Topic 8.1: Quality management

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Project management is quality management – the entire planning process is intended to guarantee the quality of the project deliverables.

We have already seen how quality is governed by the triple constraints.

There are also a number of internationally recognised ‘truths’ about general (operational) quality management that apply equally to projects.

These include:

Prevention over inspection is one of the fundamental tenets of modern quality management.

It states that quality should be designed, planned and built in – not inspected in.

In other words, the cost of preventing mistakes is generally much less than the cost of correcting them when they are found by inspection.

This is also consistent with the cost of change principle introduced in the very first Unit.

Customer satisfaction is all about understanding, evaluating, defining, and managing expectations so that customer requirements are met.

Indeed, it doesn’t matter what you (as the project manager) think about the quality of your deliverable; the customer is the ultimate arbiter of quality.

We acknowledged this when talking about acceptance criteria – this is an important constraint in the planning processes.

Obviously we do not want to under-deliver on customer expectations; equally important, though, is the need to avoid over-delivering on quality.

The theory of management responsibility suggests that even though delivery requires the participation of all members of the project team, the project manager is ultimately accountable for the project’s success. 

So what we are saying is that, whereas the customer is always right, it is always your fault when the project goes wrong!

Although this may seem a bit harsh – especially when there are a so many factors outside of the project manager’s control – it underscores again why we emphasise the absolute criticality of rigorous planning and risk management within the organisationally defined tolerances.

Can you have too much quality?

Bronze would have been fine...

Yes – there is such a thing!

We sometimes call this gold-plating, in other words, adding features to our output that the customer didn’t ask for or need at our organisation’s expense.

Whereas this may sometimes be strategically desirable (to establish or re-establish a positive relationship with a client, for example), be aware that in the land of triple constraints, improving quality comes at the expense of time, cost and/or scope.

When describing the quality of project or task deliverables, there are a number of different benchmarks we use, each with a very specific meaning.

Quality and grade are not the same. 

While a task or project output that fails to meet quality requirements is always a problem, low grade may not be.

For example, a software product can be of high quality, in that it has no obvious defects, and a readable manual; but of low grade, in that it only possesses a limited number of features. 

This may be perfectly acceptable.

On the other hand, a software product of high grade – with numerous features – but low quality – with many defects, and poorly organised user documentation – is less desirable. 

Precision means the values of repeated measurements are clustered, and can be related to our earlier discussions of margin of error.

For example, a production run of 1,000 steel ball bearings may all be within 0.1% of 500 grams – this is a very precise outcome.

It is no good, however, if our ball bearings needed to be 200 grams in weight.

Accuracy means that the measured value is very close to the ideal or true value.

Continuing our ball-bearing example, our next run of 1,000 balls may be all within 10% of 200 grams.

From the customer's perspective, this is much more accurate; however, we have sacrificed our earlier precision.

Documenting what the customer will accept in terms of precision, grade and accuracy goes a long way towards clarifying scope and meeting their expectations.