Are you experiencing the pains of customer complaints and returns? You may have a quality problem!
We’ve previously identified quality as one of the main drivers for determining project performance where we examined common productivity problems and their causes. Here, we’ll take a look at some common quality problems and what causes them.
Our definition of quality is the number of errors made when working on project tasks. There are a lot of definitions of quality, like meeting customer requirements to 100% satisfaction, but here we’ll focus on errors for a specific reason: you can imagine as errors are made, the work we’re trying to complete is left unfinished because some portion of the work needs to be done again.
We call this “rework”. If you have to do any portion of the project’s work more than once, you’re doing rework, and you cannot claim tasks are fully complete until the rework is finished.
Sometimes errors are not discovered right away, which means we claim a task is complete only to learn later there have been hidden mistakes! Even worse, those errors can be passed on to the customer and when they discover them they file complaints about product quality, and even return products to be repaired or completed to their original specification. Sometimes companies even have to do product recalls, which are very expensive and damaging to the company’s reputation.
Quality problems can manifest in several ways. At the top of projects, quality problems can appear as complaints from internal teams and/or from the customer, or as schedule delays since work is being re-done and this rework wasn’t part of the original project plan.
Rework can in turn impact productivity because the project was staffed with resources intended to complete work, not rework. So we are likely pulling resources away from completing work to handle rework.
To learn why some of these symptoms occur, let’s look upstream at some of the drivers of quality. The diagram below shows a list of drivers or causes that can influence quality.
- Hurried work – when teams are in a hurry to complete their work it increases the chances of making mistakes
- Changes to scope and specification – when specs and/or the size of the project changes midstream, workers and teams can make mistakes while trying to adjust to the changes, especially if those changes are poorly communicated
- Complexity – technical tasks and complex processes invite people to make errors
- Upstream errors – some errors can be passed-down from one team to another, and if undiscovered, they can continue to be passed along until later stages of the project or until the customer receives the product
- Hand-offs – having to hand work off to other teams/departments can introduce errors
- Communication issues – lacking a system to notify downstream teams of important product information or issues can cause people to make mistakes
- Staff turnover – new staff are more prone to making mistakes as they’re coming up-to-speed
- Misunderstood specification – inheriting a specification that is difficult to understand or left open to interpretation can introduce errors, and those errors can be compounded as other teams work from the same specification
Process improvement is specifically aimed at alleviating the causes of quality problems, and thereby increasing schedule performance and increasing customer satisfaction on projects.