In the struggle to control the triple constraints of cost, schedule, and quality, IT project managers frequently neglect to manage project quality. This neglect stems from a pervasive misunderstanding and misapplication of project quality management (PQM). Unlike cost and schedule, which can easily be measured and reported, many PMs shy away from project quality because of the difficulty in quantifying it as a performance factor.
The neglect of quality management has a snowball effect: first, it impairs the quality of project work and artifacts, which in turn degrades the ultimate project outcome—meeting customer requirements. Although many PMs take PQM shortcuts in an attempt to meet due dates within budget, skimping on quality management actually causes later schedule delays and cost overruns through time-consuming corrections and rework. The implementation of effective quality management is as important as the implementation of cost and schedule management not only to ensure project quality but also to properly control cost and schedule performance.
But what does effective PQM look like? The following tips will help PMs get their PQM on track.
1. Broaden Your Definition of Quality Management. When most IT project teams think of quality, they focus just on testing. While testing is certainly a critical component of quality management, it is just one part. Other times teams focus on cosmetic or subjective characteristics of project deliverables, such as document reviews, which are important, but subjective review and feedback cycles can significantly slow project progress and increase costs. PQM is about much more than testing and document feedback. As PMBOK states, quality management involves, “the processes and activities that determine quality policies, objectives, and responsibilities so that the project will satisfy the needs for which it was undertaken.”
2. Invest in PQM Planning. Effective PQM planning is more than simply customizing a quality management plan template. It requires time, thought, and participation from multiple team members – not just PMs! When planning, consider the quality of all project activities and work products. Select only those PQM activities that help to meet business needs and requirements.
3. Understand the Business Need and Processes. Make sure to understand business needs prior to implementing IT projects so you don’t end up with incomplete, ambiguous, and/or inaccurate requirements. The delayed discovery of current and future business needs makes it harder, more costly, and more time-consuming to meet customer requirements. Thoroughly analyzing and documenting current and future business processes supports the team’s ability to develop complete, specific, traceable, and testable requirements that will meet the business need.
4. Define “Done.” What does “done” mean? In other words, how will you determine when a deliverable warrants acceptance? Every major project deliverable should have measurable criteria by which deliverable quality will be assessed and accepted. For some types of deliverables, a little subjectivity in acceptance is inevitable, but strive to minimize it. Too many teams do not agree on what “done” means because clear and comprehensive deliverable acceptance criteria are absent. The resulting ambiguity allows for differing interpretations of expectations, significant wasted effort and rework, and failure to meet expectations. Remember that perfection is not necessarily the goal, but to minimize wasted effort, determine and utilize only those criteria necessary to meet quality objectives.
5. Use Quality Metrics. To properly monitor quality, define objective quality performance measures to track throughout the project, and include these metrics in routine status reporting provided to senior management. When most PMs think of ways to report on project performance, they tend to focus on schedule and cost performance but leave out project quality metrics. When PMs do define and use quality metrics, they are often subjective. This oversight prevents project teams from detecting emerging project quality issues until too late when the issues are much more significant, and correction costs are greater.
6. Time it Right. The timing of quality activities is critical to their effectiveness. Don’t wait to focus on quality until late in the life cycle or until there’s an obvious problem with quality. The longer quality management activities are delayed, the greater the impact to project performance. Spread quality management effort throughout the life cycle with a substantial amount allocated early during planning. Include quality management activities for every major milestone.
7. Engage the Right People at the Right Time. Far too often, personnel with critical insight and perspectives get deeply involved in the project way too late—after key project activities or work products are complete. This results in significant rework, additional costs, and/or solution failures. It’s important that subject matter experts be dedicated to projects or, at minimum, to critical project activities. Collaborate with SMEs and stakeholders early on to identify and document the best people to be involved in each project stage, including deliverable reviews.
8. Spend Enough Time on PQM. Teams almost never plan to spend as much time on QM as they should. To ensure that quality management gets the attention it needs, plan to spend at least 35% of total effort on quality-related activities.
These eight tips will have a profound effect on project performance. Projects teams will be pleasantly surprised that they will not only improve quality but also help to control schedules and costs – a win-win for project teams and their customers.