Shortly after we bought my wife’s brand new Camry hybrid vehicle in 2013, I read that Toyota Motor Company was recalling 885,000 vehicles worldwide because of electrical problems that could prevent airbags from deploying in a crash (Eisenstein, 2013). Were we worried?
According to Toyota, this recall was caused by a potential short-circuit that could cause airbag warning lights to turn on and, in some cases, to disable the airbags themselves so that they might not deploy in an accident. In some instances, however, the airbags could deploy inadvertently. Toyota said that the problem was due to water leaking from the air conditioning condenser unit onto the airbag control module.
I don’t know anything about car engineering. I’m an IT systems guy. But it seems to me that automobile companies have been building millions of cars in this world with airbags and with air-conditioning units. Whose bright idea was it to put the airbag control module underneath a dripping air-conditioning condenser unit?
Could it be that Toyota had a quality problem? No, let me restate that. Could Toyota have had a quality management planning problem? Obviously, I’m not aware of what happens inside these behemoth automobile companies, or how such a problem can arise. I’m just a consumer, inconvenienced by yet another recall.
As I said earlier, I am an IT systems guy; and the industry that I have been a part of for over 30 years has its own quality problems. My premise for this series of 52 weeks of Project Management success tips is that the reason that projects often do not achieve the customer’s complete objectives, or that they fail outright, is because of the disregard for the people aspects of Project Management. Failing to plan for the quality of the end product is a failure in the people aspects of Project Management.
For as long as I have been in this industry, we have developed extensive Project Management Plans. At the same time – and for as long as I have been in this industry – most of the teams with which I have worked have given only lip service to the development of Quality Management Plans. Quality management planning addresses both the management of the project and the project deliverables, with an eye to the quality of the end product.
Every project should have – no, must have – a Quality Management Plan. Why? Because, as the PMBOK® Guide so eloquently 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). As I read that, I read positive benefits for the people aspects of project management – all the way around.
I’ve stated before that my entire 40+ years in the industry has been in competitively bidding and then delivering fixed-price IT systems projects. Here’s a trap that I’ve seen consulting companies fall into over and over again. Whatever Quality Management Plan that the company adheres to, whether formalized or informal, it mainly stresses the technical and process aspects of delivering the project. The perception is often left that only lip service is paid to the quality of the end product itself (the reason for the project in the first place), and its maintainability and usability by the client organization far into the future. I suspect that the same holds true for internal IT organizations.
Do I hear “people aspects?”
But let me go further. In my opinion, this whole idea of quality is often attempted to be “inspected in” after the fact, rather than being planned, designed, and built into the project’s management or the project’s deliverables from the outset. Quality reviews or independent verification and validation (IV&V) are often conducted after the fact.
Then comes the rework, poor productivity, lower team morale, higher costs, increased project risks, and disappointed stakeholders and end-users. Oh yes, and dare I say, reduced profitability?
Do I hear “people aspects”?
Therefore, at a bare minimum each Project Management Plan needs to have as a major quality management component the following characteristics:
- Attention to the cost of quality – The entire project team must be aware that any decision made to shortcut quality in the name of timely completion can have far-reaching impacts on the operational costs associated with using the finished product. These are very real costs for our clients, per the Toyota example above. As IT consultants, or as an internal IT organization, it is our duty to invest in quality improvement of our processes and the end product, just as our clients have invested in us to deliver a quality product. It is incumbent on us to plan for quality from the beginning of the project.
In the old days (yes, my kids hate it when I say this too), as programmers we were limited to one or two program compiles a day. Do you want to bet that we had good quality processes in place so that we would not waste these few attempts to get our programs working? We paid significant attention to what we were doing and how well we were doing it every step of the way.
- Attention to overall client satisfaction – This begins with understanding and managing the requirements of the project so that the client’s expectations are met. It requires conforming to those requirements, and the product’s final fitness for use. In my mind, this is first and foremost what we as consultants do. It’s not just about finishing the project and collecting the final check.
- Preventing defects versus inspecting quality in – Developing and utilizing an intentional Quality Management Plan to prevent defects from happening is much more desirable than attempting to inspect quality into the project’s deliverables after the fact. The cost of preventing mistakes early in the process is much cheaper than the cost of correcting mistakes after they are found by inspection.
Early in my IT career, this was presented to us as Boehm’s first law: “Errors are most frequent during the requirements and design activities and are the more expensive the later they are removed.” – Barry W. Boehm.
Refer again to the 855,000 Toyota automobiles recalled.
- Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle – This is the age-old basis for continuous improvement or quality improvement of our processes and of our end products. Using PDCA religiously improves the quality of both the project’s management processes as well as the final output. (Note that the cycle starts with “Plan” – as in, quality plan.)
It has been my observation that unfortunately, in the quest for profitability, many consulting and systems delivery organizations continue with their bad habits. They often emphasize speed of delivery over quality, leaving their clients somewhat dissatisfied.
One of my early Project Management instructors, Mr. Ira Bitz, referred to this in critical terms as the “BFI methodology” of delivering systems: “Brute Force and Ignorance” – use a sledgehammer if you have to; and if that doesn’t work, scrap it and start again, this time with a bigger sledgehammer.
I once had a project manager brag to me, “I know what needs to be done here; I’ve got 20 years of experience.” Which prompted me to observe (unfortunately audibly), that based on the results of his project delivery, it appeared that he had one year’s experience, twenty times.
PDCA always trumps BFI.
- Management responsibility – It is absolutely incumbent on both the management of the IT team AND the management of the client’s business team to provide suitable resources in adequate capacities to get the job done. Nothing hurts quality more than having inadequate resources, especially on fixed-price projects with definite end dates. (Maybe I should have listed this one first.)
It is not enough just to have a Quality Management Plan as part of the Project Management Plan. The Quality Management Plan must be dusted off early and often, shared with the entire team, and put into practice. When the intent of the delivery team is to provide quality right from the initial processes, then project management improves, project delivery improves, project team morale improves, and customer satisfaction improves. Those are the people aspects of project management that benefit from planning quality into the project from day one.
If I may paraphrase an old ad slogan of Ford Motor Company: “Quality is plan one!”
Back to my wife’s Toyota Camry hybrid for a minute: she uses it daily, and often drives our grandchildren in it.
Does she love her Toyota? Yes!
Were we annoyed at the inconvenience that this recall caused? Absolutely.
And were we just a little concerned about the potential – however slim – of endangering our grandkids? That’s a rhetorical question.
But please don’t tell me that I should be happy that the repair was “free.” For the first quarter ended June 30, 2013, on a consolidated basis, Toyota’s net revenues increased 13.7% compared to the same period in the previous fiscal year (Toyota Motor Corporation, 2013).
It appears that a certain amount for the cost of quality (in this case the cost of the recall) may be built into the cost of every car. Toyota’s quality failure was my inconvenience in the short term, but it may be Toyota’s cost in the long-term when I go looking for our next car.
Do I hear “people aspects?”
Eisenstein, Paul A. (2013, October 17). Toyota recalls 885,000 vehicles over airbag problem. NBC News. http://www.nbcnews.com/business/autos/toyota-recalls-885-000-vehicles-over-airbag-problem-f8C11414211
Project Management Institute. A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) – Sixth Edition. Newton Square, PA: PMI Publications, 2017, Print.
Toyota Motor Corporation. (2013, August 2). Toyota Motor Corporation Announces First Quarter Financial Results [Press release]. Retrieved from https://global.toyota/pages/global_toyota/ir/financial-results/archives/en/August_2_2013_overview.pdf
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