Perhaps some additional context? While I consider that quoted portion to be sufficient enough to stand on it's own, my perspective is undoubtedly biased by having just read the entire preceding section.
The section is labeled "The Flight from Excellence". The chapter is "Quality - If Time Permits".
In the beginning of the chapter, they discuss psychology. They center around the Maslow's hierarchy of needs, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow's_hierarchy_of_needs
) and the authors focus on "survival, self-esteem, reproduction, territory". They mention that, you can consider these without passion (such as reading about them in a book or on wikipedia), but when you feel
them, there is always an uprising of passion and when you feel attacked or challenged in one of these needs, it can be very upsetting. When someone reacts with strong emotions, it is certain that the person feels that one of these "instincts" (if you will) is under attack. To quote the book:
"Whenever strong emotions are aroused, it's an indication that one of the brain's instinctive values has been threatened. A novice manager may believe that work can be completed without people's emotions ever getting involved but if you have any experience at all as a manager, you have learned the opposite."
They go on to talk about how almost every emotional reaction that is directly related to work likely involves an assault on the individual's self-esteem. There are certainly over causes of emotional reaction in a person's life, but at work, the main reason the person's self-esteem.
The authors then continue to speak about how most people tend to couple their self-esteem to the quality of what they produce. Not the quantity
but the quality
. Anything that may jeopardize the quality of the product is likely to initiate an emotional reaction from the staff toward the initiator.
After that intro, we reach "The Flight from Excellence" section. They mention how managers jeopardize product quality by setting unreachable deadlines, though the managers do not like to think about it in such terms. Instead, most managers would rather think of it as "throwing down an interesting challenge to their workers, something to help them strive for excellence." However, the experienced (and often jaded) workers know better. When it comes down to the wire, their efforts will be overly constrained and that there is no real freedom to trade off resources to make the deadline. They know there is no option to bring in more help or to reduce the function of the program. They know that the only thing to give will be quality
. The workers hate this, but what other choice is there?
The authors continue discussing managerial reactions to this situation. "Some of my folks would tinker forever with a task, all in the name of 'Quality'. But the market doesn't give a damn about that much quality. It's screaming for the product to be delivered yesterday and will accept it even in a quick-and-dirty state." This opinion of the market is often correct. The author state, however, that "In many cases, you may be right about the market, but the decision to pressure people into delivering a product that doesn't measure up to their own quality standards is almost always a mistake."
They talk about how "quality" is often viewed as just another attribute of the product, by managers. As though, somehow, you can add more or less quality, likening it to a sundae and chocolate sauce. However, the builders' view of quality is very different. Since their self-esteem is so strongly tied to the quality of the product that they produce, they tend toward the quality standards of their own. Generally, the minimum that will satisfy the builder is approximately equal to the quality he has achieved in the past. The authors then mention how this level of quality is "invariably a higher standard than what the market requires and is willing to pay for."
"The market doesn't give a damn about that much quality." Sad words there, however, they are almost always true. (I know I have experienced this in every job I've ever had.) Everyone loves to talk about how much they love quality or how much they hate it's absence, but when it comes time to actually pay for quality, the truth comes out. The authors mention a software project:
"For instance, you might be able to make the following kind of presentation to your users: 'We can extrapolate from empirical evidence that the Mean Time Between Failures for this product is not approximately 1.2 hours. So, if we deliver it to you today, on time, it will have very poor stability. If we put in another three weeks, we can forecast MTBF of approximately 2,000 hours, a rather respectable result.' Expect to see some Olympic-class hemming and hawing. The users will explain that they are as quality-conscious as the next fellow, but three weeks is real money."
They continue to discuss how bugs, often significant, have come to be accepted by users. The bugs are then blamed on the builders. The same builders who would have rather built more quality into the product. The blame, however, lies with the users who requested a low-quality product. To quote them: "By regularly putting the development process under extreme time pressure and then accepting poor-quality products, the software user community has shown its true quality standard."
While all this seems against software users and the standards found in the market, it isn't meant to be taken that way. The builders assume that the people who pay for the work are of sound enough mind to be able to strike the balance between quality and cost. The point is that client's perceived need for quality is often lower than those of the builder. This produces a conflict. Reducing the quality means some users are less likely to buy your product. On the other hand, the increased profit per item often offsets this reduction in sales.Then comes the quote you regard as hubris:
"Allowing the standard of quality to be set by the buyer, rather than the builder, is what we call the flight from excellence
. A market-derived quality standard seems to make good sense only as long as you ignore the effect on the builder's attitude and effectiveness.
In the long run, market-based quality costs more. The lesson here is,Quality, far beyond that required by the end user, is a means to higher productivity.
The authors offer up an example to point this out. If you ask "what organization, culture, or nation is famous for high quality." they predict that most people would answer "Japan". When asked "what organization, culture, or nation is famous for high productivity." they again predict that most people would answer "Japan". How is this possible? This goes against what "makes sense" though. The authors mention a quote by Tajima and Matsubara:
"The trade-off between price and quality does not exist in Japan. Rather, the idea that high quality bring on cost reduction is widely accepted."
The authors continue into the next section, labeled "Quality is Free". They mention the book, by that name, by Philip Crosby. They say that "The problem is that the great majority of managers haven't read it, but everybody has heard the title. The title has become the whole message. Managers everywhere are enthusing over quality: 'The sky's the limit for quality, we'll have as much free quality as we can get!'" That perception is exactly opposite what the book is about. The real message, they say, should instead be presented with:"Quality is free, but only to those who are willing to pay heavily for it."
This whole chapter is set within the context of a holistic view of productivity. Basically, people who consider quality to be free, will pay for it eventually. Having people's self-esteem drop due to being forced to release a product below their personal quality requirements, is one contributing factor to high turnover seen in the technology industry. Also, if the person does stay around, their productivity will be hampered. Ultimately, the authors point out, is that things culminate to a point were the person no longer "believes" in the company. It is, at that point, the loss of belief, that the company has lost the worker.
So, for this particular part, you either pay for quality with cash, to allow the builders to produce the quality they require from their work, or you pay in the real cost of turnover. The cost of turnover is extremely high and often ignored. It's easy to think "Quality is Free" when the cost of replacing an employee is ignored.
I hope that helps bring further perspective to the quote and, with the significant context provided, perhaps change your mind about it being "hubris".