Half will be below average

The funny thing about averages is that, in order to have them, some stuff must be above average, and some stuff must be below average.  Assuming a normal distribution, 50% of everything is below average.  That’s just the way it is.  We tend to be offended by being “below average,” but something has to be, or else you can’t have an average.

In the world of software quality assurance that means there’s an unfortunate truth.  Half the time, you have to inform your project team that the quality you are seeing is below average.  Guaranteed.  That’s what average means after all – it’s the central tendency of the data and it represents the MIDDLE of the data.  One half will be better and one half will be worse.

In the pursuit of perfection, half the time you are going to have to tell people to do better.  If you don’t, your competition likely will, and then even your best 50% of projects won’t be good enough.  We don’t tend to think that’s what average means.  Instead, we equate average to mean not good, or at best so-so, like “an average dinner out.”  When we say that, we mean we didn’t like it that much.  But, when it comes to software (and dinner), average is the reality.  You can’t avoid it.

So, yes, we may not be happy with being on a below average project, but no matter how good everything gets, that distribution still exists and there is still opportunity for improvement until everything is perfect.  And why shouldn’t you pursue perfection in all aspects – cost, time and quality?  It does mean you’ll always, always be telling some team that they’re below average, but that’s just the way things are.

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