5 Principles for Managing Quality

Time, cost, quality – pick two“Faster, cheaper, better; that’s what we need,” I said emphatically.

I remember being schooled by my deputy when I asked him why we couldn’t complete the project earlier than promised, while reducing costs to improve our margins, and at the same time delighting our client with superb quality.

“Well, I can give you two, but not all three,” he said.

“If you want it faster and better, it won’t be cheaper. I can give you faster and cheaper, but it won’t be better. Or you can have better and cheaper, but it definitely won’t be faster.”

That made so much sense to me. For those of you who have studied process and quality and concepts related to these, you are undoubtedly familiar with this axiom. He made me think about how we as an industry build systems, especially when it comes to the “better” part of the “faster-better-cheaper” triad. In my many years of system delivery experience, I observed that many projects fail to live up to the client organization’s objectives because, in our quest to deliver on-time and within budget, we sacrifice quality. There is a cost to quality, and we need to build it into our project budgets.

Managing quality is not synonymous with what is traditionally known as quality assurance. While managing quality includes quality assurance, it is primarily focused on the execution of the activities that were defined in the Quality Management Plan. At the same time, it is a commitment to developing and supporting an ongoing culture of quality/process improvement.

I discussed at length my experience and observations regarding the planning of quality management in three previous articles:

These articles, and the next two, focus on moving beyond planning to managing quality. I am somewhat disappointed in the PMBOK® Guide (Project Management Institute, 2017, pp.288-297) description in this area, as it resorts strictly to process. My observation is that if it were strictly a process issue, we would always deliver with quality.

I came across an observation by Rafael Aguayo, an expert on quality, who elaborates on W. Edwards Deming’s famous statement, “Quality is everyone’s responsibility.” (Deming, as you may recall, was one of the founders of the quality movement in the United States.) Aguayo learned from Deming that what he meant was: “Quality is everyone’s responsibility, but top management have more leverage in their decisions than anyone else.” In other words, if we leave the idea that quality is everyone’s responsibility open-ended, then it becomes no one’s responsibility. However, with management’s direction and decision-making responsibility, quality can become the culture of the organization, and thus it becomes everyone’s responsibility.

That being said – and in keeping with my objective to parallel the people aspects of Project Management with the process aspects that Project Managers (and the PMBOK® Guide) primarily focus on – I firmly believe that managing quality in our projects is far more dependent on the people aspects than on process.

The following are the guidelines that I have found useful throughout my career to help ensure that the systems we developed met the expectations of our clients and produced quality results. Note that these are mostly people-centric, with only one that reflects on process.

  1. Develop strong leadership. I list this guideline first because without strong leadership, dedicated to delivering with quality none of the four points that follow would be possible. Strong leaders know their craft and engage the project staff in setting clear goals and objectives for the project. They know their client and the client’s business, and make good decisions in their client’s best interest. They are invested in achieving quality results for their organization and for their clients.

    It concerns me that so many IT providers, whether vendors or internal to the client organization, utilize generic leadership training for their Project Managers and team leads. Such training is typically based on academics and not experience, and focuses on teaching generalized leadership traits. They don’t train in leadership areas specific to IT project management, having themselves never experienced project life. One of my personal mantras in my consulting practice is, “training for this team, for this project, for this end-user, for this time”. It is my observation that while generic leadership training has some basic benefits, leadership training tailored to the IT project management develops much stronger project leaders and results in greater project success.

  2. Be client focused. After all, why are you executing the project in the first place? Our clients are our bread and butter. Gaining new clients requires substantial effort and resources. Earning their confidence and loyalty is worth your attention to their needs and your focus on producing a quality outcome. This will enhance your reputation in the marketplace and earn new business from this and other clients.

    When I managed large fixed-price projects, I would always stress to my staff that it was our responsibility to know and understand their business as well as they themselves did. Time after time, the client staff on our projects would commend us on how well we understood their business and how we were able to find inefficiencies in their legacy processes that were revamped within their new systems. We brought value beyond just delivering the computer system.

  3. Be staff focused. By staff focused I mean engage the project staff, both your own and your clients’, in every aspect of the project delivery. This especially holds true with regard to managing quality, as noted in Deming’s adage that quality is everyone’s responsibility.

    In many of my earlier articles/blog posts, I stressed engaging even the less experienced team members in project planning, scope management, requirements definition, and the like. Not that these team members are experts in these areas, but they often have insights that Project Managers no longer have from being in the trenches more recently. Team members should be encouraged to continuously improve their knowledge and skills so that they can contribute more effectively to project success.

    To truly manage the project effectively, the Project Manager must empower staff to make decisions appropriate to their level of responsibility, while mentoring and coaching them. Formal recognition and acknowledgment of jobs well done go a long way in maintaining morale and commitment to the project’s goals and objectives. An engaged team member is a satisfied team member, that is motivated to the helping the project to succeed.

  4. Stay committed to process. Project teams are well-versed in executing according to process. It’s in their very nature as IT professionals. So, while I focus on the people aspects of Project Management, I don’t diminish the importance of process. Managing quality requires managing the project according to a methodology which, by definition, is process. In turn, process enables a culture of quality.

    Process emphasizes efficiency and effectiveness. Process is the guideline that when followed by each team member delivers a quality product. Process makes room for continuous improvement, and over time your organization will improve its consistency of delivery, reduce its costs, increase its profitability, and execute projects more successfully.

  5. Commit to continuous improvement. The most successful organizations are ones that subscribe to continuous improvement. When I think back over 43 years of project delivery experience, I am awestruck by the incredible strides our industry has made in the management of projects. Yet, our rate of successful delivery as an industry is not where it needs to be; there is still much to be done.

    Perhaps this is also because of the fact that, even as we have improved our processes and our quality, the systems we are developing today are far more complex than those we built when I began my career. Nevertheless, there is still much to be done.

    IT providers that are committed to continuous improvement and maintaining a culture of quality are far better equipped to handle changes in their environment and create new opportunities than their less quality-minded competitors. They have developed a consistency of approach across the entire system delivery organization and, again in keeping with Deming’s adage, provide their staff with training in their methodologies and quality initiatives.

These five principles of managing quality on a project, while seemingly basic, must be implemented within the culture of the organization. They must be practiced on every project. This commitment to quality will not only improve project successes, but will increase customer satisfaction, enable the organization to attract top employees, enable it to win new business, and help to retain existing clients.

Footnotes

Project Management Institute. A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) – Sixth Edition. Newton Square, PA: PMI Publications, 2017, Print.


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