Is your organization ready for PM TQM?



The authors explore five key enablers that need to be present in order for a project management total quality management initiative (PM TQM) to be successful. These capabilities of the organization, where present, provide a firm foundation for PM TQM continuous improvement.

This paper describes how quality assurance (QA) of PM processes can be implemented and support continuous improvement (CI) of PM processes. QA processes occur at the project level and the organizational level.

Where not yet available on the organizational level, many of the functions provided by these capabilities can be performed directly by the project manager at the project level.

In this paper, the authors explore the total organizational constructs that support PM TQM and how they can be utilized in whole or part on your projects.


The authors were engaged to create and execute a program office overseeing a large portfolio of maintenance projects with fixed end dates, limited resources and complex organizational and functional interactions. The project office needed to monitor over 350 technical and operational projects utilizing 1,500 resources deploying an estimated two million hours of service.

In order to assure product and project quality of the projects, the program office developed and implemented a formal project management quality review capability. The guiding principles were consistent with the PMBOK®, industry standard QA capabilities as well as the consulting company's own project management standards. The program office's QA subteam developed a best-practice project review process, which focused on PM process quality. What was needed to assure program success became part of the client's foundation of a best-practice PM organizational maturity and continual improvement capability.

The Project Management Total Quality Management Process

The authors were challenged to implement PM process improvement both because the organization had a long tradition of complacency and acceptance of their limits of PM discipline (they had become used to their inefficient and inaccurate level of PM performance) and because the client's critical programs were draining the organization's time, attention and energy available to work on nontactical improvement efforts. Nonetheless, they achieved substantial success in transforming how the client's IT organization managed and delivered projects. While developing lessons learned, the authors identified a number of critical success factors that contributed to the readiness of the organization to embrace the changes they proposed.

TQM Key Enablers—What is Total Quality Management (TQM)?

The PMBOK® Guide defines Project Quality Management (PQM) as “The processes required to ensure that the project will satisfy the needs for which it was undertaken.” It includes “all activities of the overall management function that determine the quality policy, objectives, and responsibilities and implements them by means such as quality planning, quality assurance, quality control, and quality improvement, within the quality system.” Regarding the continuous quality improvement, the PMBOK® Guide remarks “there is an important difference of which the project management team must be acutely aware—the temporary nature of the project means that investment in product quality improvement, especially defect prevention and appraisal, must often be borne by the performing organization since the project may not last long enough to reap the rewards.”

The definitions of Total Quality Management (TQM) vary by authors. However, in general, TQM is seen as a set of “organization-wide” structured processes chartered to achieving quality goals to meet the organization's requirements. TQM includes continuous process improvement within it. This is an essential attribute that the various Capability Maturity Models emphasize and on which its implementation focuses. Seeing that temporary nature of projects renders them incapable of sustaining CI, entities other than projects (such as on an organizational level) should carry a permanent and sustaining role of supporting process improvement. That is the sense of “organizationwide.” It is characterized by the participation of the entire organization. The requirements to be met should be more than the aggregation of the projects' ones. If we take this, the PMBOK® Guide's definition to PQM is still valid to TQM.

PM of “PM TQM” stands for “project-based” rather than simple “Project Management (PM).” PM needs to be extended to apply the organizational PM processes, which should include managing and continuously improving of PM processes.

Quality Assurance (QA): (1) The process of evaluation overall project performance on regular based to provide confidence that the project will satisfy the relevant quality standards. (2) The organization unit that is assigned responsibility for quality assurance.

Quality Control (QC): (1) The process of monitoring specific project results in order to determine if they comply with relevant quality standards and identifying ways to eliminate causes of unsatisfactory performance. (2) The organization unit that is assigned responsibility for quality control.

In order to be more “PM TQM,” an independent organization (see Quality Assurance/Audit and Project Reviews below) should be implemented. In best practices organizations an independent assurance function performs QA/QC audits and/or reviews for both project processes compliance and product quality perspectives.

Neither Quality Assurance nor Quality Control addresses project process continuous improvement directly. Quality improvement initiatives combining both a project-level and an organizational-level perspective such as TQM can improve the entire project process quality of the project's management as well as sustain organizational continuous improvement of PM processes and capabilities.

Organizational PM Culture and Maturity

One critical success factor is the readiness of the organization to accept the tenants of project management discipline. The organization needs to believe that a project management orientation to managing work is directly associated with managing costs, achieving goals and facilitating time-to-market. Such an orientation is exhibited by:

•   How management talks (their vocabulary).

•   How management organizes and acts (their decision processes).

•   How management thinks (their values and strategies).

Most organizations have a theoretical understanding of project management as a discipline. They may have general standards, tools and techniques that are deployed on their projects to aid in organizing and managing the project life-cycle processes. They may have a cadre of project management subject matter experts (SME's), who are called upon to lead both projects and organizational level decisions on PM standards. Dependent upon the level of PM maturity within the organization, the PM practitioners may find support and resources available to them to aid in their project-level QA activities, or may find themselves thrust into the role of “champion” promoting PM TQM improvement initiatives within their organization. In the later case, it may be due either to a passion for the PM profession or a more pragmatic self-defense posture. Regardless, the PM champion finds themselves in a pivotal role as change-agent, entrepreneur and SME.

PM TQM initiatives can and should be implemented on both the project and the organizational level regardless of the initial base-line level of organizational maturity. Initial “baby” steps can be begun at the project and departmental level by PM champions despite a low level of organizational PM maturity or cultural sophistication. Utilizing processes and capabilities designed to move an organization forward to greater organizational PM maturity (such as PMI's newly formed OPM3, SEI's CMM and others) the PM TQM champion can influence their organization toward improved PM TQM.

Foundation of a PM Profession

A second critical success factor is the presence of a sense of project management as a profession. The organization must demonstrate their commitment and value of the discipline by recognizing individuals as being valued for their development and deployment of PM capabilities. A PM profession is a leading indicator that the organization has embraced project management is a valued capability worthy of investing and focusing human resources on doing it well.

Most often the development of an organizational professional career track is driven by the organization's realization that they are investing heavily in the profession and there is a significant impact/contribution that the profession provides to the organization's performance. A secondary driver is the utilization of a professional career track to attract, reward and compensate individuals for joining the organization and retaining them. In either case, the presence of a professional career track is a strong indicator that an organization values the contribution that that professional discipline provides.

An individual has a strong impetus to develop their skills and capabilities for both their current and future career performance (thus driving compensation, opportunities and other rewards). An individual therefore has an incentive to motivate their organization to recognize their disciplines and knowledge as a “profession” and to compensate the individual for their investment in furthering their professional capability.

Ultimately, in our profession, an individual can achieve both professional status (formal recognition through PMI® certification) and true professional discipline (capability) independent of their organization's implementation of a PM professional career track. As a champion for the PM profession within their organization and as a change-agent for PM TQM improvements, the PM practitioner should develop an awareness campaign and promote the development of a PM professional career track within their organization.

Basic Quality Assurance Capabilities

A third critical success factor is the acceptance by the organization that measuring, monitoring, and managing quality provides a positive return for the investment made in establishing the capabilities, infrastructure and disciplines needed to manage quality. Without this fundamental value belief, convincing management to invest in managing the quality of project management processes and results is unlikely to be accepted.

It is unlikely that any modern business is unaware of ISO certifications, QC discipline on the production line, financial audit and controls and legal/regulatory compliance. They cannot operate within the market and competitive environments we see globally without these disciplines. Its somewhat unexpected then that this orientation to QA/QC discipline does not always trickle down to the project management/project delivery level. As is well noted and documented in the body of PM literature, there is a wide range of organizational attention and discipline across the full gamut of industries that utilize PM as a discipline. Notable, the construction industry is identified as most strongly embracing a rigorous PM discipline that effectively controls QA and QC. While the IT industry is notorious for have extremely poor QA/QC discipline (and thus resulting project performance).

Regardless of the industry within which the PM practitioner operates and their organization's current level of PM discipline, the PM TQM champion has an opportunity to either leverage off existing quality standards and initiatives or to establish the foundation of QA capability in their project processes, their departmental level disciplines and ultimately their organization's enterprise-level standards, disciplines and capabilities.

Should a QA capability initiative need to be launched due to a relatively low level of organizational-level experience and maturity with QA, then the PM champion is best advised to start small (within their own project span of control) and document their own success. Utilizing these early but visible successes, the PM champion can influence the organization to support further and broader investments in QA initiatives.

Fundamental PM Tools to Baseline, Measure and Record Project Performance

Discipline in action occurs through the execution of processes. Processes are either enabled or at least facilitated by technologies that record anticipated and actual performances. No other discipline relies on the support of estimating and comparing estimates to actuals as project management. In the case of PM quality management, the basic constraints of time, scope and resources both forecasted and actual must be visibly in order to assess PM process performance. Fundamentally, PM total Quality Management requires accurate and timely information regarding what management expected to happen compared to what actually happened.

A closed-loop quality management system relies completely on being able to identify deviance from plan, to intervene only when actual performance deviates from plan, and to learn to estimate and plan well based upon lessons learned from prior performance.

A project performance measurement capability is so critical to both project-level and organizational-level PM TQM, that the authors have devoted a significant section below to describing a project audit/review capability as a fundamental construct to establishing a PM TQM environment.

Should such a capability be premature within your organization, or resisted due to the political sensitivity of having such performance visible, then a PM practitioner can and should develop such a capability on and within their project life-cycle process and execute such a discipline themselves. Even this might be politically sensitive and difficult to justify as a benefit to the project's goals and outcomes. However, with some thought, the PM practitioner should be able to imagine the benefits they derive from having an accurate and complete measurement of their process performance early in the project life cycle and through out the project.

Executive Support, Oversight, and Assistance

Executives play a critical role in the success of implementing organizational changes such as creating a PM total quality management value. Organizations most often get their direction and values from executive leadership. Certainly executive leadership plays a critical role in validating organizational change. Finally, when needed, executive leadership can intervene to overcome organizational habits, beliefs, and practices that inhibit changing and improving.

Without strong and active executive sponsorship, it is unlikely that an organization will accept the temporary decrease in productivity, increased cost of operations, vulnerability associated with making their internal processes visible, and perceived lowering of control associated with quality oversight.

All the investments described in this paper require some effort and cost to the organization. On the project level, the PM practitioner might have the budgetary authority to implement project-level investments. On the organizational level, the PM practitioner might have the visibility (reputation) to influence the organization. However in all cases, an executive champion is the most effective lever to gaining resources, commitments and authorities to invest in PM TQM initiatives. How to attract and gain commitment from executive management is well beyond this paper to describe. The reader is urged to review the body of literature for further detail on how to sell their ideas and suggestions to executives. Undoubtedly such a discussion will ultimately lead to a discussion on ROI, ROC, competitive analysis and a host of other executive measurements used to justify investments.

The PM practitioner has significant influence and control over the planning and execution of projects within their purview. They usually can adopt and modify preexisting project methodologies, work products and techniques to best fit the goals of their project. This usually gives the PM practitioner ample room to add processes, work steps, work products and checkpoints/milestones to their plan. The authors recommend that the PM practitioner consider including at least three quality (process related) components to their project plans: QA processes and work products during planning and initiation, QA measurement, monitoring and contingency activities through out the life of the project, and Intellectual Capital give-back through out and at the end of the project life cycle. Each of these areas will be examined in greater detail in this section.

Where available and in place, the PM practitioner may already have QA/QC guidelines, processes, work products and deliverables defined by their organizational standards. As described above in the Organizational Level Framework, resources such as published standards, methods, tools, work products and Intellectual Capital may be available from their organization. Organizational capabilities such as a PM TQM Project Office, Project Portfolio Management capability, external audit/project review capability and a Knowledge Management/Intellectual Capital Management capability might be source and resource upon which the PM practitioner can draw. If not, equivalent resources are available in the public domain.

At project concept/initiation, the PM Practitioner should make sure that their project life cycle includes activities to draw in and/or confirm that project process related QA activities will be performed (usually by their own team) through out the project life cycle. These might include specific tasks to seek out and evaluate available IC from both the organizational and the public domain sources. During the development of the project plan, the PM should assure that PM process QA activities, tools, templates, work products and checkpoints are included in their plan. These should include activities and checkpoints at major milestones and phase completion states where process quality measurements are harvested, compared to planned standards and documented. Where substantial deviation from plan is noted, either preplanned contingency activities are triggered and/or the PM adjusts the plan to remediate any deficiencies noted during these QA activities.

As just noted, through out the project life cycle, the PM should be measuring, monitoring and evaluating the performance of their PM processes against pre-established expectations. Regardless if the variance is against pre-established organizational standards, or their own goals, variance to desired process performance should be evaluated and a determination of justification for intervention made. Where intervention is recommended, the PM should drive those actions, which will bring their project back into expected performance. As mentioned, documentation of planned versus actual performance is highly desired as this becomes the basis for both reporting ongoing progress and establishing a baseline against which better estimating/planning can be made in the future (lessons learned).

Through out the life of the project various work products are created, modified (updated) and/or replaced. This becomes a foundation of Intellectual capital that may be of significant value to the project manager and the organization. Steps should be added to the project life cycle to identify these assets, measure their effectiveness/value and pass appropriate assets on to the organization for consideration for inclusion in the Knowledge Management/Intellectual Capital Management capability of the organization (if any). Specifically, the PM should assure that critical performance information is documented and made available. This is often done through a “lessons learned” activity toward the end of the project. Traditionally, a “lessons learned” sessions is initiated where project members and sometimes stakeholders discuss their perspective on what worked well and what could be improved during future projects. The authors urge and support this activity. In addition, the authors strongly urge the PM practitioner to measure and document detailed project performance statistics. This planned versus actual information, detailed on a process step and work product/deliverable basis provides a critical foundation for base-lining current project performance, improving future estimating and planning activities and driving project and organizational maturity.

In summary, the PM on a project level has a powerful role in implementing PM TQM capabilities into their project life cycle and in influencing their organization to improve their PM TQM capabilities. By drawing in and utilizing QA constructs within their project level framework, by measuring and reporting project process performance and quality, and by showing success and value-add derived by a focus on quality on the project level, the PM practitioner can become a champion, change agent and strong influence on driving organizational change toward improved PM Quality.


The implementation of a PM total quality management culture within an organization hinges on a number of key enablers, which become Critical Success Factors. A solid foundation of PM fundamentals must be in place before an organization is likely to embrace PM TQM. These include among other things:

•   A perceived value of if not an existing solid foundation of organizational PM maturity and a culture, which embraces PM as a fundamental way of conducting business.

•   An acceptance of Quality Assurance as an integral part of product and process management.

•   The acceptance of a unique discipline of project management (a profession).

•   Basic PM infrastructure and technologies, which support project planning, tracking, progress reporting and change management.

•   Strong executive sponsorship (a champion) that provides creativity, energy and drive into facilitating organization change to a PM TQM discipline.

Organizational level constructs that can aid the PM TQM proponent include; an Independent Quality Assurance/Audit function, a “Project Office” approach to organizing and managing the initiative, a Project Portfolio Management capability to assist senior management in managing their investments, an independent project audit/review capability and a robust Knowledge Management capability. Each of these is a major investment that need to be pursued with discipline (project-based), caution (start small and show early success) and an eye toward pre-marketing to a champion (executive sponsor) and continuous selling (promoting achieved value). For each initiative, and through out the whole life cycle, the PM TQM champion should be identifying and promoting examples of positive ROI/ROC that are derived from the successes they achieve along the way.

PM TQM can start on the PM practioner level on their own projects. Simple forms of impeding QA/QC disciplines can be added to the project plan that are performed by the project manager and her or his team to measure, monitor and intervene in both the project process and product quality areas. If organizational standards, tools and techniques are not yet in place, the PM practitioner can import such from the PMBOK® Guide and other industry standard disciplines that are readily available in the public domain. The same is true for PM process quality Intellectual Capital. Finally, on the PM practioner level, he or she can begin to develop their own professional capabilities, influence peers and subordinates to follow a similar path and at as champions within their organization to grow their organization's PM maturity from a grass-roots initiative. By investing in their own projects and showing the successes and returns they achieve by adding PM TQM into their work, PM practitioners can become powerful and effective agents of change.

Proceedings of the Project Management Institute Annual Seminars & Symposium
October 3–10, 2002 • San Antonio, Texas, USA



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