Project Quality Management

14 March, 2016

Quality is most often associated with manufacturing. If you can make all your products defect-free then your warranty claims will be low and your profit margins higher. This sort of thinking stemmed from the Toyota Production System and introduced the world to Lean Manufacturing.

But it is no good making products with zero defects if the product itself is flawed through poor design. This is where project managers need to be aware of quality because, while manufacturing comes under the heading of operations, the design of new products is carried out in projects. So project managers need to decide how often a design needs to be inspected and what level of testing should be carried on the prototype products. S/he needs to be aware that such activities will increase the project’s schedule and also its budget.

For Project Management Professionals (PMPs)©, deciding how much quality to include in the project begins during the Plan Quality Management process. In several industries, this is an easy task because quality standards have been laid down for your end product. Project managers in the medical device or pharmaceutical industries will know that their new products will not be acceptable unless they meet governmental quality standards, such as those laid down by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Similarly, electrical goods and communications devices have to comply with regulations. In these industries, the project manager’s quality planning is straightforward – just ensure the product meets whatever industry standard is demanded in that sector.

However, where no standard is given, what should the project manager do? In these cases, the quality requirements must be stated explicitly in the Quality Management Plan along with the steps we are going to take to ensure we produce a high-quality product. The Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK© Guide) highlights seven basic quality tools that can be used to assess quality: cause and effect diagrams, flowcharts, check-sheets, Pareto Diagrams, Histograms, Control Charts and Scatter Diagrams. Whatever tools we apply in the effort to produce a quality product or service, we should always bear in mind Joseph M. Juran’s definition that a quality product is one that is fit for purpose.

Having decided on a quality standard to follow, it is important to ensure that we actually conform to that standard during the project. Anyway who has undergone surgery will be aware that no surgeon will guarantee a successful outcome. What they do guarantee is that they will follow best practices during the procedure, giving the patient the best chance of a successful outcome. Similarly, a project manager cannot really guarantee a successful outcome, but s/he can demonstrate that everything possible was done to achieve the project’s goals.

The Perform Quality Assurance process, so familiar to PMPs©, arranges audits of the project’s quality work, so that project stakeholders (such as the organization’s Governance Board) can be assured that the project is conforming to the planned standards. If the project is going to conform to an external standard (such as one of the ISO’s), external auditors are required to review the project periodically to ensure that their processes are being followed.

Unfortunately, rigorous adherence to a quality standard is no guarantee that the end product will be fit for purpose. As well as conforming to the standard, the project manager needs to ensure that the product or service meets the standard. So, as well as stating that we will review the product’s design at both the overall architectural and sub-system levels, we need to analyse the number of errors uncovered during these reviews and ensure that a very poor design is discarded and replaced with one that is fit for purpose. Later in the project, we need to test our prototypes to ensure they work as designed. Again, large numbers of defects suggest a poor product – one that might need to be redesigned. This work is done by the Control Quality process.

 A drawback with inspections and tests is that they provide lagging indicators of quality. Before we can review a finished design, the design has to be created. Some companies prefer to get their designers together for intense brainstorming sessions, where competing designs are explored and likely candidates are selected for further study. Only when the design team is satisfied that one approach contains no obvious flaws does the design work go ahead.

Quality management is most closely associated with verification – ensuring that the product or service is defect free. However, the project manager needs to make sure that the project is producing something that also meets its requirements – a process called validation. While we might be using the finest Belgian chocolate, prepared in absolutely clinical conditions, the resulting teapot product is not going to be a success in the marketplace.

By Velopi Seamus Collins

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