Articles · · 4 min read

The four categories of product quality (and design) health

Adding quality factors products and services that help teams make decisions around quality, and tracking the effectiveness of those decisions

In my experience, lots of theoretical models get introduced and fail to deliver on their promise. The same can be said of a discipline like design. It's not all bad, but in the following section, I'm hoping to evoke senses of accomplishment with your progress, concern for new challenges, and curiosity to try new things.

Whether or not you call yourself a designer, design has really been all the rage over the last 10-15 years. We sold our colleagues, companies, and industries on the idea that designing and having designers was a competitive advantage. They totally believed us.

Not only are design resources, methodologies, personalities, and best practices commonplace, they’re commonplace in places they rarely were just a few years ago, for example in business periodicals, boardrooms, and journalism.

Design executives with titles like Chief Design Officers, VPs of Design, Heads of Design are no longer rare. Over two hundred and fifty thousand designers are making a living doing this work. That is tremendous, tremendous progress. Celebrating this progress is so important to feel energized and courageous. Why? Because you’re going to need both to keep going.

While the number of companies employing senior design leaders has doubled, the large majority of executives have indicated that design is not reaching its full potential. While we focus so much on not being seen or perceived as reaching our potential, we fail to recognize the makeup of the 90%.

When I look at the majority of boardrooms, the makeup of C-Suites, or at those in leadership positions, not much has changed in the last 10, 15, or 20 years. Yes, we now have great examples of leaders who challenge the norm, but by and large, that 90% is still the same voices and profiles. The same behaviors and beliefs. The same decisions and policies. The same old definition of what value is–money.

The current models of OKRs and KPIs have not changed how business gets done. The silly thing is, all business rules are made up. Someone just made them up, and they can easily be written with the right amount of motivation.

One of the most powerful ways CDO School alumni are movtivating business change is by introducing POKRs. POKRs adds an additional element (perspectives) to a traditional OKR methodology, creating a logical, cause-and-effect connection between strategic objectives.

POKRs stands for perspectives, objectives and key results.

We pronounce it as the letters "P-O-K-R," but as you'll see later, it's totally appropriate to also pronounce it as "poker".

The POKR framework is a goal-setting methodology to help individuals, teams, and organizations define measurable goals. The framework is all about adding the quality factors that different individuals or teams think about when making decisions so they can intentionally track and measure those factors.

When teams are discussing quality, everyone has an idea or opinion of what that means. It's totally healthy and valid for colleagues to share their thoughts and beliefs. But, when teams are trying to track and measure quality, WAY too much emphasis is placed on metrics that are in service to the company, not the customer. Most of the objectives and measures teams use to measure success don't tell the story of why a customer is satisfied, why they continue to engage, if engagement is healthy for the customer, if the product is meeting accessibility needs, etc.

We also know that information exists though! It exists in research, in reports, inside design teams, in the heads of subject matter experts… it exists in lots of places. It exists in the preferred languages of those who have it. In order to be heard, it needs to exist in the love languages our colleagues receive.

POKRs is a new way to talk about desirability in a language our colleagues can understand.

What is desirable?

This is one of the first questions I ask when I work with a company, consult with teams, or mentor leaders.

I have yet to ask this question and get the same answer twice. Within an organization, this lack of consistency puts designers, researchers, content friends, and teams into difficult situations. Business partners expect to get the same answer to this question from every designer in a company. Why? Because designers are ambassadors of desirability for their organization.

Time and time again, I see designers and researchers on the same team or in the same organization give different interpretations of what makes their product or service desirable. This confuses business partners and makes them believe desirability is subjective—and therefore unworthy of trust in decision-making.

How do we fix this situation? In my experience, the tools we use to conduct our analysis and develop insights are too complex to share with business partners. If you find yourself explaining what you do over and over again, that's a big red flag that you need to adjust your communication style. Journey Maps, Service Blueprints, and research reports are incredibly powerful and useful, but they don’t directly show our colleagues how improving an experience leads to objectives and goals for adoption.

When it comes to talking about desirability, there is often a major communication gap. Product teams, stakeholders, and executive leadership struggle to connect the dots between desirability and viability.

Quality factors may include accessibility, ease, equity, beauty, sustainability, etc. For example, perspectives give us a model to pose a question like, “What does accessibility have to do with adoption?” so we can intentionally set metrics for both to get close to an answer.

At CDO School, we examine the four perspectives for Business Health (Financial, Customer, Operations, and Learning & growth), but introduce four new categories of Product Quality Health. While we teach our students how to create these categories, the perspectives we most commonly start with are:

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