In this article we will clarify what Quality is in a project context and the techniques you can use to ensure quality in your projects.

What is Project Success?

You probably know the classic triangle of constraints: Time, Cost and Scope/Quality.

Time is pretty obvious: the project needs to deliver to certain timeframes. Cost is also quite clear cut: we have a budget to stick to. The last one (scope/quality) can be a bit trickier to get a handle on.

Scope is a way of saying “everything that the project will do and deliver”. In projects we say that the things we have agreed we will do and that we will deliver are “in scope” (on the flip side, the things we will not do or not deliver are out of scope). What the project delivers, and how the work to deliver is done, has to meet the needs and expectations of the stakeholder. This is where quality comes in. Quality is the criteria that the project and its scope has to meet in order to be considered successful, correct or acceptable.

So what is Quality in Projects?

In non-project lingo we tend to use quality to describe something that is better, finer, more expensive or more luxurious than other options. To use an example: if we talk about quality shoes we tend to think of something fairly expensive, maybe hand-made, maybe fine and supple leather etc… (can you picture them?)

This idea of quality as something luxurious does not work in a project context. In a project context quality is relative and simply means “whatever is right for this situation” or “fit for purpose”.  Let’s stick with shoes to illustrate this point.

Say that your project is to climb Mount Everest. You are gathering your equipment and look for your high quality footwear. In this situation will you reach for your handmade leather shoes from our example above? Probably not. High quality shoes in this situation will probably involve some sort of waterproof material, thick soles, insulating materials to keep you warm and a lacing system that keeps the shoes firmly on your feet.

In our next scenario you are on a beach holiday and your project is to get from your sun lounger to the pool by stepping across some burning hot floor tiles. You need some equipment to protect your feet! Will you reach for your advanced hiking boots from Mount Everest? Probably not; in this scenario high quality shoes are light weight, easy to put on and perhaps something “cheap and cheerful” that you can leave by the poolside and not be too upset if they get soaked while you have a swim. High quality in this project is a pair of £2 flip flops.

When we talk about quality in projects it has to consider two dimensions: quality of the product and quality of how the project itself is managed (i.e the processes used).

Summary: What is quality?

Quality is not:

  • The same for every product or every project
  • The most luxurious solution, tool or component possible
  • Too expensive
  • Too cheap
  • Insufficient

Quality in project management is about using processes and tools that are fit for purpose (just right) for the purpose of creating a product or output that is fit for purpose (just right).

How do we ensure quality in our projects?

First of all, remember that we must look at two dimensions, or perspectives, of quality: the product and the project itself.

There are three techniques to ensure quality in projects:

  1. Plan for quality in the product
  2. Control quality in the product
  3. Assure quality in the project processes

Plan for quality:

In planning for quality in the product the project manager must ensure two things happen:

  1. The quality criteria must be identified and documented. To do this the team and project manager has to work with stakeholders to understand what fitness for purpose means for every part of the scope.

Examples of quality criteria might include:

  • Physical qualities such as size and colour
  • Performance qualities such as required precision, capacity, speed or acceptable error rates
  1. Once it is known what quality criteria the product (and all its components) must meet the project manager must then ensure there is a plan for how the team will test that that the product does meet those criteria.

Control quality:

In controlling quality the project team carries out the control activities that was identified during planning. This could be to carry out measurements, doing experiments, demonstrations or simply show casing to stakeholders or end users.

Planning and controlling quality are two key responsibilities of the project manager. This is how they ensure that the product that is handed to the stakeholder meets their needs, does what it is supposed to do… in short: it is fit for purpose.

Assure the project itself

Quality assurance is different from quality planning and quality control in that its focus is not on the product but on the processes used to create the product, i.e the project processes.

The purpose of assurance is to give stakeholders confidence in how the project is managed under the premise that a well-managed project is more likely to be successful (deliver quality scope, on time and budget).

Assurance can be carried out in different ways but it is important that:

  • Assurance activities are not seen as a one-off, but rather go alongside project activities all the way through the project lifecycle
  • Assurance activities are not carried out by someone within the project team, since this would effectively be the same as marking your own homework. For assurance to be of value it must give an objective view of how the project is being carried out, therefore it should be done by someone external to the team. A PMO is in an excellent position to do this!

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By: Karin Maule

Karin Maule
Categories: Project Management

Published: 28 September 2022

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