4 Ways Project Quality Is Managed

Everything You Need to Know About Managing Quality on Projects

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Female neon artist working on smart phone in loft. Thomas Barwick/Stone/Getty Images

Project quality management is the discipline by which quality is planned, assured and controlled on a project. You’ll find a chunk of text about quality management on projects in all kinds of project methodologies and approaches, which reflects the fact that while not the most riveting of areas of project management, it’s up there as one of the most important.

Failing to deliver something that’s of good quality potentially means all your investment of time, money and resources is wasted because you’ve ended up with something that doesn’t do what you want and it’s suitable to use.

This is where quality management on projects comes in. It ensures that what comes out of the project is fit for purpose. It makes sure that the right product is delivered at the right time in the right way to meet the customers’ specifications. You do have to know their specifications to get the quality right, and we’ll come to that in a minute.

Quality management is the responsibility of the project manager although you’ll get other members of the project team involved to draw on their expertise.

There are four ways that quality is handled on projects. Let’s take a look.

1. Quality Planning

Quality planning takes place in the very early stages of the project. It’s where you, as the project manager, work out what needs to go in the quality management plan and you write it down. The quality plan might be a document in its own right or it might be (and this is most common) a part of the overall project management plan.

The quality plan defines the quality standards to be achieved during the project. These could be things like any ISO standards that you have to adhere to or guidelines that your clients require you to comply with. You’ll have to find out what these are. Your company is likely to have standards that everyone has to comply with so ask the right team to help if you don’t know.

Input from your customer (whether you are working for an internal or external project sponsor) is important here because they are the ones that set the quality targets that form an important part of the plan. If you don’t know what quality looks like, you can’t deliver it, so it’s here that we work out exactly what we are going to be judged on later.

The quality plan defines the timescales and processes for project quality assurance reviews, so let’s look at those next.

2. Quality Assurance

Quality assurance is an independent assessment of the processes and outputs of your project. It’s where another pair of eyes – often someone from a corporate quality or audit team – looks over what you are doing to make sure that it is fit for purpose.

You might have a project assurance team who come and fulfil the quality assurance role at various points through the project but it’s most likely to be relevant during the part where you are designing and building your end products.

Quality assurance in practice looks like a review: someone will go over either the finished product or your documentation, and potentially interview your team to find out how they are working. You should get a write up of the review so you can see what and where you have to improve or if there are any areas of concern.

It’s good practice and good business sense to act on these. Add them to your project task list and break down big tasks to make them more manageable if the whole quality piece is looking like an incredibly big job.

3. Quality Control

Quality control is very similar to quality assurance except it’s carried out by the project team itself. You still look at what you are producing and how you are producing it and do your own checks.

If you’ve planned it right you’ll do these as you go along so that when quality assurance comes by there will be no surprises.

The main ways of checking are inspection and testing (either a sample or the final item). You might have an inspection and test plan which sets out a systematic approach for testing the items that your project is making and ensuring that they meet the customers’ specifications.

You’ll do this during the design and build or development phase of your project as you need some output before you can do any testing.

Pro Tip: Record the results of your tests! This might not sound like a rocket science pro tip but you’d be surprised at how easy it is to forget to keep good records. What you fully understand now will be a spreadsheet that means nothing to anyone in a few months.

You need to record your quality outcomes in a way that makes it easy to go back and see what happened and what you did about it. Remember to add the dates and the tester’s name so that you can talk to them if you need to.

4. Continuous Improvement

The final part of the quality puzzle is continuous improvement. Project quality should be continuously improved as you go, and many project managers will find this is the easiest quality process to implement because you will be used to doing lessons learned reviews or retrospectives. We’re talking about the same thing here.

The project manager should seek out relevant lessons from other projects during the project initiation phase and build those into the plan. Might as well learn from the mistakes other teams have made, right?

Ideas for continuous improvement can be identified by anyone so it is worth building a regular slot into your team meetings to ask for ideas. Record them and implement them: your project coordinator can take a role in this.

If you don’t work in a manufacturing or building environment it might feel as if project quality management isn’t really relevant to you. That’s not true at all! If you have a key client, customer or user, then quality matters. And even if you are the key customer, then it still matters because you want what you deliver to be a good use of everyone’s time and resources. That means delivering something fit for purpose that everyone loves using and working with. Project quality management helps you get there and these four processes show you how you can do it.