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Hit the target: How to get quality in projects August 28, 2012

Posted by thefieldgeneral in Leadership, Project Management.

One thing is sure about business, quality must be both deliberate and timely. Wyatt Earp once said “Fast is fine, but accuracy is final. You must learn to be slow in a hurry.” Earp is perhaps the last word on quality. If you move too fast, you miss your target entirely, too slow and the competition shoots you in the head.

Thanks to the The Knowles Gallery @http://www.flickr.com/photos/theknowlesgallery/

Quality is a funny concept in project management. Part of the problem is that  we have a hard time fitting quality into the iron triangle. Is quality part of the scope of a project or part of the effort of a project? The answer is yes.

Projects are about change. If you don’t know the destination, you will arrive somewhere else. In this way, quality is about scope (what the project is about). How good does it have to be? How long does it need to last? Is it OK if it leans just a little? This is something that we usually understand and do well enough in projects. When we are assuring we arrive at the right destination, we call it quality control.

The results are not all that require quality. If we are to complete projects with consistency, it is important that our processes are held to a standard of quality. Our quality control processes themselves must be analyzed to see if they are good enough. With constant improvement, our work and quality control processes have more predictable and thus manageable outcomes. This is called Quality Assurance.

What are the keys to strong quality control and quality assurance processes? Here are a few:

1. Document Quality Expectations and Communicate Them

The first step is always to understand what we want. Whether you are seeking a less than 10% failure rate on bug fixes or a 9 out of 10 customer service rating; your team cannot meet expectations that aren’t expressed. We also want to know when we have over-delivered. If the client expects a 98% quality rate and we deliver 99.5%, we need to let them know.

2. Have the Front Line Review Procedures

First, the workers know the work. They can tell you what is realistic. Second, reviewing and agreeing to procedures commits people to their success. Finally, the front line sees what happens every day. Sometimes they come up with ideas or expectations that are surprising and take the organization to the next level.

3. Any Quality Assurance/Quality Control Personnel are there to make sure nothing slips through, not to catch problems

Quality is everyone’s problem. Make it clear that the development team has a responsibility to detect quality issues.There are three key benefits to this. First, the earlier a problem is detected, the cheaper it is to fix. Second, by placing the quality burden on the shoulders of those who do the work, your quality team can focus on finer degrees of quality. Finally, sharing the burden of quality helps reduce the natural conflict between quality teams and working teams.

4. Plan Deliberately, Execute Fast

This goes to the heart of “move slow in hurry”. Up front planning which reduces human error and decisions in the moment, greatly increases quality. This is why we write quality plans and quality checklists. In fact, it is why we write checklists at all. If you want a great resource on the subject of checklists and how to use them to maximize quality, I would suggest The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande.

5. When you are done, sit back for a moment and reflect on what might be wrong

Over the years, I have found that certain thought processes tend to come together after working on a problem. Unconnected issues merge into new patterns and reveal something just on the edge of perception. In my experience, these items come suddenly and clearly into view the second you hit send, compile the code, or sign the contract. If you can, give a completed tasks 24 hours to simmer before communicating completion or signing the contract.

6. Make Quality a point of Pride.

When Quality is a matter of pride, people go the extra mile. I don’t know how many times I tested things one more time or took one last look because I didn’t want to disappoint a boss. Good enough is never what we want to put out. This is key with extroverted personalities like the DISC “high I” and “high D”.

7. Sometimes you have to cut bait.

In gentle contradiction to the previous statement is a caution to be used with the introverted personalities, the DISC “high S” and “high C”. They can work towards perfection forever. They must be reined in to due dates. As an old English teacher of mine used to say, “A paper is never done, it’s just due.”

What ideas do you have with Quality Control and Quality Assurance?
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