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Delivering Quality in Projects (Part I)

Perspectives of quality

As a Project Manager you must be aware that, in order to achieve quality in projects, there are always two perspectives to it. And both of them must be taken into account. The first one is all about the quality of the product to be delivered (the tangible result or service). The goal here is to identify which quality the customer’s exactly expects and how the customer will accept the product(s) at delivery (i.e. what are the acceptance criteria). Knowing this, the project should be set up in such a way that these expectations can be achieved.

The second perspective relates to the quality of the process used to manage the project. Figures, that we can find in the Chaos-report created by the Standish Group, shows us this is of utmost importance for the success of the project. This annual study however shows us that, time after time, less than one third of all projects are successfully completed (within the agreed time, within budget and with the agreed scope). This implies that more than two third of the projects either fail completely (not completed) or are delivered but not within the agreed time or are over budget or are delivered with a decreased scope. According to the report, poor quality of the project management process is one of the main reasons for this. Therefore this needs attention.

In this part we’ll dive into the first perspective namely the quality of the product.

Product quality

For what reasons do we conduct projects? Well, the simple answer here is that a project is aiming to make a change within an organization. This is accomplished by creating or purchasing new products or by improving existing products. These will help the organization to achieve certain benefits. We should consider ‘products’ in the broad sense of the word though. In addition to tangible products, such as for example a document, a software package or a packaging machine, we also consider non-material things, such as a modified process, etc.

Each of these products are linked to certain quality expectations. Expectations, understandably, from the customer’s point of view.

This means that we initially should, together with the customer, decide upon the scope of the project and the quality expectations. These we will translate into acceptance criteria, which will serve as a quality guideline during the production of the products and as a regularity tool to check that the final products meet the expected quality.

It is beyond doubt that the sub-products which we have to create or purchase, also must meet certain quality criteria. These are ultimately expected to contribute to the overall quality, as expected by the customer. It is also important to take into account that during the project, the scope can change and hence possible changes to the quality expectations and acceptance criteria are necessary.

In order to fulfil and control expectations and acceptance criteria, we best make a product descriptions for the final product to be delivered and for all sub-products. It should include the quality related issues (criteria, control methods, tolerances, responsibilities, etc.).

Eventually a quality register will be drawn up. Its primary aim is to have a list of the products and their planned quality-related activities. The second objective is to monitor if these activities actually were performed or not. For the different stakeholders of the project this register provides key audit and assurance information (what was planned and what was actually agreed upon and executed?):

  • for the team leader or team members as input for the quality activities
  • for the project manager as control whether the activities were performed or not and what the results were
  • for quality assurance as means of control towards the processes and methods
  • for the steering committee that the quality, the customer expects, is actually achieved

Not to be forgotten in all of this is that at the start of the project even so a quality strategy needs to be determined. In many cases, this can simply be taken over from the quality plan of the organization. However, not all organizations hold such a plan yet. In that case, it’s up to the Project Manager to work with the steering committee to determine the appropriate strategy for the project. Such a quality management strategy describes, amongst other things, the quality standards, procedures, techniques, and tools that will be used in order to guarantee the quality of the products.

Before delivery of the final product. The acceptance criteria, determined at the start of and possibly changed during the project, will be used to acquire the customers’ acceptance, meaning that de customer confirms that the delivered end product fulfils the expectations.

In the second part of the article, the quality of the project process will be discussed.

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