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7 Sharp Ways to Improve Project Quality
By Harry Hall

A lack of quality management can have profound effects on projects –rework, schedule delays, higher cost, frustration, morale problems, and lack of customer satisfaction. Can project managers afford not to focus on this critical aspect of project management?

I ask in my quality management training sessions, “When buying eyeglasses, what quality aspects are important to you?” I hear comments such as: The glasses fit nicely. The glasses have the features I wanted. I like the style of the glasses.

Other individuals talk about the quality customer experience: how they are greeted, how quickly they see the ophthalmologist, how easy it is to find their frames, and the fast, accurate checkout process.

Projects are similar–project customers, whether internal or external, receive deliverables and encounter project processes. How do your customers describe their deliverables and customer experience? Do your customers feel they are getting remarkable value?

Here are some common quality management mistakes. Overcoming these mistakes can greatly improve your chance for success.

The Most Potent Ways to Overcome Quality Mistakes

  1. Failure to define quality. The term ‘quality’ is ambiguous. The Project Management Body of Knowledge defines quality as, “conformance to requirements and fitness of use;” ISO 9000 defines quality as, “the degree to which a set of inherent characteristics fulfill requirements.” Solution: Define quality in practical terms that allow your teams to take progressive steps to meet the project requirements.
  2. Failure to stick to the requirements. Some organizations have a mantra such as “exceeding our customer’s expectations.” Be careful about gold-plating requirements. When we add features the customer did not request, we increase the potential for schedule delays, unnecessary complexity, and higher cost. Solution: Be a gatekeeper; don’t tolerate out-of-scope extras to be added to your projects.

  3. Failure to develop and right-size your quality management plan. Some project managers create overreaching quality management plans–the plan costs more to execute than we receive in benefits. More often, however, the plans are inadequate. Solution: Work with your project team to define a pragmatic approach to managing quality, including applicable standards and processes.

  4. Failure to perform quality assurance. Let’s assume you have a quality management plan. Are you executing the plan? Are you using the standards and processes defined in the plan? You need to be able to answer these questions. Solution: Have a quality audit performed to evaluate how well the team is following the plan. Focus on whether you are getting the results you expected.

  5. Failure to control quality. To control quality is to ensure the deliverables are correct (i.e., free of defects). Wise project managers don’t wait until the end of the project to control quality.Solution: Perform iterative walkthroughs and inspections to identify defects; start as early as possible. Seek to find and correct defects close to the point of origination, not downstream when defect correction will be more costly.

  6. Failure to focus on requirements. Requirements management and quality management go hand in hand. The requirements document is an input into quality planning. Good requirements lead to less rework and schedule delays. Solution: Focus on improving the requirements process, which means eliciting requirements, analyzing requirements, documenting requirements, and validating requirements. Consider using a skilled business analyst to facilitate the requirements process.

  7. Failure to focus on the project processes. Some project teams “just do it” when creating deliverables. These teams may fail to develop efficient and effective project processes. The same process mistakes are repeated over and over. Solution: Conduct lessons learned after project phases and at the completion of the project to evaluate processes such as the requirements process, the design process, the development process, and the testing process.

Which of these mistakes are you making? What quality issues are hindering your ability to deliver projects on schedule and on budget? Take a minute to identify a few items you plan to perform in your current or upcoming projects.

Harry Hall, PMP, PMI-RMP, is the Director of Enterprise Risk Management at the Georgia Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Company, one of the largest domestic insurance companies in the state of Georgia. You can read more from Harry on his blog.

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