” position and extension can prevent a lot of problems and incomprehension or, in the worst cases, it can help the project manager in foreseeing them and in dealing with them.
Please, note that if criteria have not been registered, the “safe area” still exists, only that in this case there is no accordance about its extension and its position in the graph by all the project’s stakeholders.
A project manager must, of course, pay close attention to the fact that the acceptance and quality criteria be quantitative and measurable. Otherwise, they could be useless and deceptive too.  
So, every time you collect or express a requirement for a project, please be careful. Pay great attention to the quality of your solutions.
Otherwise, you could end up delivering an old 13 inches CRT instead of the new plasma screen expected by your stakeholders, or a Luigi XVI sofa where a plastic garden chair would have done the job.

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