Do you remember the old FRAM oil filter commercials? “Pay me now. Or pay me later.” Think of the Quality Management Plan as that FRAM oil filter.
In my previous article, “Why You Should Have a Quality Management Plan,” I discussed the importance of developing and adhering to a Quality Management Plan as part of the overall Project Management Plan. As the PMBOK® Guide states, “The primary benefits of meeting quality requirements include less work, higher productivity, lower costs, increased stakeholder satisfaction, and increased profitability” (Project Management Institute, 2017, p.282). All of those benefits go directly to the people aspects of Project Management, to both the project’s management and the deliverables.
As one of my former Project Managers was fond of saying, “If you think you don’t have time to do it right (i.e. with quality), then know with certainty that you don’t have time to do it over. So do it right. The first time.”
In the previous article I touched on the importance of intentionally planning quality into the project from day one. Here I consider practical ideas of what that might look like.
To begin with, most organizations have certain documents in place which become direct input for the planning of quality. These include items such as the project scope and schedule baselines, high-level quality requirements for the end product, standards for project deliverables, organizational guidelines and standards, and other such inputs. Additionally, many client organizations have their own standards written into the contract terms and conditions, to which the delivery team must adhere.
Such standards and guidelines are often the product of years of experience and industry best practices. Barring excessive guidelines (such as those rigid procedures that resulted in the Pentagon’s infamous $600 toilet seat!), these can be relied upon to help deliver a quality project and product.
Our industry utilizes a number of quality management tools to help prevent and/or solve quality-related problems. For years, I thought these were theoretical processes used to augment MBA exams with enough content to fill a half-day of test taking; but having used several of them on projects, I can attest to their efficacy. The following seven tools should be included in every IT project Quality Management Plan’s “bag of tricks” to help ensure timely and quality delivery:
- Fishbone diagrams – This cause-and-effect analytical tool helps trace the source of a problem back to its root cause. Resembling the structure of a fish skeleton, the problem statement is placed at one end of the “fishbone,” and the potential factors contributing to the problem along each branch. Each potential factor is analyzed as a contributor to the objective to be achieved. This tool is often used in product design and quality defect prevention. (Confession: I have not used this specific tool on an IT project, but I did score high on a question regarding the fishbone diagram on one of my MBA finals.)
- Check sheets – These sheets are used as checklists when gathering data, and are used to collect data about potential quality problems. They can be effectively used as a mistake-proofing tool or, alternately, a data organizing tool when performing quality inspections to identify defects. Check sheets/checklists are used by many organizations to instill good practice within project teams when performing iterative processes.
- Control charts – These are essentially process behavior charts in statistical analysis to determine if a process is in control. For example, the number of defects coming out of a functional area may be outside of desired limits, and deliberate effort needs to be applied to understand the underlying cause(s) and fundamentally improve the process. Control charts may be less effective in waterfall methodologies if all of the functionality is delivered at once, but can have good results when working with agile development methods.
- Histograms – These charts provide graphical representations of the distribution of data, and are used to describe the central tendency of a statistical distribution. Again, when applied appropriately, such diagrams can indicate visually where attention to quality may need to be applied.
- Pareto charts – These diagrams contain both bars and a line graph where individual values are presented in descending order by the bars, and the cumulative total represented by the line. Pareto charts highlight (particularly in the case of software development) the most common sources of defects and the highest occurring type of defect. Such information can be invaluable to the development team to put processes in place to reduce the defect rate.
- Scatter plots – This tool graphs ordered pairs of variables on X-Y axes to determine if correlation can be established between them. Trend lines often can be drawn from the data, then used to estimate how a change in one of the ordered pair values may influence the value of the other. Perhaps not used often, nonetheless it can be useful in certain analytical processes. For example, if sufficient data is captured for software defects, a number of trends can be derived and analyzed for improving the software development processes.
- Flowcharts – These charts map the sequence of steps and branching possibilities within a given process. They show activities, decision points, branching loops, parallel paths and the overall order of processing. Flowcharts also can highlight the cost of quality in a process, both for conformance and non-conformance work required to deliver the end product. They help visualize processes for clearer understanding, and often can help detect logic flaws and bottlenecks.
These are powerful tools, especially when applied early enough in the delivery process to help understand the potential for lower quality and corresponding schedule and budget overruns. The earlier a defect or potential defect is uncovered and eliminated, the more likely the project will proceed on schedule, and the client will be satisfied with the end result.
The cost of quality has two facets
- Cost of Conformance, or money spent during the project to avoid failures; and
- Cost of Non-Conformance, or money spent during and after the project because of failures.
Cost of Conformance provides for prevention costs to build a quality product. These prevention costs include staff training, documented processes, adequate equipment, and sufficient time to achieve the desire quality. It also provides for appraisal costs to assess the quality of the project’s management and deliverables. Assessment costs include strategic testing processes and frequent inspections of deliverables.
The Cost of Non-Conformance results from either internal or external failures, and is manifested in the forms of rework, scrap, financial liability, warranty work/rework, opportunity costs, loss of staff and loss of future business.
It is readily apparent that the Cost of Conformance makes for a happier work force and a satisfied customer base, while the Cost of Non-Conformance has the direct opposite effect.
As those old FRAM oil filter commercials said, “Pay me now. Or pay me later.”
IT delivery teams must spend the time and effort to plan quality into the project’s management and project deliverables. They must also arm themselves with every tool that can help them to maintain that quality and continuously improve upon it for each subsequent project delivered.
Why? Because there is nothing more satisfying than satisfied project teams, who have delivered on time, under budget, and with the quality that they can be proud of. And there is nothing more satisfying than satisfied clients, who receive the product for which they contracted.
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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