Quality is Personal

 Posted by on May 11, 2011  Add comments
May 112011

My friend Gadi got himself an FN Automatic Rifle. I, on the other hand, picked the Uzi submachine gun. Both of us were content with our choices. Gadi liked the superior range of the FN. I, on the other hand, was going for the reliability of the Uzi in desert conditions. I was still traumatized by my experience with the FN six years earlier during the paratroop raid on Umm Qatef in the Six-Day War [1] – the rifle choked on me in the sands of the Sinai desert. Other than potentially serving as a kind of a club, it was completely useless after I fired a few shots in anger.

We were hastily picking and assembling our gear then at the depot in which the battalion was assembling upon the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War. As it turned out, the Uzi served me well through the war. Among other episodes, it worked flawlessly during an Egyptian helicopter attack on the bridgehead over the Suez canal on the third day of the crossing. You can actually see me radiating jubilance on the left of defense minister Dayan in the bottom left picture below. I don’t know that I am actually the one who got the low flying chopper down – every soldier and his grandmother in the beachhead were firing at it. But, I can assure you I never fired so many bullets in such a short time. As far as I was concerned the Uzi was priceless – it worked admirably well when I needed it.

Source: Brig. General (res) Arie Braun, “Moshe Dayan and the Yom Kippur War,” Edanim Publishers Ltd, 1992 (Hebrew), pp. 176-177.

The reason I bring up this episode from previous life is to highlight a key lesson I learned many years later from colleague and friend Jim Highsmith – quality is personal. I, of course, did not have a grasp on the fine points of quality back then in 1973, but unbeknown to me I experienced the personal nature of quality big time.

Gadi and I had actually debated the pros and cons of the FN versus the Uzi during the relatively quiet days before we started the crossing of the Suez canal. For Gadi, the value was in not being out-gunned by a longer range weapon than the Uzi. At the time I was mystified by his choice as the FN with its complex mechanics was known to be notoriously unreliable in the desert. These days I know better: Gadi’s anxieties were different than mine. Hence, value to him was very different than value to me. As Jerry Weinberg wrote [3], “quality is value to some person.” Installability is quality to IT operations. Quick response time is quality to the end user. Low technical debt is quality to customer support folks.

I often recall how the resilience of the Uzi in desert conditions was quality to me. Till this very day my emotional response to elegant software with low complexity is a reminiscence of what I had intuitively felt back then about the Uzi – its very simple design [4] practically guaranteed it would work for me no matter what.

[1] See Michael B. Oren, “Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East,” Oxford University Press, July 2002, pp. 181-82, 201, 212.

[2] The FN was notorious for its failure to function once sand got into it. Under battle conditions in the dunes of the Sinai desert it was only a matter of little time until this happened.

[3] Jerry Weinberg, “Quality Software Management,” Dorset House, September 1991.

[4] The Uzi was unbelievably simple. Interestingly enough, the standard weapon of the Egyptian army – the famous AK-47 {“Kalashnikov”)was a very simple design as well. It worked, as its history to this very day proves, extraordinarily well.



  2 Responses to “Quality is Personal”

  1. […] my friend and colleague Israel Gat wrote a blog Quality is Personal, about how people have different contexts from which to view quality. Israel says I gave him the […]

  2. […] » The results measured by Michael reaffirmed for me a core belief that I had developed as a young man in the Israeli army: ordinary people can achieve extraordinary results. We did not have, with all due respect, […]

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