Project Quality Management: Quality Processes Uncovered

project quality managementIn a business, managing workflow is of utmost importance. You don’t need to read the PMBOK to know that organization and quality sit high on the priority list. For those of you unfamiliar with the PMBOK, it’s the religious text for management and stands for A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge. This textbook acts as a guide for everything that falls within the reign of management. It teaches the five process groups of management: planning, monitoring, initiating, executing and closing. It also discusses the nine knowledge areas of project management: scope, time, cost, human resource, communications, risk, procurement, stakeholders and last but not least – quality. It’s this last knowledge area that we will focus on in the scope of this article.

Project Management Essentials is a course that explores every aspect of cost, time and quality of a project. This course primarily focuses on the construction industry, however, the principles of quality are the same across the board.

So what is quality?

Simply put, and as defined by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), quality is the ability of a company to entirely satisfy implied and stated needs. Okay, so what does that mean? The long and short of it means that whatever the company is doing it needs to do it to 100% and should meet all written requirements and specifications while ensuring the products and services function as intended. Let’s say you run an ice rink and you rent out skates for customers to use. As an employee, your job is to sharpen the skates, all of them, once a week to double check that the skates are still in one piece and that the blades are sharp. This is a quality assurance measure taken to avoid a lapse in product quality for your customers.

To adhere to the ISO definition of quality businesses instill project quality management processes to follow. These processes are quality planning, quality assurance, and quality control. We’ll get into these in a minute. Project quality management uses the five management process groups, planning, initiating, monitoring, executing and closing – as defined by PMBOK – to see that these project quality management processes are used and upheld. In other words, project quality managers devise plans to assure quality and control. We’ve all heard of big business uh-oh’s like Toyota’s 9 million vehicle recall in 2009 – which was huge. (There were problems with the removable floor mats that were causing accelerators to get stuck which resulted in 52 fatal crashes!) The recall occurred because quality assurance and quality control measures were not executed properly. This not only causes Toyota to lose money but they damaged their reputation and were held responsible for 52 incident related deaths.

So if you are wondering why quality management is important – there’s your answer! Learn more about Quality Management Techniques in this course.

Quality Planning

Quality planning involves much of what the title implies. It’s the steps taken to plan out how to satisfy quality requirements and specifications as dictated by the company. Without a business plan you likely couldn’t start a business, right? The same thing goes for the quality plan. Without it, you have no guidelines on how to achieve those standards. The quality planning process should be thorough and include a design that soundly communicates how to meet the needs of the customer. After all, the customer is really who we are trying to serve. Trust me when I say – quality matters. For example, you’ve got the option between buying a Brookstone massage chair with a lot of unique features for $500. That same chair is offered by a lesser-known foreign company that is notorious for low quality products – for half the price. Most of us are going to choose the Brookstone chair even though it’s more expensive, because the company name is reputable, the quality is high and we all know the saying “you get what you pay for”. We rather make the investment now than potentially end up with a broken chair and be out $250. Proper quality planning allows your company to be at the forefront of your industry. However, creating a plan is only 33% of the process. Let’s see what quality assurance is about.

Quality Assurance

Alright, so it’s clear that quality planning is a crucial step toward providing top-notch quality products and services. But words on paper is only a part of it. Quality assurance entails assessing project performance to make sure what’s being done is meeting the relevant quality standards. In addition to evaluating these standards, quality assurance managers are responsible for on-going quality improvement. They do this by performing quality audits and benchmarking to understand where quality may be lacking and what can be done to correct it. We can refer back to the Toyota recall for this one. Someone dropped the ball on quality assurance… big time. Whether management failed to oversee the projects were meeting quality requirements, or the employees neglected to fulfill their obligation to meet quality standards, I don’t know. What we do know is that this major oversight caused Toyota a lot of loyal customers and millions of dollars. In an Introduction to Quality Management course learn more about implementing a quality assurance program.

Quality assurance management isn’t just telling your employees what to do. It involves drafting a quality assurance plan that highlights the purpose, scope, organizational structure, team leaders and the procedures that are to be followed. The quality assurance team is responsible for walking through these procedures and doing quality assurance tests to verify that the techniques in place are actually feasible and beneficial.

Quality Control

At the tail end of Project Quality Management we see quality control. It’s this process that ensures all of the quality planning and quality assurance measures taken are compliant with the overall quality goals of the company. With quality control, management and workers could mosey on through their days producing terrible quality products unbeknownst to them. Quality control management steps in to say, “hey, these [fill-in-the-blank] are not up to our company standards. Where did we go wrong and what can we do to improve it?”. Quality control management has a toolbox of techniques to employ when things aren’t looking so hot. They whip out the quality control charts, do a Pareto analysis and utilize Six Sigma. Let’s go over these one by one.

  • Quality Control Charts

As you may have guessed, quality control charts are, well, charts. They are visual representations of the company quality output over the course of several periods. These charts illustrate whether or not a quality process is in control. If it is in control, the charts should convey a steady or upward trend in product quality results. If the process is not in control, defects will be identified. To analyze if a process is in control or not quality control managers use the seven run rule. Basically, if seven data points on the chart fall above or below the mean – there is an issue. The seven points indicate that there are non-random factors at play here and consistency is lacking. All implied processes should be reassessed for assurance.

  • Pareto Analysis

Quality control managers love graphs and charts. The Pareto Analysis uses Pareto diagrams, or histograms, to identify the few contributing factors that are causing most of the quality issues in the company or system. It’s also called the 80-20 rule because 80% of the quality problems are frequently due to 20% of the causes. Using the Pareto Analysis, quality control managers can see what functions of the system could be at fault and then they can prioritize them for correction.

  • Six Sigma

The Six Sigma, in essence, encompasses everything we’ve talked about with a focus on an understanding of customer needs. Through using the Six Sigma system, quality control teams can strive to sustain and maximize business success by utilizing statistics, attention to detail and discipline to execute the planning, managing, executing and initiating business processes. There is a lot of number-fiddling in this quality control technique so I’ll save most of the details for another time. However, the Six Sigma target is to achieve no more than 3.4 defects per one million opportunities. In other words, if you’re Toyota – you messed up, big time.

Within Six Sigma there is yet another set of processes to ensure that the company does not go over the meager 3.4 defects per million. This set is called the DMAIC for, define, measure, analyze, improve and control. You can guess what each of these entails. If you can’t, read Six Sigma Tools and the details will be unveiled there. In order for Six Sigma to work the company, as a whole, has to commit to it. This means every department, in every branch, under every kind of manager has to uphold the DMAIC and 3.4 rule. A lot of big name companies like Motorola, Honeywell and GE, use Six Sigma and rather effectively.

Total Quality Management (TQM)

Okay, so you know all about the umpteen sets of processes that go into project quality management. You know that Six Sigma is a company-wide commitment and that brings us to total quality management (TQM). Within a company there are often several departments, or branches that have different functions. The goal of the TQM approach is to fully integrate all of the quality management processes we just went over to ensure company-wide success and to beat customer expectations. TQM runs from top to bottom assessing every assessment that every assessor in the company has done. At the end, there is a really well-painted picture of the overall quality the company is producing. Executive Management should be the driving force behind TQM, and believe you me they will be with the Malcom Baldridge Award at stake. (Malcom Baldridge Award is a Quality award that recognizes companies with world-class quality.) Risk management is also a part of quality management. Risk managers identify and analyze the risk of any faction of a business. Risk managers and quality managers often work closely in understanding quality processes. Learn more in the course Risk Management.

In the end we see the quality matters. It matters for the business and it matters for the customers. It’s a two-way dialogue between the customer needs and feedback and the company’s ability to meet those needs and address that feedback. Manage superior quality standards for your company; learn from the best in the course Manage Project Quality.