Association for Project Management
The necessity of quality in project management
Blog posted by: Ashley Cox, 02 Mar 2021.
Projects can often be vague or offer up benefits which cannot be achieved. For this reason, quality is paramount to achieve good quality project outcomes. The four core elements of managing quality – quality plans, quality assurance, quality control and continuous improvement – will support quality deliverables, which I will explore.
Setting your stall out through the business case and supporting documentation is important to understand the project specification you intend to match against. Therefore, your quality measure must be suitable and meet its intended purpose against the requirements and quality objectives.
We all know getting planning right is crucial and quality plans with a defined scope are a great lever to achieving project success. Each set of projects may be different, and gaining acceptable regulations, standards and specifications will vary. If you are in say construction the quality plans will need to adhere to external quality standards and building regulations as well as your internal project standards, e.g. maintaining the quality of a building that maintains a guarantee of 10 years. A good quality plan will incorporate senior buy in and as project managers we must make sure that the project specification in scoping is clear and is demonstrated through all key documentation.
Quality assurance is where quality is built in by using standard processes and procedures. Most of my experience with project quality standards and assurance are linked to the expected level of attainment at various phases in the life cycle. Assuring this attainment tends to be at the decision gates that were created as part of the business case requirements. Early sponsoring of the change combined to form stakeholder assurance for these gates are important and provide a standard of acceptance in readiness for deployment (a check and go form that defines requirements met to pass through the gate). Deployment will include a checklist of activities or requirements that must meet the aims in the project. E.g. software built to the aims, requirements and tested functionality, and with users to provide confidence at all levels about the quality. Usually these standards are linked to completing various tests to an agreed tolerance, forming project quality control which is focused on preventing problems passing to customers (I’ll touch on this later).
There are multiple KPIs that the organisation may operate to achieve the organisational outcomes as an aside to the project deliverables which can compete with the project. I work where there is ‘quality delivery’ to meet our customers’ expectations. This is hugely important and as part of the quality assurance; our quality teams will investigate the expected outcomes and the risks associated with change.
In prior operational projects that I have tested and deployed, the key decisions fell on the outcome of test and the tolerance that senior leaders considered acceptable for the new system for end users. This enables a ‘Go’ decision, but it is planned for (you can see that quality planning is essential). For example, does everything have to be perfect to continue through the business authority gates? Not in all cases. I’ve had projects where kit, software, data migration or systems were not necessarily perfect and gaining assurance included making sure that communication and training on how to manage this for end users was covered.
Another part of the quality management process involves making sure senior leaders are kept up to date to understand further delays or not going live. They will have a programme and strategic view for the evolving organisation to better meet the market conditions. As a project professional, supplying the information to senior leaders to make their decisions is key so that quality isn’t compromised.
Quality control involves test which is essentially a form of audit – it’s all about completing the standards of build and ensuring that the requirements standards have been achieved. This may not always be the case for example in IT projects. Unforeseen issues and deviation to these standards applied by the project will need resolving.
Test during quality control is not just about making the technical and functional aspects of the project system work. When it is piloted that the change that is being put in place can rigorously meet the demands and tinkering by end users, the key element is that change is managed well. Using a change impact assessment will detail all elements no matter how minor to ensure that the system is intuitive. And if not, then ensuring that there is clear understanding of meeting the users needs will go from present process to future process.
All the learning throughout a project can be put to good use and learning from previous projects continuously learnt. This is where continuous improvement comes in. Many organisations will have feedback and structures to mitigate risk by learning from similar projects. For example, the expected costs forecasting from technology projects may have increased contingency costs dependent on how detailed the design requirements were. The key learning from inside the project is crucial to form methods and solutions to ensure quality, for example, software for end users is acceptable and ideally intuitive by ensuring that the quality is achieved as in your plans.
Now, bringing this to some form of conclusion: project quality throughout the life cycle should meet the specification of the project. Various quality plans can be agreed in scoping or throughout the product life cycle with iterative approaches to form control and assurances within the project. This can be in forms of governance process within the organisation built for projects via the PMO. Not only the governance of the project, but the project must operate within the governance of the organisation and may need to comply with the functional owners to ensure that the projects change meets the organisation’s expectations as it transitions into business as usual. Finally, at the end of the life cycle we will look to continuous improvement the quality processes taken. Quality is a necessity for any organisation and project to ensure that the governance and KPIs are maintained, and the project is successful.
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About the Aurthor
Ashley has worked in Royal Mail since 2005 in their operations department and has developed into the project environment supporting the operations locally to Bristol. From 2012, this became more centralised and Ashley has managed many projects related to operational efficiency through to commercial initiatives that need operational changes to support.
Ashley has more recently been working on tech-based project initiatives, upgrading the operational systems. Ashley has also volunteered with the APM Governance SIG and was elected as a committee member in 2018.
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