Guest post by Ross Smith: Defect prevention in hard times

One our our free e-books available this month, in celebration of Microsoft Press’s 25th year of publishing, is The Practical Guide to Defect Prevention, by Marc McDonald, Robert Musson, and Ross Smith (along with Marc McDonald, Dan Bean, David Catlett, Lori Ada Kilty, and Joshua Williams). To coincide with that offering, Ross Smith (a Director of Test at Microsoft) has sent us some thoughts on the increasing importance of defect prevention in our development efforts:

Iron rusts from disuse; stagnant water loses its purity and in cold weather becomes frozen; even so does inaction sap the vigor of the mind.       —Leonardo da Vinci

Ross here. As the world hopefully begins its recovery from the economic crisis, here are a few reasons why now might be a good time to focus on employing defect prevention techniques. And please note that The Practical Guide to Defect Prevention is available as a free e-book download for another day or two!  🙂

As things have slowed over the last 6–9 months across a variety of industries, businesses have fewer customers, fewer employees, and face a more competitive landscape. The need for innovation, the need for higher quality, and lower costs rise dramatically as customer purse strings tighten.

Chapter 3 of The Practical Guide to Defect Prevention ( is titled "The Economics of Defect Prevention" and illustrates how an investment in defect prevention techniques can lead to cost savings. In particular, during the economic downturn, a business may have fewer customers, which would imply that the opportunity to optimize business processes would be higher, because the risk of customer dissatisfaction goes down with fewer customers. That said, it also implies that it's more critical than ever to get things right because what few customers one has might disappear.

April 2009 figures from the National Bureau of Labor Statistics show the unemployment rate at 8.9% Company layoffs have impacted almost every segment of the business world. Typically, companies have fewer employees today than they did a year ago. This fact alone emphasizes the need for process efficiency improvements. Investing in defect prevention techniques reduces the need for re-work, thereby reducing costs and allowing firms to do more with less.

The need for innovation and quality improvements also rises during hard times. Companies need to compete on more rigorous terms, and differentiation is a key strategy. As we describe in Chapter 3:

"Defect prevention changes the cost of capital requirements, allowing an organization to accept a different mix of projects. By using defect prevention techniques, an organization can invest in a different technology mix, including disruptive technologies that might otherwise be valued at below the cost of capital. Therefore, defect prevention not only saves money in the short term, it allows for long-term innovation and enables a company to invest in disruptive technologies."

While we like to think that any time is a good time to focus on defect prevention, there are many characteristics evident in today's economic conditions that point to an opportunity to experiment and refine new techniques that will lead to greater long term profitability. Some of this may be driven out of necessity, as investments in R&D or cash-hungry experiments are less likely in this climate, but as Plato taught us, "Necessity is the mother of invention."

Ross says he’ll be sending us more blog posts soon on efforts such as this: We look forward to more, Ross! Thanks!


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