The Quality Sevens (Part 1)

19 November, 2013

Whoever put together the Project Quality Management section of the Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) liked the number seven. Veteran project managers, who sat their PMP® exams in the days of the 4th edition of the PMBOK® Guide will remember the list of quality tools they had to learn. On the surface, newcomers just see the Seven Basic Quality Tools and it looks much easier. Unfortunately, you still have to know what those seven tools are for the PMP® exam.

Another grouping of seven also appears in the Perform Quality Assurance process – the Quality Management and Control Tools. While many of these are used in project management, it is difficult to see what relevance they have to quality assurance. This makes PMP® exam preparation a bit more difficult.

This is the first of a series of two articles where we will review the sevens, starting with the Quality Management and Control Tools. Hopefully, these will be of equal interest to those preparing for the PMP® exam and those who already have PMP® certification.

1. Affinity Diagrams: Probably the easiest way to describe the affinity diagramming technique is to regard it as building a Work Breakdown Structure in reverse. With the Work Breakdown Structure, the overall aim of the project (e.g. build a house) is broken down into its constituent activities (groundwork, block-laying, carpentry, plumbing, etc.) and the breakdown continues until individual Work Packages are identified.

As PMPs®, we are advised to use planning as a team building activity. So we might invite the team to assist with the Work Breakdown Structure. Being close to the action, the team is likely to suggest many low-level activities which need to be organized under broader headings. This is where affinity diagrams come in. It is a technique whereby ideas are grouped together into broader concepts.

While using the bottom-up affinity technique with the top-down work breakdown approach can help our Project Scope Management process, it is difficult to envision how it helps quality assurance.

2. Process Decision Program Charts: These are used to prepare contingency plans, suggesting that they should appear under Project Risk Management. They are similar in nature to Failure Mode and Effect Analysis (FMEA). The idea is to take activities in the Work Breakdown Structure and explore what could possibly go wrong with them. It is a bit like Cause and Effect analysis, except that we are going in the opposite direction. With Cause and Effect, the effect is known and we want to determine the cause. Here, we are looking at a potential cause and want to anticipate its possible effects.

As an example, let us consider a building project example. Towards the end of the project (under the Validate Scope process) we will schedule a Fire Safety Inspection. What could go wrong here? This depends on the fire safety regulations, so these must be studied and extra work could be required to conform to regulations. Another risk here is a change in regulations – are new versions of the safety standards due in the near future? In this case, risk assessment has a direct bearing on the quality of the finished product

3. Inter-relationship Digraphs: If your company has paid for your PMP® training, dropping this sort of term into conversations will convince them it was money well spent. On your PMP® course, you are likely to remember the exercise to calculate the number of communications channels involved in your project - if there are N people involved, the number of channels is (N x (N – 1)) / 2. If you draw the picture of these relationships, you end up with an inter-relationship digraph. The nodes are people, departments, activities, etc. and the links are how they are related.

These are very useful for highlighting bottlenecks in processes – a genuine Perform Quality Assurance concern – and to identify the key aspects of a system. By assembling such a diagram, it becomes clear that some entities have significantly more connections than others. These represent high-risks because a failure here will have major consequences.

4. Tree Diagrams: These are very familiar to PMPs® and indeed anyone who has dabbled in project management. The Work Breakdown Structure is the obvious one, but we also have Organizational Breakdown Structures (Org. Charts), Resource Breakdown Structures and even Risk Breakdown Structures. Anywhere we need to decompose a larger concept, the tree diagram is the way to represent the breakdown.

5. Prioritization Matrics: Project Procurement Management is all about obtaining resources from outside the organization. If we put out a tender for goods and services, how do we choose which supplier? This question forces us to identify what attributes we consider important – cost, quality, delivery time, etc. However, which of these are the most important? The Prioritization Matrix helps by listing the selection criteria along both axes of a matrix, then using numbers to indicate how important they are relative to each other. For instance, two factors with equal importance would have a “1” in the box where they intersect. If one was more important, a “5” might be used, or a “10” if it was significantly more important. However, if the criterion is less important than the one we are comparing it to, a “0.2” value might be used or “0.1” if it is significantly less important. Totalling the rows will allow us to order the criteria from most to least important.

6. Activity Network Diagrams: PMPs® and those with the PMI-SP® certification will recognize these straight away. They are what we use for scheduling in Project Time Management. Anyone planning to sit the PMP® exam soon will be able to calculate the critical path and work out floats based on these in their sleep.

7. Matrix Diagrams: These are very familiar to PMPs®. Think of the Responsibility Assignment Matrix from Project Human Resource Management or the Stakeholders’ Engagement Assessment Matrix from Project Stakeholder Management. Where it makes sense to present a series of values against the same set of criteria, the matrix or table format works well.

At this stage you will appreciate why the collective term “Quality Management and Control Tools” is puzzling. It might be more apt to consider these as Project Management and Control Tools, as we are familiar with most of them from our PMP® training. At least the Seven Basic Quality Tools are definitely related to quality, making our next article a bit more straightforward.

If you would like to learn more about project management and the various certification options open to you, please visit our training page. We run our project management courses in Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway so you should not have too far to go. To get more details, please contact us directly.

By Velopi Seamus Collins


 

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