Satisfying the Customer

15 January, 2015

A story is told about a student who sat the Leaving Certificate history exam and was faced with a question along the lines of: Describe Daniel O’Connell’s contribution to Irish history? The student began by stating that he did not know anything about Daniel O’Connell but would instead detail Padraig Pearce’s contribution. History does not record whether the student’s essay was any good, but it is certain that, even if it was the greatest treatise on Pearce ever written, it would not have gained any marks.

Project Managers have to be aware of this syndrome when considering the deliverables of their projects. Joseph M. Juran described quality as fitness for purpose. However, it is vital that the purpose we are aiming for is the one required of us. This means that our project has to ensure that the deliverables are objectively perfect (or at least as good as we can make them) and correspond to their requirements.

Project Management Professionals (PMPs)® are encouraged to collect requirements during the planning phase and to maintain a Requirements Traceability Matrix during the project to demonstrate that the deliverables match the requirements. However, care must be taken that the requirements are clear enough to be met.  For instance, we might be collecting requirements for a new sports car and one of the requests made is that it be fast. What does this mean? How fast is fast? We need to be given targets for top speed and acceleration. Only then can we show quantitatively that we have met the requirement. Another vague requirement would be to have a seat that accommodates a bigger frame. What is a bigger frame? We need height, weight and vital statistics.

To have a happy customer at the end of the project, two criteria have to be met: the deliverables have to meet the quality standards we have set for them. This is called verification and has been explained by the software guru, Barry Boehm as building the product right. The PMPs® among you will recognize the Control Quality process from the Monitor and Control process group.  This process takes Deliverables as inputs and produces Verified Deliverables as outputs. Of course, verification may expose defects with the product, so we might have to raise change requests to rectify any faults found. Once repairs have been made, they must be inspected in the Control Quality process again. If they are satisfactory, then they are, confusingly, called Validated Changes. To be technically correct, they should be called Verified Changes.

But, as we noted at the start, passing quality checks will not necessarily satisfy the end customer. While the product might be technically perfect, it might not meet the customer’s requirements. So once we have a set of successfully verified deliverables, we need to hand them over to the Validate Scope process to compare them against our requirements. Validation is what Barry Boehm described as building the right product.

If you are preparing for the PMP® exam, you will be familiar with the Requirements Traceability Matrix and how it shows which component of the deliverable satisfies which requirement. The Validate Scope process may involve a series of high-level tests, each demonstrating the functionality that maps to a specific requirement. These are often called customer acceptance tests or handover acceptance tests. They are to assure the customer that what they asked for is what they are going to get.

There is an assumption in the Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) that the customer actually knows what s/he wants.  This, sadly, is not always the case. Building architects assist in the requirements gathering process by producing little scale models of what they think the customers want. This gives the customer the opportunity to critique the design and request changes before major investment is put in. Similarly, agile software development methods allow parts of a software system to be demonstrated and the work is adapted based on customer feedback. It is important for Project Managers to realize that what the customer wants is not necessarily what the customer asks for.

Velopi’s PMP® Exam Preparation courses cover verification and validation, along with everything else you need to know to obtain PMP® certification. Please visit our training page or contact us directly if you are interested in this, or any of the other project and program management courses we offer. Velopi is a Registered Education Provider for the Project Management Institute so you are in good hands.

By Velopi Seamus Collins

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