If only King Gustav knew about quality assurance

What have a 17th century warship and a new website got in common?

To answer this riddle, let’s take an historic voyage around one of history’s greatest design fiascos, on the way discovering the elements essential to a successful product launch.

Sweden, August 10, 1628, the Vasa, supposedly the most powerful warship in the Baltic, set sail from Stockholm harbour on its maiden voyage.

Sweden, August 10, 1628 the Vasa sinks in Stockholm harbour, mere minutes after slipping her moorings.

The launch was met with a strong, but still minor wind, which tilted the Vasa to its port side and caused water to rush into the open gun ports. The people of Stockholm watched in horror as the Vasa sank into the muddy seabed 32 meters below taking 53 lives with her.

Three hundred and thirty-three years later the Vasa was hauled from the harbour’s preserving mud and silt and taken to Stockholm’s Vasa Museum, which houses an incredibly intact piece of history that is a marvel to behold.

So, what happened? It’s down to bad design and bad testing. The Vasa was too tall and too heavy for its short hull nestled below the waterline. Any movement would have been enough to tip the balance. And, King Gustav II Adolf, known as the ‘father of modern warfare’ and ‘The Lion of the North’ in his haste also didn’t do any Quality Assurance. There was no testing, other than a couple of sailors running across the decks to test the stability, thus just as quickly as she set sail. She also sunk.

One account summarises the contributing factors thus:

  1. Unreasonable time pressure
  2. Changing specifications and lack of documentation or project plan
  3. Over-engineering and innovation
  4. Lack of scientific methods and reasoning

We modern, digital sailors, will immediately recognise these issues. We also accept that there is often a gulf between design and building/development. There always has been. But by bringing logic to design and creating a navigable path for developers to follow, the advent of the UX specialist has helped bridge that gap and helped give product development steerage.

And then there’s testing, sort of point four on the list above. And we’re not talking about 30 sailors running across a deck. We’re talking testing different devices. Testing different browsers. Testing different versions of both devises and browsers. Testing for a shipload of operating systems. Testing for high-load stormy weather. Testing for piracy and security hijacking. Testing, testing, testing.

Thorough evaluation of a website will prevent mishaps and sinking feelings down the line. Documentation of every step of the process helps project managers keep the client informed of both progress and issues that need addressing before the day of launch. Even a soft launch, a run around the bays, is recommended before the flag-waving begins.

Quality assurance is often thought of as the last process before a website is set free to sail the world wide web - if you like, a box-ticking exercise that is giving perfunctory attention. Not so.

If you’d like to find out more about using digital to enhance your overall communications strategy, please contact James McCobb, Partner, Digital.

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