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How to Manage Project Quality (Without a Quality Plan)

How to manage quality plans on your project

None of my projects last year had quality plans.

Shocked?

The project teams delivered high quality results, on budget and mostly to the timescales agreed with the customers.  But we didn’t do it with the help of quality plans.

A quality plan is a document that sets out what ‘quality’ means to the project and how it will be achieved.  This could be through quality reviews, audits, peer reviews or other methods designed to ensure that the products are fit for purpose.  PRINCE2 recommends using quality plans.

A document doesn’t make you deliver quality results.  You could have the best quality plan ever written and still end up with deliverables that aren’t what the customer ordered.

Work with customers instead

On my quality plan-free projects we worked extensively with the customers.  We understood what they needed and what they wanted.  And we worked with them to help them understand when we couldn’t do it, and why.  We worked with suppliers too, and challenged them when they weren’t up to our standards.

Yes, sometimes we delivered items that were not of the standard we’d have liked.  But a quality plan wouldn’t have made any difference there.  I believe we did everything we could to do a quality job.

In my opinion, quality plans are a waste of paper.  I know that not everyone will agree with me. And I know that there will be some projects where a quality plan is inevitable, such as where it sets the internal standards for code review on software development projects.

Get the quality attitude

Quality is an attitude.  Writing a few pages about what quality means to this project doesn’t equal quality deliverables.  Quality should be something we manage instinctively as part of the deliverables for a project task.  We shouldn’t need a document to tell us to do our jobs properly and deliver a good quality, fit-for-purpose outcome.

If you don’t know what your customer wants, then something’s wrong.  If you don’t try to do your best and deliver that, every time, then something’s wrong.

How do you approach quality planning?

About Elizabeth Harrin

Elizabeth HarrinElizabeth Harrin FAPM is a professional project manager and award-winning blogger behind A Girl's Guide To Project Management. She's passionate about demystifying project management and making tools and techniques work in the real world. She's also the author of several books including the PMI bestseller, Collaboration Tools for Project Managers.
Elizabeth lives in the UK with her family. She uses her organisation and project management skills at home, and also to help other bloggers at Totally Organised Blogging.

Comments

  1. Elizabeth,

    This is a controversial but meaningful stance.

    It agrees with a model I’ve been using in my consulting and training. Bear with me, there is a connection!

    In the model I like to use to describe project constraints, where, instead of the classic triangle of scope, cost, and time, I like to use a pyramid, where the WALLS are scope, cost, and time, the floor is risk, and the very fabric of the walls represent quality. Quality -as you say – is in all project thought and transactions.
    An oh, by the way: where does the project manager stand, in relation to this pyramid? At the top, of course, balancing all these constraints while the shape, angle, and position of the pyramid wobble beneath her or him.

    That’s why our job is “so fun”!

    Note: it’s the exact same thinking we have in terms of Greenality – or “sustainable thinking”, which we preach over at http://earthpm.com.

    Thanks for the post!!

    • Rich, that’s a great way to look at it. Do you have an image representing the PM at the top of the pyramid? That could be fun!

      • I’m actually working on a book based on the idea, called The Fiddler on the Project. So, yes, I have several images, including animated ones, to get the idea across. Now if my co-author and I could just project manage ourselves and finish the book, we’ve been working on it for 5 years but keep getting sidetracked…

        If you’d like to see our ‘constramid’ (yep, terrible name, I know) I would be glad to do a guest posting and provide pictures and such.

        Thanks and cheers.

        Rich

  2. sometimes its difficult when the customer doesnt understand what he wants. I’m not talking about big projects with highly evolved project objectives. small initiatives which are packaged as projects need the project manager to develop the solution, and as the solution takes time disclosing itself, i’m put under pressure to ‘submit the proposal’ to cost and execute the item, so as to not let the budget evaporate. i may have a satisfied customer who rates me good on quality, but i wonder if i’m satisfied inside

    • Vikas, I have never seen a quality plan that includes ‘project manager satisfaction’, but this is an interesting metric and one we should take into account. I have said before that project managers are stakeholders in the project, and we should hope to get a quality experience out of every project we work on.

  3. Not shocked – just slightly disappointed at the tone of your post.
    If you spent last year working on projects where quality was ‘managed instinctively’ then you were very lucky indeed. Most organisations/projects aren’t this fortuitous, which is where a quality plan is required.
    You also assume a quality plan is a document which, if you’ll forgive me, is a little old-fashioned. Yes – you need to state quality expectations somewhere, but a good quality plan is about bringing those expectations to life and, ultimately to fruition.
    In the same way that a good project plan is so much more than a Gantt chart, so a good quality plan is much more than just a document – it is the tool that enables quality in the majority of instances where its delivery is not yet instinctive.

    • Matt, you are right to call me out on the fact that I assumed a quality plan is a paper document. A holistic approach where it can be more than that is much more rounded and useful. Unfortunately, I’ve not seen it done that way in real life, but to consider a ‘plan’ as more than the paper it is written makes it a more worthwhile tool. Thanks for your comment!

      • Hi Elizabeth. I’m just starting to set out what I mean in a little more detail here: http://wp.me/p1sWaT-1A . First step is to write down (or, more accurately, copy and paste) an accessible view of what we mean by ‘quality’ for the project/programme, on the basis that something is much better than nothing. The need for this may be a reflection on the difference between the types of programme/project/people we work with? I’d be interested in your thoughts. Thanks, Matt.

        • Hi Matt. I think that the need for a quality plan is hugely dependent on the work situation and the people involved – you have hit the nail on the head. Your article is a great example of a light touch for quality planning. I look forward to hear how this approach turns out.

  4. Thing is you did have a quality plan “worked extensively with the customers”, you just didn’t write it down in a document called ‘Quality Plan”. The problem with plans that aren’t written down is that they are (more) open to misinterpretation.

    My quality plans tend to be a couple of paras in the PID, setting out the basic approach, which is generally enough. But as always it’s about what’s appropriate for the project.

    • Iain, the ‘just enough’ philosophy is what I subscribe to. I think it’s important to find something that works for you. Incorporating a few paragraphs into the PID is a good idea.

    • Iain – agree with your approach and this is the route I usually take.
      Again, quality must be built into project planning and specific quality activities included in plans and cost estimations. True quality can’t be an afterthought and must exist as standard delivery practices from project initiation through to closeout activities.

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