Quality management is one of the most misunderstood parts of project management. Unfortunately project managers often think it’s a policing activity that is there to “catch them out”. The truth is that in the simplest terms, project quality management is there to make sure the project delivers what it said it would. Nothing more.
A common problem for project managers when it comes to quality management is that they are not actually quality management experts themselves. This makes it difficult to decide how and when quality is built in and measured.
In some organisations, projects are assigned dedicated quality management personnel who take over the practical quality processes. If you’re not lucky enough to have a quality management person assigned to your project then it falls on you as the project manager. I’m going to outline a process project managers can use to ensure quality is incorporated throughout their projects.
Project quality management consists of three different, but interweaving streams:
During quality planning you’re looking to identify the quality requirements for any products as well as planning the project’s approach to quality. At this point you should speak to your organisation’s quality assurance team (if such a thing exists), even if they are not providing resources to the project. It’s likely that the QA team will provide some time of assurance on your project at some point.
Things you need to think about at this stage are:
- The quality regime that you’ll follow. This could be ISO9001, another quality standard or the organisation’s internal quality management system
- If the customer has a quality management system that might be applied to aspects of your project
- If suppliers have quality management systems that might apply to aspects of your project
- How you are going to incorporate all, some or none of the supplier, customer and organisation’s quality management systems in the project
- Decide the success criteria for the project’s products and how you will measure them
- Identify the quality control procedures, tools and techniques that the project will use.
You’ll capture all this information in the project’s quality plan. You should document the product specific quality information in each work package.
Quality assurance is a process which checks the effectiveness of the quality planning and quality control processes, as well as the general running of the project. The person doing the assurance should no tbe actively involved in the project. This is to avoid conflict of interest and also to give an outside perspective. The organisation’s QA team usually does this work. Under no circumstances should the project manager take on the assurance role!
You can carry out quality assurance at any stage of the project and can focus on one particular aspect or look at the entire initiative. It should give the project stakeholders confidence that their expectations will be met and that the initiative is on track.
It is designed to answer the following questions:
- Are you doing, or planning to do, the right things?
- Do you have the right processes, procedures and tools in place to help you achieve the planned outcomes?
- Is there solid governance in place to aid good decision making?
- Do you have access to the right resources at the right times?
- What do your key milestones say?
- Are you seeing the level of progress you expected to see?
- Is the organisation ready for the changes the programme or project will bring?
- Are you seeing the benefits you forecast at the beginning of the programme or project?
- Are the assumptions that were made in the business case still valid, or do they need to be revisited?
An assurance review involves face-to-face interviews and document reviews.
You’re likely to have a face-to-face interview with the quality team at some point during the review. They will ask you questions and look at documents. Quality assurance focuses on evidence and the best way to do that is to interview people involved in the programme or project and look at key documentation – such as the business case, the schedule, the risk and issues registers, the budget and the status reports.
As well as interviewing you, the people doing the quality assurance check, will also interview stakeholders, members of the steering committee and some of the end customers so they can get a full picture of the status of the initiative. Depending on the type of programme or project, the QA team may also interview suppliers and other third parties.
The QA team will write a report once the assurance process is complete. They will give the report to the project manager and other stakeholders. It might contain non-conformances –which are failure to meet specified requirements, or opportunities for improvement – which are things you could do better. If this does happen, the QA team will ask you to provide a corrective action plan and give you a time frame to get things in order. The QA team will then come back at an agreed date to check that everything is finished.
Quality control is the last quality management stream. It is checking that the products produced by the project meet the agreed standards. Don’t confuse it with quality assurance, which is all about the process.
Whoever writes the individual work packages should make sure to include the quality control requirements. It states exactly what it should do, how it should look, how it will work and how it will fit into the wider project. The work package should also list the way that each of the criteria will be quality checked and any agreed tolerance metrics.
When you’re conducting quality control you will use a method that suits the product to test with.
For example, in a software package the quality control method will be some form of user testing.
In a manufacturing project the quality control method may be random sampling of the goods during production and testing them against the defined standards.
Some tools that you can use to conduct quality control are quality checklists, performance data, visual inspection and random sampling.
This might sound like a lot of work, but it will help ensure your project delivers quality outcomes for everyone. After all, it’s easier to fix things during the project than having to go back and completely rework something once it has been delivered.
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