Quality tools/techniques and the project manager

Major Jimmy D. Lane, USAF, Retired, Consultant, PM Solutions

Introduction and Background

As the pace of business processes speed up, and the need to maintain the latest technological advantage over our competitors is skyrocketing, quality products, and services must be maintained for real long-term survival in any industry today. With better-educated buyers, and the ever-present Internet, consumers, and business clients come to the table with higher expectations on all business fronts. They desire products and services faster, with less hassle, and at a higher quality level than at any time in the past. This paper will re-acquaint project management professionals with the quality tools and techniques that managers must use to drive the creation of added value to the lowest level in the organization. By using proven quality tools and techniques, in the appropriate settings, we can ensure our business processes and business practices develop a culture of delivering quality products and services.

The Evolution of Quality as a Market Force

Over time we have seen an explosive evolution from Henry Ford's “You can have any color you want—so long as it is black” Model T days—to the development of customer-oriented quality award programs at the state, national, and international level. As, over time, the world's “economy of scale” processes drove various products and services to be dominated around the world, much like Japan's influence on the electronics market, it quickly became apparent that increased “consumerism” would drive the business growth and markets for new products. As the pace for quality products to the consumer increased, and the time to market demands became greater, the need to provide 100% quality products and services became critical to a firms survival.

The Expanding Market Force of Quality

Quality is a major factor in our economy when it comes to the marketing of products and goods in a free market environment. However, the pace at which quality has become the “deciding factor” in our business processes and strategies has increased at an incredible rate since the 1950s. Today Quality is a part of all that we do. Everything from comparative shopping, for supplies and services, to the recruitment of highly qualified workforce members, includes the quality concept to save both short- and long-term costs. Even in the face of the constant development of “business alliances” to better our competitive position in the marketplace, it is no longer just about dollars. Quality considerations of reputation, credibility, public image, and ability to perform, at a known quality standard, are all part of our alliance decisions today. The firms that foster a “quality culture” will be the firms that will survive and prosper in the new economy—the economy where more and more—the consumer decides who succeeds. These same firms, many of which are moving to projectized management processes, will reap huge benefits from learning and applying quality tools and techniques at all levels of their project management efforts.

Malcolm Baldrige's term as Secretary of Commerce, from 1980 to 1987, gave “Quality” the permanent foundation needed for long-term competitive and focused emphasis on providing the best in all that we do. Having taken Scovill from a fledging brass mill company to a market-oriented, quality-driven, consumer products firm, the stage was set for Malcolm Baldrige to shake the understanding and importance of quality in the world. He accomplished, through the commerce position, the major international trade changes that would affect commerce forever and set in motion the growth of international standards in several industries worldwide. He believed that economic liberty and strong competition are indispensable to economic progress. This economic progress, coupled with economic liberty, is what drives the quality standards of today. By paving the way to resolve the technical transfer problems with China and India, and opening the door to United States—Soviet trade, Malcolm Baldrige provided the opportunity for Quality to become, not just a domestic force, but also an international one. He accomplished all this by internalizing his own believes on the commerce department which resulted in a 30% reduction in the commerce departments budget over his eight year tenure—an unprecedented feat in the 1980s.

The Importance of Quality Today

Quality's importance in our project management endeavors today cannot be overemphasized. Studies by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, as well as the U.S. Commerce Department, provide us with the following facts:

• Companies winning quality awards experience higher stock prices, on average, and greater growth in operating income

• Poor quality costs companies as much as 20% of sales revenue nationally

• 44 American states now have active state quality award programs for their businesses

• The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is setting the pace and level of quality throughout the world with ANSI/ISO/ASQ Q90001 –2000

• Almost every profession now has either a domestic or international organization 100% dedicated to maintaining a standard level of accepted quality within its trade and membership.

Whatever ends up as quality in the customers' hands ultimately starts at the organization's lowest possible level. Quality is a cumulative result of quality processes and people that produce a quality product or services. It involves everyone and every level of the organization. For project managers this means using proven quality tools and techniques to aid you in all the phases of project management as you manage your teams.

Project Quality Management

As members of the Project Management Institute (PMI®), we should embrace, teach, and demonstrate quality in all we do in accordance with A Guide to the Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) definitions below:

Quality is the processes required to ensure the program will satisfy the needs for which it was undertaken. This includes quality policy, objectives, responsibilities, and the implementation of them within a quality system. Quality is the totality of characteristics of an entity that bear on its ability to satisfy stated or implied needs. These processes include:

1. Quality Planning: Identifying which quality standards are relevant to the project and determining how to satisfy them.

2. Quality Assurance: Evaluating overall project performance on a regular basis to provide confidence that the project will satisfy the relevant quality standards.

3. Quality Control: Monitoring specific project results to determine if they comply with relevant quality standards and identifying ways to eliminate causes of unsatisfactory performance.

Building a Quality Culture

Those firms that embrace quality in all their processes are said to develop, over time, a “Quality Culture.” In essence they raise the internal expectation of their workforce and the expectations of their customers. By raising both, the end result is a culture for your business that portrays a reputation for quality products and services and a workforce that leads by example in their belief that the quality they apply to everyday processes makes a difference in the firm. This belief is what fosters a strong team atmosphere. Job satisfaction surveys have repeatedly shown that firms with a quality culture rate higher and maintain more dedicated people over time due to a sense of belonging and the feeling of being listened to.

As a firm internalizes the learning of the short- and long-term rewards of quality processes, products, and services, the work that is an effort for some firms becomes everyday business for the quality-oriented firm.

Metrics are developed and scrutinized for validity to ensure that the proper things are measured for the proper reasons. These metrics then feed back into the project management and work processes to constantly improve and expand the produced quality outputs.

Through an extremely strong recognition program, at all levels of the organization, quality, saving costs, production increases, and positive forces and actions are properly rewarded. This ensures that the human resource needs are also developed over time in a quality fashion—exactly like the products and services.

In our daily working environment the responsibility lies with the project manager to recognize those areas where the proper application of quality tools and techniques to foster a quality culture can be taught, utilized, expanded on, and ensured that the company is evolving to a total quality-oriented organization. Project management is processed based. Whether one uses the PMBOK® Guide methodology, or a customized organizational methodology, the application of quality to the various management processes will result in an increased awareness of quality and a continual move to be more accurate and quality-oriented. The more tools and techniques the project manager knows about how to accomplish the project in a quality fashion, the better the transfer of knowledge and in turn the orientation.

Quality Applications

The application of Quality Techniques to Projects is an emphasis on the process-based procedures as a project manager goes through each of the five project management phases. By utilizing the presented Quality Tools and Techniques, by phase, a project manager can be sure to build into every aspect of his or her processes, a quality focus. Process based quality inputs would be:

  • A Overall Quality Policy
  • Standards and Regulations
  • Product Descriptions
  • Results of Quality Control Measures
  • Operational Definitions.

By utilizing these inputs to Quality Planning, Assurance, and Control, the project manager is essentially laying the groundwork for quality outputs—by utilizing the proper tools and techniques to manage toward these outputs. By setting the standards and policies, by project phase, that are acceptable and verifiable, the project manager guides the team to ensure quality is built into everything they do.

By reinforcing these “process based” quality inputs with “product quality” standards and procedures, the quality culture and customer satisfaction focus is achieved. Product Quality tools and techniques are usually more concrete and impartial. Metrics, measurements, standards of production, failure rates, and other more “hands-on” product planning, assurance, and control mechanisms can be developed to support the desired level of product quality. It is imperative that the level of quality, for the product, be properly calculated and obtained for the company goals to be obtained. Many firms have failed due to the lack of understanding of exactly to what level of quality must we strive to successfully meet the customers demand.

The following tools and techniques, separated by project phase, can be used to obtain the desired quality processes and product results. Become familiar with, and use as many of these techniques as possible, in your future projects to elevate your contribution to the firm's quality culture.

Tools and Techniques Overview

Today, project managers recognize structured project management as a fundamental responsibility that can't be delegated to a team member. Project managers communicate their operating style through actions, attitudes, and behavior. They must clearly define and communicate what the project is expected to accomplish. Project managers provide team growth opportunities as well as the tools and techniques necessary to accomplish the project objective. Once project managers commit to the objective, their focus must shift to accomplishment techniques. Project management initiatives supported by the use of interdependent tools and techniques will enhance the success of the endeavor.

So what tools and techniques should project managers' use? Which ones will be most effective and produce the desired result? The answers to these questions is detailed in the rest of this paper, using the PMBOK® Guide management life cycle as a foundation and several references, noted at the end of this paper, we have mapped tools and techniques typically found in quality-related disciplines to project phases. The mapping is meant to serve as navigation technique not a street road map. Each project manager will need to make their own selection of tools and techniques based on their and team members knowledge and experience.

Many of the quality tools/techniques may be used in more than one project phase. The suggestions in this paper are not meant to imply that tools or techniques identified for use during a project phase are exclusive to that phase. As with project management phases, the applicability of the tools/techniques will depend on the characteristic of the topic being addressed. Descriptions will be included in the phase the tool/technique is first identified. Subsequent identification will reference that phase.

Tools and Techniques by Project Process

Initiating

During the initiation processes the organization actually commits time and resources to the effort. The decision to move ahead is made and the project manager has the “go ahead” to form a team and move into the planning phase.

The categories of tools/techniques most useful during this phase are Idea Generation tools/techniques.

Brainstorming—generating a list of ideas about a specific problem or topic. This technique can take several forms including:

• Free form ideas from the group with a facilitator writing them down for all to see

• Silent brainstorming—each participant writes an idea on a large “sticky note” and posts for all to see

• Use structured brainstorming—go around the room soliciting one idea at a time until all participants “pass”

• Use of technology to conduct virtual brainstorming sessions.

Brainstorming is useful during the concept or initiation phase of a project—it can be used to identify the issue, create options for solving a problem, and identify impacts the project may have on the organization.

Mind Maps—A mind map consists of a central word or concept; around the central word you draw the 5 to 10 main ideas that relate to that word. You then take each of those words and again draw the 5 to 10 main ideas that relate to each of those words. In this way an exponential number of related ideas can be quickly produced.

Affinity Diagram—This diagram takes verbal information and organizes it into a visual pattern. You start with specifics and work toward broad categories. This approach assists in categorizing items that may not appear to be linked or related.

Root Cause Analysis, also known as, Five Whys—asking “why” will assist the project manager is determining if this is a problem or topic that can be addressed through a project. The technique helps the team understand how different causes may interrelate, it is also useful for getting to the root cause. By addressing the “Why“ of an issue the team can stay focused on the topic and not personalities.

Planning

Planning processes involve defining and refining objectives and selecting the best of the alternative options available to achieve the objectives that the project was created to address.

The Idea Generation tools/techniques described in the Initiating processes are applicable during Planning. In addition, Problem Analysis tools/techniques are relevant during planning activities.

Problem Analysis

Cause and Effect Diagram—This technique will generate the relationship between a given outcome and the factors that influence or “cause” the outcome. The Cause and Effect diagram gives the team an opportunity to focus on specific issues, identifies areas needing additional data and provides a path to finding root causes. A cause and effect diagram is also known as a “Fishbone” Diagram.

Matrix Diagram—A Matrix Diagram graphically portrays the strength of relationships. A matrix diagram can to used to analyze a number of variables and its construction depends on the number of different factors being addressed. To develop a matrix:

1. Select the variables to be analyzed for potential relationships.

2. Select the matrix format based on the number of variable and the number of expected relations.

3. Populate the matrix with the variables.

Decision-Making

Multivoting—This technique is useful when reducing large lists to the highest priority items, often used after a brainstorming session. Lists are prioritized without creating a win-lose situation for team members. The steps involved in multivoting are:

1. Divide the total number of items on the list by 2. This is the number of votes each member receives. For example, each member will have 15 votes if the total list consists of 30 items.

2. Each member casts their votes for the items they believe to be top priority. Total per item are generated.

3. Based on the totals for each item identify the top 4 to 6 items. Drop items that receive few or no votes.

4. Conduct another vote again allowing each member to have half the votes of the total number of items.

5. The list should now be reduced to items that have been identified as priority by everyone in the group.

Benchmarking—This is the process of finding and adapting best practices to improve an organization's performance. Benchmarking provides a way to assess how your organization or process measures against other organizations or processes that have been identified as “best in class.” Steps in developing a Benchmarking study include:

1. Plan the study—Identify goals and objectives for the study and what information is being sought.

2. Collect the data—Identify possible benchmarking targets or sources and obtain the necessary information. This may include professional organizations, trade magazines, or on-site visits.

3. Analyze the data—Study the information that has been gathered. Include comparisons between the “best” processes and your specific situation. What are the similarities/differences?

4. Adapt what works—Modify the best practice to fit the uniqueness of the organization.

Force Field Analysis—this technique identifies the relationships of influencing forces on a specific goal or problem. Once the key forces that enable or hinder the efforts to meet the goal or solve the problem are identified then improvement opportunities can be identified. Steps necessary to construct a force field analysis include:

1. Define the objective—What is the goal or problem?

2. List the influences or forces that promote or hinder the ability to reach the goal or solve the problem.

3. Using the forces list—prioritize the impact of each force

4. Develop an approach to maximize the forces that promote the achievement of the goal or solution definition.

5. Identify ways to minimize the influence of inhibiting forces.

Executing/Controlling

The processes of Executing and Controlling are closely linked. Execution is putting the plan into action. This includes the coordination of resources and staff to carry out the plan. Controlling Processes are ensuring the objectives and goals of the project are met by monitoring and measuring progress on a regular basis. These processes often work in parallel with interaction flowing between the two processes. The tools/techniques used during the Planning processes are applicable during these processes. In addition, Problem Solving and tools are also appropriate.

Problem Solving

Critical Incident—This technique helps identify problems as the project progresses toward the objective. This technique requires an element of trust and openness. Steps involved in conducting a critical incident session include:

1. Select participants who have knowledge of the service, process or product that is the subject of the project.

2. Conduct a group interview to identify critical problems that contributed to additional problems.

Sample interview questions.

• Which incident over a specific time period (day, week) was most difficult?

• Which incident most impacted business user relations?

• Which incident cost the most in terms of dollars?

• Which incident cost the most in terms of time and resources?

3. Collect and analyze the answers—results may be displayed in graphical format. The incidents occurring most often or costing the most are candidates for additional attention and may indicate the need for possible modifications.

Check Sheet—Provides an organized method of collecting data. Steps involved in creating a check sheet include:

1. Clearly identify what is being collected—make sure the specifics are clearly identified and understood.

2. Keep the data collection process easy—if possible just use check marks.

3. Organize the check sheet by the way the data will be used. Group similar items.

4. Determine use of the check sheet to ensure consistent data collection—timing, specific points in the process, who should complete.

Pareto Chart—Based on the Pareto Principle that 20% of the problems have an 80% impact. A Pareto Chart is a bar chart with the data displayed according to priority or importance. This allows the project manager or team members to identify the most important problems. Steps for creating a Pareto Chart include:

1. Identify the possible problems.

2. Collect data on the process—Use existing, new.

3. Label the chart—Units of measure on the left vertical axis and categories of problems on the horizontal axis.

4. Plot the data—Order the categories according to their frequency

Closing

Closing processes involve the acceptance of the project or phase and bringing it to an orderly end. Resources are accounted for and released and project objectives are revisited to ensure they have been met. The processes involved in Closing revolve around the Problem-Solving and Decision-Making tools/techniques. For additional information, please refer to the Planning and Controlling Processes section of this paper.

Exhibit 1

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Application

Exercise Description

During the presentation at the Seminar and Symposium, participants will have the opportunity to be involved in an interactive exercise. Since many readers of this paper will not that that opportunity we have described the exercise in this section of our paper.

The use of the Cause and Effect Diagram will be examined in depth. Attendees will be given a scenario and from the information provided a Cause and Effect diagram will be created.

Summary

Project management provides a foundation for a life-cycle problem-solving approach. Organizations can capitalize on their investment in both quality and project management training by creating a synergistic use of the two professional disciplines. Too often, the disciplines have been seen in a competitive light—either quality management or project management. Our contention is that you cannot have one without the other. Good quality management requires a structured project approach—good project management requires the integration of quality into the project. Since we are project management professionals we have provided some insight and thoughts surrounding the use of quality tools and techniques in the project environment. We hope you have found this paper useful and thought stimulating.

References

Air force Quality Institute. 1993. Process Improvement Guide – Second Edition. Holmes, Susan (Ed.) Air University, Maxwell AFB, AL.

Anderson, Bjorn. 1999. Business Process Improvement Toolbox. Milwaukee, WI: American Society for Quality.

Block, Thomas R., and Frame, J. Davidson. 1998. The Project Office. Crisp Publications Inc.

Buzan, Tony. 1993. The Mind Map Book. ISBN 0563 86373 8.

Chaug, Richard Y., and Mathew E. Niedzwiecki. 1995. Continuous Improvement Tools – Volume 2. SanFrancisco: Jossey-Bass.

Frame, J. Davidson. 1994. The New Project Management: Tools for an Age of Rapid Change. Corporate Reengineering, and Other Business Realities. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Project Management Institute Standards Committee. 1996. A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide). Newtown, PA: Project Management Institute.

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 or any listed author.

Proceedings of the Project Management Institute Annual Seminars & Symposium
November 1–10, 2001 • Nashville, Tenn., USA

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