Project Management Institute

Things of Quality Have No Fear of Time




There are, no doubt, many implications in the title of this article. Lets dwell on just two.

First, lets dispel the perception that quality takes time and, therefore, is a costly endeavor. I would like to counter that proposition with one which defines quality as “doing it right the first time,” which means, the time it takes to produce a quality product is no more than originally anticipated. Dependence on re-work to achieve quality inherently defeats a “do it right the first time” policy. Making quality assurance a part of every activity, from project inception through production, is the best guarantee of time and cost efficiency. A work cycle of “check and re-do, then check and re-do again” doubles and triples production time and expense. Imagine, as managers, a work plan that anticipates instead a “seal of approval” at each inspection point. With positive, proactive management it can be said that quality is free.

The second implication of the title has to do with what can be called the “endurance factor,” the long-term quality of a product, the measure of its maintainability and operability over the expected life cycle. The question here is, how do you achieve a sense of quality satisfaction during the design, development, start-up and ultimate utilization of a project? Some might suggest that we can check it more, inspect it more, test it more, to achieve the desired results. From the outset, correctness of purpose and quality must be ever-present and essential parts of the project plan.

A focus on life-cycle quality achievement must be founded upon clear definition of expectation and fitness of purpose between the person or group producing the product and the ultimate end user or purchaser of the product. If the designer and/or builder does not clearly understand the use, purpose and expectations of the user, and the user does not clearly understand what the designer or builder is producing, the achievement of satisfactory quality will always be suspect. For example, if the end user is defining a mid-size economy vehicle but in reality anticipates a luxury sedan, there will be a problem with acceptance of the end product. Or, if the builder or designer is scoping out a product to last twenty years, which has a high capital cost, high maintenance cost, and high operation cost, and the owner expects a five year life product with lower life-cycle costs, there will again be a problem with final acceptance.

This article discusses how an engineering/ design firm uses a Quality Improvement Program (QIP) to sponsor “doing it right the first time,” and to achieve life cycle fitness of purpose design.

Quality is managed side by side with cost, schedule, and scope.

Before venturing too far, what is quality? “Compliance with the owner’s expectations, defined as an end result or performance standard. ” Phillip Crosby defines quality as, “Conformance to requirements.” By definition, fundamental quality achievement for a project or product has the characteristics of:

  • It’s on time
  • It cost as expected
  • It works right the first time
  • It’s maintainable and operates at a reasonable cost
Quality Improvement Process

Figure 1. Quality Improvement Process

A formal Quality Improvement Program is a disciplined approach which focuses upon constant awareness of the need for quality through active participation of all employees from the President to the most recent hire. A Quality Improvement Program does not sponsor after-the-fact inspection and checking as a basic activity. It sponsors “doing it right the first time.” This article explores the practical applications of how a program is implemented and carried out. It also addresses the dividends and benefits achieved. It illustrates how progress is monitored and achievement stimulated. It underscores the philosophy that “Things of quality have no fear of time.”


In 1982, a major client of a west coast engineering/design firm invited their engineering and construction contractors to participate in their recently initiated Quality Improvement Program. The invitation for voluntary participation soon became a requirement. This point about requirement is important because the engineering company’s management was very apprehensive of what they were getting into . . . they wondered whether they were being “set up” for a fall.

The first few QIP meetings with the client were interesting to say the least. The client asked each questions such as, “Where did we fail you?” with regard to particular problems or, as we now call them, opportunities. They presented themselves as being responsible in some measure for the lack of total quality achievement on a project. The client kept asking questions like, “How may we help you?”, “Are we doing our job to support you?”, “Have we adequately communicated our expectations/ objectives/scope/etc. to you?”

Well, needless to say, when these questions became a part of a client sponsored, mandatory program, the thoughts were, “This is weird! They’re massaging our necks before the axe falls!! When will the other shoe fall?”

None of those things happened. Nothing bad happened! The client was sincere. They were pure of heart. They genuinely believed that poor quality is a management failure. That is, management failed to give enough time, enough budget, a clear enough scope, adequate definition . . . functional requirements, etc., for the project to achieve quality success.

The client’s basic premise was, and still is, that their employees and their contructor’s employees wanted to perform. They believed that people come to work each day desiring to do their job correctly, well and were qualified to do so. They would fail, however, when the support of good scope, schedule, budget and communications was lacking. The client wanted to sponsor a no-risk environment where all project participants could provide input and suggestions for improving quality performance on projects. In addition, they wanted to advocate personal recognition and gratification for a job well done.

The engineering company’s participation in the client’s Quality Improvement Program goes on today and is successful from both the client’s and engineering company’s perspective. There have been advantages gained on all fronts—some quantifiable, some not quantifiable. These are discussed later on in this article.

In 1986, the engineering company’s management made a corporate commitment itself to an internal Quality Improvement Program. Management saw the results achieved with the client’s QIP and determined to adopt the QIP practices in-house for its own employees. Please note that the need for corporate commitment cannot be emphasized enough. To have the riskfree/ recognition for achievement environment for a successful QIP, the management from the president down must actively endorse and participate in the program.


What are the mechanics and procedures of the Quality Improvement Program as carried out by the company? The process is outlined in the flow chart, Figure 1.

For a QIP to be successful, it is vital that all teams and participants understand fully and clearly their roles in the program. Commitment to the roles is essential. As management assumes that the worker is willing and able to produce first-run quality, it must be responsible for providing a work environment that supports the employee in every task.

The employees of the company constitute the “Opportunity Identification Team.” From their everyday work experience, employees judge their ability to perform in a quality manner as supported by management, their peers, and clients. They identify opportunities for improvement and make these known to the Quality Improvement Team who are elected representatives from all departments. A formal submittal is made to the Quality Improvement Team using a Quality Improvement Form (QIF), Figure 2.

Each employee is encouraged to focus on his own job. He must ask himself, “Is anything preventing or delaying my ability to do my job right the first time, every time?” This analysis is essential to assure task-specific opportunities for change (“problem opportunities”). Solving a “problem opportunity” may be as simple as providing a special calculator, technical reference book, or it may address a policy or procedure.

Each week, the Management Team and the Quality Improvement Team meet to review all QIF’s submitted for the previous week. As part of the review, each submitting employee is given time to present the opportunity proposal in person to the assembled teams. The QIF is reviewed, accepted and assigned for action and implementation.

Quality Improvement Form

Figure 2. Quality Improvement Form

Occasionally the review process provides insight into the efficiency of overall work flow. A number of independent “opportunities” may reveal procedural bottlenecks, patterns that may be solved very easily through refinement of a routine or procedure.

At the weekly meeting, all outstanding or non-implemented QIF’s are statused. All those completed and reviewed are cataloged by type, i.e., requiring a new piece of equipment, procedure, practice or policy. All those not completed are carefully scrutinized as to why they are still outstanding.

The intermediary Quality Improvement Team works with the submitter, sometimes forming a committee-like task force, to find the best solution to the “problem opportunity.” When an action plan is developed, it is presented to the Management Team for implementation.

Again, understand that management–commitment is essential. Credibility of the entire program depends on our willingness to follow through. Every QIP solution is high visibility.

Now that the basics of how a QIP operates and the roles and players are identified, the questions are: “What has that to do with management of a project?”, “What are the measurable benefits?”, “Why would I want to implement such a program?”


The experiences the engineering company has had with its program demonstrates the benefits. An essential preface for implementing a QIP is establishing some measures or targets to evaluate against. Early in the client sponsored program a measure of “how many drawings had to be handled for change or correction” became a standard for improvement. Traditionally, the engineering company issues an “Issue for Approval” (IFA) drawing package. The- client reviews this drawing package and returns it for update, correction, clarification, etc. Every drawing that has a “red mark” notation on it has to be handled by one or more engineers or designers to “fix it” and prepare it for “Issue for Bid” (IFB) or “Issue for Construction” (IFC).

So the company began to count how many drawings had to be handled for a correction or change. No judgement was made about the type or severity of correction or change ...a change was a change whether it was a misspelled word or an incorrect dimension. Initially, approximately 25% of the “IFA” drawings returned by the client were being rehandled. A target of 20% was set, and within months that goal was reached. The target was lowered to 10%, and has been at that level for some time. Currently they are preparing to lower the standard to 5%. What does this mean? Approximately 90% of “Issue for Approval” drawings never get touched again by a designer or engineer to make a change or correction. Figure 3 is a graph of the results of the efforts in this area.

Another measure is how well the design packages support the construction of the project. After all, the reason for a design is to build something. The old axiom, the design package should allow the owner to “bid it, build it and inspect it” correctly, is a tenet we follow. For the past two years a client has gathered data on field changes and clarification from contractors for projects that the company has designed. A judgement is made as to whether or not the change was the result of less than perfect design. As it stands today, statistics exist on over 100 projects built during the last two years, which show that less than 1% of changes authorized are the result of design corrections or clarifications.

Impact of Quality Improvement

Figure 3. Impact of Quality Improvement

Statistics and results such as these are more than ample motivation for implementation and/or continuance of a Quality Improvement Program in any project organization.

In addition to these very tangible success measures, the company sees a variety of intangible benefits. They believe they have developed a sustaining culture of project team members being completely dedicated in their mission for production, of quality, on time, cost effective designs. Every day the positive results of an attitude for sharing a common goal for quality in a risk-free environment in small but cumulatively effective and beneficial ways are seen.


Personal recognition and gratification are required to keep a QIP alive and well. People must see the results of their input. They must see action in a timely way. They must have a sense of ownership in positive change and quality achievement. The company does a variety of things to keep the level of personal recognition, dedication and commitment on a high plain.

One is a formal recognition program. Anyone at any time can recommend to nominate another for corporate recognition for significantly contributing to quality.

These recognitions are a big deal in the company. The President awards a certificate and pin at a formal coffee hour with all employees in attendance. This is done at least once a quarter. Each quarter a special recognition is given to an “outstanding contributor” to the QIP. In addition to the certificates, pins are given to all those recognized, and engraved pen & pencil sets are given to the “outstanding contributors. ” The company also publishes QIP articles in the company newsletter, posts the results of QIP actions, posts and updates QIP performance graphs. In short, they recognize quality as an everyday element of project management and execution.


In summary, here are some thoughts and comments to consider with regard to your quality management program.

  • Have a program that anticipates and controls quality, not one founded on quality control.
  • Quality the first time must be a focus from the top to bottom of an organization.
  • The definition of quality achievement must be founded in the owner’s expectation for fitness of purpose.
  • A quality management program must establish targets and goals for achievement.
  • A quality management program takes dedication, time and patience.
  • Quality is not a gift—you have to work at it.
  • Establish a risk-free environment for your quality program.
  • Do not try to check quality into a project—design it in.
  • Base your quality management program on recognition and reward.
  • "Like fine wine, release no package before its time.”

It is said that, “Quality management is a sophisticated way that organized activities happen, the way they are planned.” The mission of project management is to “plan, organize and control.” Therefore, it follows, for me at least, that quality management is an essential element of effective project management.

There is an economic perspective to quality management. Harold S. Geneen noted that, “Quality is not only right, it is free and it is not only free, it is the most profitable product we have.”

Because corporate commitment is present in every step of every QIP program, “Things of quality have no fear of time.”


Impact of Quality Improvement


Terry Monaghan is Vice President - Operations for Christenson Engineering Corporation. He has over 27years experience in the engineering, design and construction of capital facilities. He is a graduate civil engineer with professional engineering licenses in Alaska, New York and Washington.

He is a member of the Project Management Institute (PMI), and is currently Vice President - Membership for the Puget Sound Chapter. He is also a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers {ASCE), the Water Pollution Control Federation (WPCF), American Public Works Association (APWA), Construction Management Association of America (CMAA) and is on the Panel of Arbitrators of the American Arbitration Association.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.

January 1990



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