Saturday, November 24, 2012

What does "robust" mean to process, software, and product developers and engineers?

In a nutshell, if a design (process, product, etc.) is "robust," you can't break it easily. Of course, everything is breakable. But making it robust means it is very much harder to break.

I will give you an example of robust development. On a recent job, I was asked to write a reporting tool in Microsoft's VBA for Excel. (VBA is Visual Basic for Applications--meaning for Excel and other Microsoft programs.) There was a very close deadline, so I estimated the amount of data that would be loaded into the spreadsheet for display. I used that estimate to write the upper bound of records to include in the report.

This was sloppy (not my norm), and not robust. Should the report user add just one more data set than I accounted for, the report would crash. On the next report, I wrote a subroutine to count the actual data sets loaded into the report. That report was very difficult to break. No matter how much data was included, the program could handle it.

Robust design is critical in product development. Robust products, processes, and services increase customer satisfaction, and in turn, the return on investment.

Data can provide information to designers about how robust their end product is. Look for patterns of complaints. If complaints or failures recur, look for ways to make the area of objection more robust.

Happy designing!

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