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Software Quality Begins At The Top

sidebar to: Quality First. -- We asked software executives, some by E-mail, what they're doing to improve software quality. Here are excerpts from their responses.
We asked software executives, some by E-mail, what they're doing to improve software quality. Below are excerpts from their responses:

Bill Gates, Microsoft chairman: [The memo outlining the "trustworthy computing" initiative] isn't the first memo on this subject. People don't get this memo and say, "Oh, security, how do you spell that?" Rather, it's empowering the people who have been championing that and making it clear that they're right about where it should be prioritized, and highlighting some of the progress we've made. Then we direct some of the product groups so that security expertise isn't just for the 15% of the group who like to think about that stuff. It's 100% of the engineers.

Scott McNealy, Sun Microsystems CEO: For us, it's less about improvement and more about innovation. We're working on the next generation of systems that will open the door to new levels of security. ... It helps that we've never built a standalone system. Everything we've done has been designed for the network. Security and reliability had to be key considerations from the get-go, not something we woke up to years later. ... In Solaris 9, we're introducing Intelligent Configuration Services, which improves the facilities that software providers can use to integrate their products with the operating environment. ... We've seen a 78% reduction in customer-service calls.

Bob Beauchamp, BMC Software CEO: We developed an entire team of staff dedicated to ensuring that our software is up to par. VPs in our R&D department meet one-on-one with [quality-assurance] team members on a regular basis to discuss best practices and areas of possible improvement. ... When customer questions and comments come in through our support line, the details are tracked in an extensive matrix. We regularly evaluate that matrix to establish where and why they have problems so we can immediately provide suggestions and alter products to prevent similar glitches in the future. The analysis we conduct on the support matrix is directly linked to our employee compensation plans so our R&D teams are well motivated to produce quality products.

Bernard Liautaud, Business Objects CEO: We stress-test our products by going above and beyond what our own customers would do, in terms of the numbers of concurrent users, volumes of data, and platforms they run on. ... We hired a former executive from one of our customers to be a consultant in our R&D organization. ... We use an outside firm to measure customer satisfaction on a quarterly basis, and ... attach a portion of every employee's compensation to our customer-satisfaction results.

Sanjay Kumar, Computer Associates CEO: We've listened to our customers and created programs to involve customers more closely in the development process. We've expanded our beta-test programs, and we've adopted a common development methodology. ... CA became the first and only global enterprise software company to meet the standards for worldwide ISO 9002 certification. ... One advantage of our not doing any major acquisitions in the last two years is that has given us the ability to focus R&D resources on quality and innovation.

Bruce Chizen, Adobe Systems CEO: In late 1998, we put in place a "product life-cycle process," which meant that from product concept through delivery, things become much more clearly defined--what's alpha code, what's a beta, what's a release candidate. ... Previously, we weren't predictable in terms of knowing when a product was ready to go to market, and that was creating havoc on our financials. We were faced with a tough decision: Do we ship a product that was very buggy, or do we keep a product from going to market? We had the dilemma of managing the expectations of the Wall Street community vs. the expectations of our customers. There's still a little bit of an art to software development vs. science. So we've made it a little more scientific, but there's always going to be a question of whether the quality will be acceptable. Good enough for our customers is not acceptable.

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