As Project Managers, we are conditioned to monitor and control the scope, schedule, and costs of our projects.
But what about quality?
Do we monitor and control quality with the same focus and attention that we do scope, schedule, and cost?
First, let me define what I mean by control quality. These are the monitoring and controlling activities that are used to inspect the product being developed to determine whether it meets the quality standards established and agreed upon at the beginning of the project. Quality does not originate at the point of this inspection, but rather these inspections follow the establishment of the set of requirements against which quality will be evaluated.
I wrote about the planning and managing of quality in the articles referenced below. The monitoring and controlling of quality now takes the process to the next step. It helps ensure that quality is also a primary focus of the project team.
The previous articles that lead to this one include:
- “Why You Should Have a Quality Management Plan,”
- “Quality Management Tools for Successful Delivery,”
- “5 Principles for Managing Quality,” and
- “These are the Costs of Poor Quality.”
At one time in my career I resisted quality control interference (as I often called it) to my projects. I felt that if the planning and managing of quality were done well, then quality control was an unwarranted additional cost to the project. On the other hand, if planning and managing were done poorly, then what use was it to attempt to inspect quality into the project after the fact? It was too late by then.
I probably took my cues from the way the firm I worked for at the time implemented quality control. Rather than make it an ongoing project activity, quality control was given lip service, typically at phase-end. No wonder that, as Project Manager, I resented this activity. My team would have to stop our momentum and respond to the quality control observations. These were often items that, had they been noted earlier, could have been fixed during execution without any interruption to timeline or budget. Often, they were items that did not benefit the project, but were identified to show that the quality control police were on the job.
Clearly, however, I was mistaken. When implemented correctly, the Control Quality activities benefit the project greatly.
It is also important when defining quality control, not to confuse it with either quality assurance or scope validation. As noted earlier, quality control is about inspecting the product being developed to determine whether it meets the quality requirements established and agreed upon at the beginning of the project.
Quality assurance, on the other hand, refers to the processes undertaken to help ensure that the quality requirements will be met. It can be thought of as a process of continuous improvement. As processes improve, the quality of the product those processes create also improves.
A third aspect of this quality management system is that of scope validation. Quality control and scope validation are sometimes (erroneously) considered to be synonymous. Think of quality control as an internal process. Scope validation, on the other hand, is an external process. The client team conducts its own review to validate that the deliverable is acceptable and can be signed off.
And herein lies the essence of why Control Quality is as important a process for Project Managers to embrace as are the processes of Control Scope, Control Schedule, and Control Costs. It is not so much about the process as it is about the people aspects of project delivery.
- Client satisfaction. For the client to accept a project deliverable, they must be satisfied that the deliverable meets their expectations. Early deliverables must show that they lead to the eventual final product. The final product must be satisfactory to the end-users of the organization. Anything short of that constitutes failure.
So, while Control Quality activities are often seen as process, they really are people centric. It is important to meet with the client team and stakeholders frequently during the development of the deliverable – not just at point of review and acceptance. This has the benefit of keeping the client in the loop regarding progress, receiving their feedback early enough to be able to act upon it, and including the client in the ongoing solution development. As such, the likelihood of attaining client satisfaction at the end of the project is very high.
- Cost of quality (defect prevention versus rework). In my earlier article, “Quality Management Tools for Successful Delivery,” I stated:
The cost of quality has two facets:
1. Cost of Conformance, or money spent during the project to avoid failures; and
2. Cost of Non-Conformance, or money spent during and after the project because of failures.
It is preferable and far less expensive to prevent defects from occurring in the first place than to rework entire deliverables after the fact. Not to mention costs that may not be immediately evident, but may appear later as warranty fixes, liability claims, and/or loss of future business.
Putting the entire team on the alert for potential quality issues and continuous application of quality control are the two best weapons a Project Manager has to prevent as many defects as possible, thus avoiding rework later on.
- Continuous improvement. In conjunction with the previous bullet, the Project Manager must strive to improve project processes and deliverables with each project she manages. Each lesson learned – negative and positive – must be added to the Lessons Learned repository and implemented in upcoming phases or on future projects. This is a discipline which goes beyond mere process, but requires detail and care and lack of ego when documenting the items for ongoing improvement.
- Expert judgment. Much is made in the literature of the tools to use in quality control: checklists, check sheets, statistical sampling, cause-and-effect diagrams, control charts, histograms, scattergrams, and many others. While these are excellent (and necessary), the Project Manager must learn to use them wisely. This is where expert judgment comes in – that discernment that comes with project delivery experience.
Project Managers are trained to act quickly and decisively when they see a problem. But more importantly, they must act judiciously as they react to the data. Not every variance is a cause for alarm. Not every variance requires a reflexive action to fix something that may not be broken.
One of the most experienced and gifted Project Managers I worked for had a standard reaction every time I, or one of the other team leads, would bring an “urgent” problem to his attention. His standard reaction was to say, “Well, let’s stop and think about this for a minute.” Of course, it was never a minute.
He would pick through every observation, every item of data, and every hearsay comment in a very deliberative manner. I suspect he knew what he would do fairly quickly, but his calculated approach was to train us in how to use our own expert judgment. He did not want us to make knee-jerk decisions to fix something that was just ordinary noise in the process.
One of my former senior executives was fond of quoting the famous UCLA Bruins basketball coach, John Wooden. “If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have the time to do it over?”
The Control Quality process gives us that time, not to do it over, but to help make those incremental adjustments to the directing and managing of the project work to make sure it’s done right in the first place.
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