Dell Build Quality

So, I’ve recently invested in a new laptop for work. I got it on Tuesday. Today I noticed that the “J” key on the keyboard had come loose. That’s after less than a week of average use in my home office. The laptop hasn’t been out on the road (yet) and as it is performing well I haven’t had to bash the keyboard in frustration at a 20 minute hang for no reason (like on my old laptop).

It is probably an easy fix, but it does raise a question about the build quality on Dell laptops when one of the “home” keys for touch typing can come loose so easily.

But it is just one key. Surely not a big thing? I suppose that is a valid view. But often quality and perception of quality hangs on how the small stuff works.

  • The hotel might be great, but there’s no coffee with the in-room tea and coffee facilities (I like to make a cup of very strong coffee first thing in the morning when travelling for work)
  • The flight might be fine, but the hot sandwich you wanted to order from the attendants wasn’t in stock
  • A broken keyboard stops you typing “jumping jeosophat”

A while ago I wrote an article for the IAIDQ about the “long tail of risk”, or the long tail of quality. My basic premise in the article was that as you tackle the big issues of quality and risk in Information, the smaller issues become increasingly important, so there is increasing value to be found in the “long tail” of issues.

That’s why “Zero Defects”, while in part a wonderful slogan, is in fact a valuable goal to set for Quality Management. Setting your sights lower means you are accepting inevitable mediocrity. Why do I say this? Well, simply because the common argument against zero defects is that it is unattainable as a goal (it’s not) and compromises need to be made (they often do). However, if you set your target at 99.9% defect free, you’ll still find compromises being made (“we’ll aim for 60% this quarter and increase again next quarter”) and fudges being introduced.

I saw a great presentation a few weeks ago from a Clinical Quality lead from the UK NHS. He gave some great statistics as to what 99.999% quality means:

  • 6200 ATM errors per week in the UK
  • 18 fatal airline crashes per year, in the UK
  • 2 children given to the wrong parents every day, in the UK

So. My faulty key might be one component out of 108 on the keyboard and many thousands in the laptop. But it being broken has soured my experience and reduced my perception of quality of the laptop as a whole. While it isn’t up there with a fatal airline crash, it does bug me.

(As an aside, it’s interesting to note that Qantas are considering suing Rolls Royce for a minor defect in the engines of the A380 Airbus which lead to oil leakage and an engine fire. It’s only a small thing, but…)