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An Introduction to Project Quality Management
By Michael L Young

Budgets and timeframes are integral elements of project management and are often the key elements used when assessing a project’s performance. However a key question that should be included in the mix is did the project deliver what was expected.

But what is quality and how does it apply to projects?

Quality means different things to different people. In the traditional sense, quality may be used to describe something produced by a craftsman. From a manufacturing perspective quality is understood as being within tolerances or free from defects. However, from a project management perspective, quality relates to performance against the pre-determined standards, including:

  • Whether the project was completed on time
  • Whether the project was completed within budget
  • Whether the delivered project outcome met organisational needs
  • Whether a the deliverable met its required specifications
  • Whether the stakeholders were satisfied.

Ultimately quality management in a project is aimed ensuring project success and reducing the risk of project failure, be that due to technical defects or to poor stakeholder satisfaction.

Planning Quality up Front

To ensure quality is planned from the beginning and implemented throughout the project lifecycle, the production of a Quality Management Plan is recommended.

The Quality Management Plan should identify any specific standards the project needs to meet and should clearly identify the success criteria against which the project’s performance can be assessed. Whilst it is human nature to always think in terms of budget or schedule, in many cases projects that are delivered on time and with budget have been deemed to be catastrophic failures as they did not deliver the outcome that was expected.

The purpose of quality management in projects is to ensure that the project outputs delivered are ‘fit-for-purpose’, that is, they meet the required specifications and standards, perform as expected and are delivered on time. This applies not only to technical aspects, but also to documentation and plans.

It’s not all technical

A common mistake that project managers face is that they only focus on the product or technical solution when examining quality. Whilst most put in place appropriate testing, walkthroughs/inspections and systems pilots, many do not pay appropriate attention to the project management aspects. This includes:

  • Examining whether the current forms of communication are effective
  • Ensuring that all the right resources available and working at the required time
  • Providing correct and accurate reports to the necessary stakeholders on time
  • Verifying that the actual scope is still in-line with that described in the plan

Managing project quality is not complex. It’s about identifying all the deliverables at the start and deciding how to best confirm their quality, be that through testing, inspection, validation, reviews or observation.

Quality at what cost?

All projects operate within the time/cost/quality triple constraint. As with any planning activity, there is a cost in performing quality checks but this is offset by not having to fix problems down the track. Experience tells us that the later you find a problem, the longer it takes to fix or the larger the impact.

Sorting it out later might be easier and less costly, however, this may not be an option depending on the nature of the project, or the project objectives. For example, a project involving organisational change would see satisfied or fully-engaged stakeholders as critical and as such things need to be right first time irrespective of the cost.

Quality Management in Small Projects

A ‘Quality Management Plan’ should be produced irrespective of the size, scope and timeframes of a project however it should ‘scaled’ in size and detail accordingly.

Small projects rely more on individual quality activities. Project managers of smaller projects don’t usually apply formal quality management processes as they don’t have time to get through the metrics collection and process improvement steps.

Summary

The way project managers choose to manage quality should be appropriate to the size and scope of the project.

Larger or more complex projects will need a formal quality management plan and processes. Smaller projects need to make sure they identify and implement specific quality activities within the project plan.

A good rule of thumb is that the value of the effort and time needed to manage quality should not exceed the value that you expect to gain from the quality management process. This of course must be weighed up against the required level of stakeholder satisfaction.

Michael Young is Principal Consultant with ‘Transformed’ – Project Management Unleashed. http://www.transformed.com.au

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