The best project quality is found by effective planning rather than reaction to unexpected factors. The way most organizations are able to do this, is through implementing processes and standards that help lead the team to success.
During a project’s execution phase, the activities and products are taken and tested for quality to ensure the quality is within control limits for the standards of the project. These samples are also taken in order to determine what activities may be causing variations in products/tasks involved in the project.
This process is typically completed by an independent quality control group, and these groups will have knowledge of some measurement terms that should be known by project managers in order to understand the reports.
There are many terms that are used among quality control groups, but it is important to know the distinction between them. The quality plan defines the control limits of the product or process in place. The size of the range between these control limits is known as the tolerance, and tolerances are often based on the mean value. The tolerance itself is the distance away from the mean that is accepted by the control limits.
Tools are chosen that are capable of measuring how close samples come to their control limits, and determine if there is a trend among the results. Each measurement tool can measure for a different tolerance, which is a main reason why project managers should be knowledgeable in multiple types of tools.
The choice of the appropriate tolerance will directly impact the cost of quality (COQ). Generally speaking, it is more costly to produce and measure products that have smaller tolerances, and will often be disproportional to the gains. Therefore, it is more cost effective for projects and groups to develop larger tolerances that will capture more information and provide details on statistically significant factors of the project.
Managing Client Expectations
With all projects, the parent company or client will provide certain specifications for the project that will guide and determine if the project is successful or not. However, meeting project expectations and specifications is only one measurement of project success. Clients will often have aspects of their project that are not easy to create with a written specification. These are more abstract concepts of the project that the client can visualize but not always put into a measurable form.
This is often seen with client involvement, where each client may want a different level of involvement in the project life cycle. This is why it is important for the client representative and/or stakeholders to communicate clearly with the project team in order to give the project team the best chance to fulfill the project desires that are not easily defined or specified.
Another action of client expectation is for the project team to conduct and analyze project surveys that will record how the client views the project performance throughout the project life cycle. The results of these surveys can be used during client meetings to bridge the gap between the project team and client.
If the results of the project surveys are unfavorable and the client is unhappy with any particular part of the project, the project team can explore the potential causes of the issue and develop effective recovery plans to solve the problem. These surveys can also be used when the results are positive. For example, the project team can determine what parts of the project are going well and why, and potentially use these approaches in other areas to improve more sections of the project.
Information Planning and Techniques
Planning for project quality occurs during the planning phase of the project, once the project team knows the specifications and tolerance that is acceptable to the client/parent company. The main project factors such as scope, budget and schedule estimates are used to identify how the project timeline and expectations will be organized regarding the processes, goods and services where the expected grade and quality will be recorded and used during the execution phase. Risk analysis should be used to decide which risks of the project could impact quality in any way.
Many different tools and approaches can be used for planning and analyzing the quality of a project. The tools which are most effective are determined by the project demands and project complexity. Another determining factor is the quality management programs that exist for the client/parent company.
Quality Management Methodology
One of the main priorities of project quality is using the quality management methods that are assigned or preferred by the client. The project manager must ensure the client understands the project is following their methodology via documentation. There are a variety of methodologies used based on the client’s mission and goals, but most of them have similar characteristics to each other.
Many project processes and plans are complex and do not follow a single linear path. In reality, most projects have multiple tasks and activities happening simultaneously with many moving parts. One effective way that project managers can manage this is using flowcharts. A flow chart uses standardized symbols and lines to create a visual map of the project. A flow chart is very useful for understanding the project timeline and how activities will occur in relation to each other.
Planning and Analyzing quality is made much more manageable using flow charts. They are effective in demonstrating processes of the project that have logical paths that can guide decision making with simple “yes or no” questions. These flow charts are also useful in identifying confusion and issues with project responsibilities, as well as designating responsibility for tasks in the project.
When a finished product like shoes are hand-crafted, the craftsmen would look for forms of standardization that would allow for comparison among the same products. In today’s world, if a particular method or product is a standard of quality in some industry, comparing a product to the standardized product is known as benchmarking. Benchmarking is especially useful for project managers, as it gives the ability to judge products and methods across industries due to the standardization.
Cost prevention is a topic that is often included in the project budget, and because of this project teams will often need to make a case to increase the project budget to improve quality. Certain management programs demand that expenditures for quality are justified through a cost-benefit analysis. This analysis is similar to calculating the Cost Of Quality (COQ), but it calculates the ratio of increasing quality to resulting benefit. Simply put, it is intended to show how beneficial improving quality will be.
A cost-benefit analysis from some quality programs can factor for nonfinancial factors (client loyalty, corporate image repairs/improvements, etc.) and the analysis will now be written rather than a calculation, as it is very difficult to quantify many of these factors. This is similar to calculating the cost of quality, due to the abstract factors that make up the inputs.
Quality measurement of manufactured products or repeating processes forces the project teams and quality management team to take samples for monitoring. Quality control specialists will design a test that aligns with the statistical demands to ensure that enough samples are taken to give an accurate and reliable result. In project management, testing is designed during the planning phase of the project life cycle and then used to collect data during the execution phase as tasks are being completed.
If there are repetitive tasks occurring in the project process, statistical process controls can be useful in finding trends and ensuring that the processes stay within the established control limits. Part of establishing strong control criteria with repetitive tasks is to determine the control limits and how samples will be collected and analyzed by the project team and/or the quality management personnel.
Cause and Effect Diagrams
When the above-mentioned control charts determine an identifiable cause for skew or variation, the cause of the problem is not always as easy to identify. Using cause-and-effect diagrams are effective in finding causes for these skews, as they are somewhat objective in their thinking and address the logical reasons that problems arise.
Check Sheets, Histograms, and Pareto Charts
When there are multiple quality issues that arise at once, the project manager is tasked with deciding how to prioritize these issues. One effective method for prioritizing these issues is to determine which issues are occurring the most frequently. To find which problems are occurring the most, the use of a tool like a check sheet can make this process easier. A check sheet is a simple form where a user can check an appropriate box each time that a problem occurs, or if certain technologies are available this process can be automated.
Once this data is collected, they can be analyzed by creating a histogram to provide a visual understanding of the frequencies. A histogram is a column chart where bars are stacked next to each other to give a visual representation of which factors are most common compared to the others. The main attraction of the histogram is its simplicity, making the data very easy to comprehend right away.
One variation of the histogram is the pareto chart, where the columns are arranged in descending order with the highest frequency factor on the left and the least frequent column on right. The pareto chart also includes a line that shows the cumulative total of all factors, so users can tell what percentage of the whole each factor is responsible for. This is another chart favored for its simplicity, as it is very easy to understand at face value and all of the relevant information is provided.
Project quality is a factor that can be easily overlooked, yet can be a major influence on project success or failure. The monitoring and planning for quality management is an important task that must be planned for in advance, so the project manager and project team are prepared to ensure quality standards are met.
The first step for the project team in planning for quality assurance is to define measurements for the project, and meet with the client to gather their requirements and standards for the project. This gives the project team a strong starting point, and they can base many decisions on this information.
There are many techniques and tools that are designed for quality control, yet the project team is still responsible for some decisions. One of the main decisions that must be made it the tolerance with certain project tasks, and what is considered to be acceptable. Often times, a quality management team will be brought in to analyze the project processes and help define an accurate tolerance and control limits for the project.
Tools such as flow charts and histograms are useful as they can take the important project data and make it as easy to understand as possible. This is a major advantage for the project team, as it directly highlights the positive aspects of the project, and can also shine light on the issues of the project based on impact or frequency. Overall, project quality management is straightforward and essential to any successful project.