Quality Must be Translated to Scheduled Tasks

While we emphasize the overwhelming importance of quality in the quality, cost, schedule triumvirate, quality is the most difficult of the three to pin down. The key integrating principle is that customer involvement and quality assurance are mutually supporting activities that increase the probability of producing customer satisfaction. There are fundamentally two basic ingredients to quality— conformance to specification or requirements and customer satisfaction—and one does not necessarily produce the other. Conformance to specification involves controlling the development of the deliverable so that it can be validated and verified, e.g., that it meets the specifications as stated and "works" in its systems environment, whatever that is. This is where the application of quality tools and techniques is important within the project process.

Customer satisfaction, on the other hand, is tied to customer expectations. While one would assume that customer satisfaction is related to conformance to customer specifications, that is not always the case. Typically customer satisfaction is related to conformance only to the degree that the customer's expectations, needs, and wants are reflected in the specification and that any fundamental changes in the customer's view are somehow reflected in the specifications through change orders and modifications to the project scope. In other words, while conformance is somewhat controllable in the sense that it can be quality assured and measured, customer satisfaction is not. Customer satisfaction is a feeling, a perception, and a disposition that is based on the continuing relationship or project firm and customer/sponsor. That is why it is important to keep an eye on customer expectations during the project tenure just as closely as the other eye is on conformance to specification.

Because the most useful measure of quality is earned value (whether a project is on planned cost and schedule), it is important for project managers to educate customers on earned value as an indicator of quality. We believe that customer satisfaction derives from continuous project involvement and education. Therefore, to the extent that earned value reports can be presented regularly to customers—and interpreted by the project firm—customer satisfaction can be regularly gauged. In the end, it is the quality of the product or service—its very features, functionality, performance, and capability to create value—that drives the customer's expectations.

There are several key points or windows in the project management and scheduling process when quality as customer satisfaction and quality as conformance can be expressed and integrated. It is in the project manager's interest to use these key windows explicitly for the purpose of assuring quality, and to share each schedule version with the customer to ensure that quality is translated into the real work breakdown structure and timeline. These key windows are:

1. Front-end customer process analysis

2. Concept development

3. Generation of alternative candidate projects

4. Scope of work

5. Scheduling

6. Budgeting and earned value planning

7. Quality assurance

8. Project metrics

9. Prototyping 10. Quality audit

We have learned that the project manager must find ways to practice quality at every turn and achieve continuing closure with the customer on all the aspects of scheduling quality work as the project takes shape and progresses to the final deliverable. Quality is not the preserve of the quality office; it is integral to the project planning, scheduling, and controlling processes.

Project dynamics often work against achievement of quality objectives. Without constant vigilance, the project system moves naturally away from the customer; the dynamics are in favor of isolated, narrow project tasking and insulation of the project team—and therefore of quality issues—from the customer. That fragmentation occurs naturally unless managed, almost as a function of the system itself, because the project is a system seeking entropy or increasing disorder. Many a project has failed because there was a major gap in the dialogue between the customer and the project team on quality issues—attributable to the lack of scheduled tasks to close those gaps. So these windows become strategically important, if they are scheduled and monitored, as an insurance policy against the forces that isolate the customer from key quality issues and decisions.

Let's consider these windows and the tools and techniques associated with them, and see how they are scheduled so that they can contribute to project quality management.

Project Management Made Easy

Project Management Made Easy

What you need to know about… Project Management Made Easy! Project management consists of more than just a large building project and can encompass small projects as well. No matter what the size of your project, you need to have some sort of project management. How you manage your project has everything to do with its outcome.

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