Project Quality Management can often feel like an unloved part of project management. Too many basic books and guides to project management mention it either in passing or not at all.
On the smallest projects, with few products, we can probably take quality for granted. By this, I mean that we can assume that a project manager will be reviewing the quality of everything you deliver, and making sure it’s right.
So, in this guide to Project Quality Management, we’ll break it down into three parts. We’ll talk you through what each part is, why it matters, and – most important – what you need to do.
If you want to build a reputation for delivering high-quality products, as well as meeting your budget and deadlines, you need to master Project Quality Management.
There are lots of good reasons why project quality management matters. But I always think there is one selfish reason that drives me to prioritize it:
Quality reflects on my reputation as a Project Manager
When I remember that, I also remember that I need to keep quality at the forefront of my thinking throughout the project lifecycle.
So, I guess the question is, why is that?
Firstly, there are your stakeholders’ requirements, priorities, and preferences. The extent to which their perceptions of the quality of your deliverables match their expectations will drive their judgment of your performance. But let’s put it another way. This is the project management equivalent of customer care. The more you care about your customers and take care of their wants and needs… The more they will value you and your services.
Many projects also need to conform to a set of standards. These may be:
The deliverables you produce will have a lifetime. And your or your organization’s reputation will be reflected in their reliability for that whole time. So, it is important that your stakeholders get what they can reasonably expect, throughout that period.
We’ll talk about the trade-off between cost and quality in a moment. But often the measure of your project and its deliverables will be Value for Money. That is, how much value or benefit do they deliver, for the total cost that your project expended? If you set the quality bar too low, or if you miss your quality standards, this will adversely impact the VfM of your project. That can result in stakeholders considering it a failure.
The Value for Money links directly to the benefits you or your client can draw from putting the products of your project to good use. The relationship between benefits and costs is ‘value’ – although there are different ways to measure it. So, I prefer to think of ‘Return on Investment’ or RoI. This is what your CFO or FD (Chief Finance Officer/Finance Director) is likely to measure. And quality can have an impact on RoI.
I shall use this heading as a big bucket for many different things that range from controlling your costs and resource usage to user satisfaction and meeting stakeholder perceptions. In thinking about the costs associated with wastage and rework, by the way, I also want to note the importance of the environmental impact of these factors.
Cost of Quality (CoQ) refers to the financial costs from:
The chart below is similar to, but not the same as Figure 8.5 of the PMBOK Guide (PMI’s Project Management Body of Knowledge) 6th edition.
Often, decisions about quality are a trade-off on the Time, Cost, Quality Triangle – or the Iron Triangle. At the start of your project (during what we will call Quality Design), you will determine the quality you want. You will set this to balance your needs to:
If your project is subject to a PMO or part of a wider program or portfolio, you may have certain quality design decisions set from the outset.
Note that there is an equivalent (but different) formulation: the Agile Triangle, of Value, Quality, and Constraints. Here, the constraints are time, cost, and scope.
For me, the best easily accessible description of project quality management is in the PMI’s PMBOK Guide, 6th Edition. Yes, it is a dry read, that is little more than a collation of the things you need to know. But that, after all, is its purpose.
But the fact is that few other sources have as much to say about project quality management, and offer as comprehensive a collation of tools and techniques that you can use to manage quality on your project.
However, I shall deliberately avoid repeating much of what PMBOK says, for four reasons:
PMBOK 7 is a radical departure from its predecessors and I discuss the new guide in full, in our article: PMBOK Guide 7th Edition: Your 20 Most Important Questions Answered.
The main difference, as it affects us in this article is that, unlike PMBOK 6, it does not give us much information about the practice of quality management. It is far more focused on the principles.
In PMBOK 7, Quality appears in two places:
Here, quality features in one of the 12 Project Management Principles:
Principle 8A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, 7th Edition
Build Quality into Processes and Deliverables
Project Management Institute, 2021
This lists the different dimensions of quality:
Although this list misses other dimensions, like durability and design elegance, it does form an excellent ‘definition’ of quality.
The second part of the PMBOK Guide contains a section with eight Project performance Domains. Domain 6 is the Delivery Performance Domain, and it has six sections. Three of them are major sections, of which one is titled ‘Quality’.
This does not include any guidance on Quality Management, but rather, it focuses on a detailed assessment of the cost of quality (CoQ).
We can split Project Quality Management up into four distinct processes, that:
We can summarize these with a simple table.
|Quality Management Process||PMBoK (6th Edition) Equivalent||In a Nutshell...||Process Description|
|Quality Design (QD)||Plan Quality Management (8.1)||Deciding what's right||Establish the right quality standard for each deliverable. Design deliverables to meet this standard. Plan how the project will deliver and meet these standards.|
|Quality Assurance (QA)||Manage Quality (8.2)||Getting it right||Keep the project's focus on meeting your quality standards. Align your activities with your organization's QM policies and procedures.|
|Quality Control (QC)||Control Quality (8.3)||Checking you got it right||Monitor and review your deliverables to ensure you have met your quality standards before you hand them over. Includes remediation procedures for products that do not meet their QD standards. Records results of quality assessments.|
|Quality Contracts||Procure Quality||Project Procurement Management. 3 processes: 12.1, 12.2, 12.3.||Specify goods and services with care, select the right supplier, build your relationship, and actively manage the contract.|
So, as you might expect, we’ll divide the main part of this guide into four sections, about Quality:
I have also added a Process Summary diagram at the end.
When it comes to substandard deliverables, as with your health, prevention better than cure. So we aim to design quality into our projects.Prevention better than cure. So we aim to design #quality into our #projects. Click To Tweet
If you are studying for your PMP or CAPM, then in the PMBoK, process 8.1 Plan Quality Management will give you the Inputs, Tools & Techniques, and Outputs you need to know.
The most important things to know about quality design are that you need to develop:
I have already listed the standards to which you may need to comply, in the section on Why Quality Matters, above. And what you decide and how you articulate it will depend closely on the nature of your project and its deliverables.
You will also need a plan for how you will ensure that your deliverables meet the standards in your specifications. I recommend your Quality Plan covers seven things:
These seven things represent the sections of our Quality Plan template. This is one of over 50 project management templates in our Project Management Templates Kit.
You can download a PDF version of this template as a sample, below.
Split into three stages, you can download your PDF Quality Plan here…Download Your Quality Plan
The soul of Quality Assurance is a culture that values quality. This is one where:
Because, as we said above: prevention is better than cure.
In this case:Prevention better than cure - #project #quality assurance means getting it right first time. Click To Tweet
The big mistake is to think that a QA process guarantees quality. It does not. What it does is create a framework that makes quality easier to achieve. It’s only when people follow the process that quality becomes assured! Your QA process is likely to touch upon:
And, of course, you need to tailor your project’s QA processes to fit with your organization’s quality auditing procedures.
For long projects, aim for continuous improvement of your processes.
In Agile projects, continuous improvement is part of the mind-set. Review your project quality management processes during the retrospective at the end of each sprint
If you cannot prevent a problem, the next best thing is to fix it before you make it public.
Prevention better than cure – but cure better than disease’
When you think about the Cost of Quality (which I described above), post-release non-conformities are almost always the most expensive. Even if they don’t damage your reputation, recalling a deliverable and putting it right is more costly than fixing it and releasing it in a correct state.
So create a Quality Control process to detect and correct faults before you commit to the handover of a deliverable. There are costs to this even if you find no faults. But the aggregate is usually still below the cost of an undetected fault.
If you do find a fault, the QC process includes the procedure for re-working or re-creating the deliverable, as appropriate.
The tests and checks you apply in your Quality Control process will depend on the nature of your products. And the rigor of those tests will depend on your tolerance for failure. Or, to put it another way, the balance of CoQ for pre-release and post-release defects.
Once again, you may need an audit process to review how your QC process is working. And you will also want to learn from that, to continuously improve your QC. Again, tailor this audit régime to fit with your organization’s quality auditing procedures.
Set up a reporting process, to communicate quality outcomes and actual costs of quality conformance.
The gap in PMBoK’s otherwise excellent description of quality processes is the part that procurement plays. Any decent chef or home cook will tell you that the first thing you need, if you want high quality food, is high-quality ingredients. The same is true of project quality management.
It is not that PMBoK omits procurement management – it does not. But, to my mind, PMI does not draw the connections clearly enough.
There are a number of elements to this:
You may also be interested in our Giant Guide to Project Procurement and our video: Competitive Procurement: How to Run a Tender Process.
We always like to hear your thoughts and questions. Leave them in the comments below, and we will respond to every contribution you make.
Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.
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