Lead PRINCE2® trainer Richard Lampitt embarks on another blog series this week. In the first part of this 2 part series, he discusses the importance of 'Quality.' He gives us the definition of Quality and why an understanding of it and its importance is an essential factor in project success.

For one reason or another, some projects don’t always deliver what was expected. You could say that some projects are “like a box of chocolates…you never know what you’re going to get”! But why is that? This is often down to a misunderstanding of what quality means and/or a poor definition of the project’s quality requirements.

Quality...the elephant in the room

Regarding projects and from my experience, when people hear the word ‘quality’ being mentioned, they panic and often think time-consuming and/or expensive, so tend to shy away from this important aspect of project management. Consequently, the all-important aspects of quality fizzle out of sight and mind, or rather the thought of quality is lurking about, but no one wants to raise it as a topic because it’s deemed as ‘the dreaded word’ which comes with far too much hassle and associated cost! However, what they should be asking themselves is, what would be the cost of NOT properly defining, planning for and controlling quality? Not properly defining, planning for and controlling quality is often far more time-consuming, expensive and indeed ‘hassle’ in the long run, rather than doing otherwise.

So, what is and what do we mean by ‘quality’ anyway?

In terms of your project creating what’s deemed as being ‘quality’ products? Let’s suppose you’ve been asked to design and create a new type of watch, which you’ve been told must be a ‘quality’ watch. Do they mean “solid gold and laced in diamonds” when it comes to that quality?...not necessarily. That kind of broadly stated requirement will only lead to incorrect assumptions. Essentially, all you should mean by the statement ‘quality’ is: ‘what it is that will make the product meet stated needs/requirements’, i.e. be ‘fit for the purpose it’s intended for’. Will an expensive solid gold and diamond incrusted watch be suitable for everyday use, whilst working in the garden, or washing the car etc? If that’s the intended use for the watch, then the gold and diamond incrusted watch is unlikely to ever get used and instead get left on a shelf at the back of a cupboard, like some products delivered by projects tend to!

The question to ask is, ‘why’ is a new watch needed? What’s is to be used for…what’s its ‘purpose’? Is it simply to tell the time during general everyday use? Or, do they also need to time things using a stopwatch function? Do they need a complex multi-function watch, when all they want to know is what time it is?! Do they want it to be cheap and easy to maintain? Is it to last them many years, or do they intend to replace it every year? Such criteria need to be established to ensure we better understand what it is that will make the watch ‘fit for purpose’.

How do we scope quality requirements?

In practice, initially what the customer is likely to ask a project to create for them is likely to be rather vague and very ‘broadly’ stated. The customer is unlikely to know exactly what they need you to create for them to meet a business need, although they might think they do! This potentially leads to under or over scoping the solution and/or under or over specifying the technical requirements. This will either lead to a product that’s not fit for purpose and possibly even an ‘over-engineered’ solution which does so much more than the customer will ever need it to, and as a result is also likely to be more expensive to build, operate and/or maintain.

The customer is more likely however to know what the desired outcomes (business changes) are that they want to achieve from the investment in a project. Understanding these outcomes is important, as it’s the products created by the project that will be used to generate the desired outcomes and those outcomes will then lead to the realization of the all-important ‘business benefits’. If we don’t know what the desired outcomes are, then we can’t really say what we should build or what it is about the products that will make them ‘fit for the purpose’ they are intended for.

For example, if a desired outcome of a shop refurbishment project was that ‘they will be able to display more merchandise’, leading to a benefit of ‘increased sales revenue’, then the solution delivered by the project would need to include a new floor layout with additional shelving/racking systems, not just new flooring, a new sales counter and freshly decorated walls! Basically, if we don’t know what the desired outcomes are, although the shop would have been refurbished and indeed look very nice, the shop owner will find themselves in a situation that’s no different to what they were before investing in the refurbishment, meaning they’ll not realize the benefit of increased sales revenue and consequently see no return on their investment in the project.

At the end of the day, it’s the products produced by the project that, when used, will generate the outcomes, so it’s important to know what the desired outcomes are and then ensure the right products are produced by the project and that those products will be fit for the purpose they’re intended for, i.e. are ‘quality’ products that will help achieve the outcomes and resulting benefits. To help achieve this, you need to ensure that each product’s ‘purpose’ and ‘quality criteria’ are clearly defined.

Be specific!

For example, even simple things like wanting a new dining table needs to be clearly defined. Saying it needs to be “large enough to fit all the family around it” isn’t good enough! Instead, we should ask questions like: How large will make it too large for the room it’s going to be used in? When they say ALL the family, ask how many people exactly; do they mean just the immediate family living in the house, or the ‘entire’ family including all Grandparents, Aunties and Uncles etc! From these questions you should agree quantified and measurable quality criteria. I know this seems obvious, but it’s often the obvious that’s overlooked, especially when faced with time constraints!

Here’s another simple example (and a true story) of NOT clearly defining requirements and how it wasted so much time and energy. I call it “The Pork Chop Pursuit”!

The 'Pork Chop Pursuit'...a true story

I was in a very large supermarket. My wife lovingly asked me to get some pork chops, which were at the other far end of the store. I managed to locate the pork chops, eventually found my wife somewhere else in the store and put them in the trolley. My wife said, sorry, “not the ones with bone in, the ones without bone”. So, I went all the way back to the other end of the store again to find the correct pork chops. I eventually found my wife somewhere else in the store again (after about another 10 minutes of looking for her) and placed the pork chops (without the bone) into the trolley. My wife then said sorry, but she needed more than one pack, so I had to go on that tedious journey once again to get more pork chops. This time, after finding her somewhere else in the store (yes, after about another 5-10 minutes of looking for her), I placed the additional packs of pork chops in the trolley. Unfortunately, I had got too many this time. You know where that led me to I guess? No, not the pub, but yet again to the other far end of the store of course)!

Lessons learned?

Anyway, next time I’ll ask more questions, like, which specific type of pork chops do we require and exactly how many (in a pleasantly spoken tone of course)! That would have saved so much wasted time and effort and the extra wear and tear on the soles of my shoes; oh and of course saved my sanity!

And the moral of the 'Pork Chop Pursuit' story is? No, NOT, I shouldn’t go shopping with my wife in future, rather, don’t be hasty and make assumptions just because something seems a simple enough request! Ask more specific questions in order to get the requirements (quality criteria) clearly defined and understood (quantified and measurable wherever possible). Oh, but it was all worthwhile, as the pork chops were very tasty!

In your projects you should agree and document such quality criteria for the products you intend to create. That way there’s no misunderstandings. If you’ve agreed the levels of quality required, you can then ‘build that quality in’ during product creation and quality check the products to verify that is the case. Then you can confidently hand the products to the customer at the end of your project without any acceptance disputes. On that note, there was no ‘dispute’ in the supermarket…(just for the record)!

Essentially, you should take the correct path to quality; the path down the quality ‘street’ which leads to other routes to success, not the quality ‘cul-de-sac’ which leads to a dead end!

Richard is the lead PRINCE2 trainer at SPOCE Project Management and runs many of our classroom and virtual classroom courses. If you are interested in finding out more about project sucess and the fundamentals of planning then why not contact us on...


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