Project quality

the sequel




Establishing quality metrics and associated management systems deserves a second look.

Portfolio management, the initiative to select and initiate projects intelligently, has been a hot topic for some time. Portfolio management is the process of “doing the right thing,” i.e., performing the correct projects. The converse, “doing the thing right,” produces a quality deliverable while employing quality project management processes.

The heightened desire for customer satisfaction and the necessity to meet government regulations are the drivers for bringing the quality initiative, in the form of Six Sigma, back into the limelight. The quality initiative of the late 1980s and early 1990s was a success. However, when the recommendations from quality teams turned to projects, the discipline of project management was in its infancy. Today, project management has become a much more visible and better understood discipline. Therefore, the quality initiative (now back as “quality: the sequel”) will have the opportunity to complete the work that it started.

A commitment to quality must be a conscious decision on executives’ part. It means allocating time to establish quality metrics and the associated quality management plans at the beginning of the project, to monitor and track those metrics and plans during the execution and control of the project, and to fix the defects within the product and the inadequate processes as they are found. If this commitment of time and effort is not your sincere intention, then you can espouse neither quality nor Six Sigma as a goal of your project environment.

To make this conscious decision, there are four areas to cover:

img Quality Planning—Identifying which standards are relevant to the product and the project plans and to the quality processes and determining how to satisfy them

img Quality Control—Monitoring specific product and management results

img Quality Assurance—Evaluating overall performance of quality processes

img Quality Improvement—Increasing the effectiveness and efficiencies of the project management processes so that this project and future ones will better meet customer satisfaction and regulatory requirements.

Quality planning covers both the quality of the end product and the quality of the processes being used to manage the project effort. To ensure the quality of the product, the needs/wants of the customer are isolated and the performance criteria upon which those will be measured are determined. This means articulating for each requirement at least one “quality metric” (measurable criterion). “It” either reaches a specified speed or “it” does not; “it” processes x number of transactions or “it” does not; “it” accommodates 20 percent increased volume or “it” does not.

To ensure the quality of the “management of the project,” the appropriate processes, which will support the production of those products/services, must be initiated along with the standard of performance criteria upon which these support processes will be evaluated. Decisions must be made concerning how the project will be managed. For example, will there be status reports? At what level of detail? Produced from software or by hand? Evaluated by whom? Re-planned or re-forecasted when and by whose authority?

The quality planning effort produces a quality management plan. It documents a product plan, which includes each of the product requirements and the associated metrics as well as a project process plan, which defines each of the management processes—both project and quality—that will be implemented.

The Quality Control Effort

Quality control occurs during the execution control phases of the project life cycle and looks at tactical considerations such as adherence to the project plan and meeting deliverables’ specifications.

Product inspection is accomplished by testing. Process inspection is accomplished through reviews.

During product testing, objectives must be established clearly. The degree to which tests are quantifiable and result in deliverables that meet standards and fitness for use is the degree to which you succeed. Product quality testing must be conducted as each component is completed and must examine every requirement that this component is to meet. Interim tests should be conducted while the component is in development to ensure that quality is built-in rather than retrofitted after its creation. This is especially true of tasks that have a partial dependency relationship with a successor. If the interim deliverable out of the predecessor task does not meet quality standards, then the defects will affect not only the rest of the original task but also the successor tasks.

As to process testing, out of the quality control effort come “go” or “no-go” decisions relative to the project plans with revised or reforecast plans if appropriate.

The Quality Assurance Effort

The quality assurance effort is more strategic than the quality control effort. Quality assurance does not monitor the quality of the deliverable itself nor project management success indicators, such as schedule and budget. Rather, quality assurance ensures that the processes that are directing the quality management process are being performed. For example, why do we want to know how long it took to find errors? To fix the errors and to determine a way to find errors faster, more efficiently and more effectively—and ultimately to prevent errors from occurring.

The breakdown in the process is corrected as part of the quality improvement effort. Issues and concerns that need to be fixed or successes that need to be integrated and repeated in the current quality management processes are output to the last phase of the quality management process, quality improvement.

The Quality Improvement Effort

The issues and concerns that come from quality assurance and quality control are dealt with in the quality improvement process and often result in a change to product specifications, project plans, quality management processes, and other project management processes such as control, risk management and procurement management, to name a few. This endless loop not only facilitates continuous improvement within a given project but it also positions continuous improvement for future projects if lessons learned are documented and archived.

If the ultimate project deliverable meets quality standards, the project will be successful—and all those associated with it will be successful. For the ultimate deliverable to be successful, each deliverable out of each task must attain predefined quality metrics in predefined timeframes for a predefined cost. Therefore, if each task deliverable is quality, then it must follow, as the night does the day, the ultimate deliverable of the project will be quality.

If I have convinced you, it is your responsibility, as an executive, to approve a new initiative: the development and implementation of a quality management system. Review some of the literature concerning Six Sigma. You will find the approach that makes good business sense for your organization. PM

Joan Knutson, ESI International, is an author, speaker and executive coach.




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