The QA challenge

When you are in QA your “opponent” is invariably whoever you are reviewing. You can be drinking buddies, girlfriend/boyfriend etc – but, if you are any good in QA, you will recognize that when you are working at your profession – it is game on.

The good news is that whoever you are reviewing, knows this too, and probably a lot better than you do. Most QAs are naive, they believe everyone cares about quality. News flash – they don’t. Your goals with the other stakeholders are misaligned. Your goal is to ensure quality deliverables. Unfortunately but invariably, in many cases, their goals are just to “get shit done” and you are perceived as just a speed bump between their inbox and outbox.

When you see patterns of work that results in low quality, you think “Wow, these guys just don’t get it. If they only made some changes I’d be able to work more efficiently and ensure a higher quality end product”. Well, in many cases they DO get it. And these techniques, far from accidental, can be as contrived as they are effective. You might be a victim of an effective strategy that saves your reviewee time and effort, but causes you a lot of grief aka the “Pat Riley Effect”

Who is Pat Riley

What does this have to do with Pat Riley (or who the Hell is Pat Riley?). Pat Riley was a professional basketball play and later an NBA couch known for pointed elbows as a player, and an aggressive style as a coach. He has later gone on to be an NBA team president, great writer, and a motivational speaker. He is known as one of the best NBA coaches of all time.

The Pat Riley effect

To become this great as a coach you need to have a lot of tricks but one in particular was his philosophy on fouling. He knew that a referee could see and call a foul. But how about 2 fouls, or 5, or 100? His teams could literally overwhelm the official’s ability to call fouls. And with no policy for sanctions, fines etc. for excessive fouls there was a proverbial get out of jail free card. I call this the Pat Riley effect. Swarm the “officials”, QA engineers, copy-editors etc. with so many defects that they essentially are overwhelmed. You force their standards lower, demoralize them, and are thus able to sneak tons of defects, errors, etc. through to production ostensibly for the goal of having to put in less effort.

The antidote

Unlike NBA officials, most likely you do have some flexibility to counteract this in your QA organization. The easiest is spot checking and review “refusal”.


I will refuse to QA this at all unless it meets a bare bones baseline of quality. The judgment that I will render is “Insufficient quality to review”. I may cite a few examples of critical and obvious problems that should have been caught in self-testing, peer review, etc. – but I won’t break a sweat. I will maintain power in the relationship and I won’t cede it by playing the game by somebody else’s rules. If it is rejected again, then someone’s got some ‘splaining to do, and it won’t be me.


Here is an example for a copy-editor

“After an initial review of the article, I deemed that the grammatical quality is too low to effectively review. Here are some examples of problems that will need to be addressed before I can proceed with the review.

I would ask that you spend some time reviewing and reworking the article to fix any and all items like this and improve quality in general. I would suggest, in addition to a manual self-review of the article to improve the quality, that you consider a tool like Grammarly. Other authors have leveraged this tool to dramatically improve the quality of their content.

Please let me know if you have any questions. Otherwise, I look forward to your revisions.”


Beat the “Pat Riley” effect by throwing the baby out with the bathwater. You will force people, submitting work to you, to meet your minimum requirements even before the real review has begun. It is a game of chicken where you risk being a blocking item to completion for a particular task, but to not put your foot down you risk a lot more, long term.

By validating low quality work simply by agreeing to review it, you implicitly set a low standard out of the gate and it will be uphill from then on.  In the end, by putting your foot down and refusing to even review it you will ultimately assure higher quality and less work, when the process inevitably resumes. People submitting items for review might need to work harder, and they won’t always (or ever) like that but they will gain new found respect for you and the process and hopefully someday for quality itself.