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, sets out on its maiden voyage from Stockholm harbour.

Sweden, August 10, 1628 the Vasa sinks in Stockholm harbour.

A small wind tilted the Vasa to its port side causing water to fill open gun ports. The people of Stockholm watched in horror as the Vasa sank to 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 in his haste to conquer the seas, King Gustav II Adolf, known as the ‘father of modern warfare’ and ‘The Lion of the North’ didn’t have time for any of that Quality Assurance mumbo-jumbo. After getting a few sailors to run across the decks to test stability, she was allowed to set sail with full crew and cargo.

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 and development. There always has been. But by bringing logic to design and creating a navigable path for developers, the advent of the UX specialist has helped bridge that gap and given product development steerage.

And then there’s testing, if you like point four on the list above. And we’re not talking a few hefty sailors running across a deck. We’re talking testing different devices. Testing different 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 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, perfunctory process before a website is set free to sail the world wide web. As the Vasa story shows, it's much more than that.

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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