I vaguely remember a judge talking about pornography many years ago. He said he couldn’t define what it was, but he would know it when he saw it. Sometimes when I think about planning project quality, I remember that comment.
I experienced that exact same feeling when I recently rebuilt my own website. If a project manager had asked me to define what quality I was looking for, or how I would measure it, I couldn’t have done that. I was hopeless and didn’t know what I wanted. But, I was just pretty sure I would know it when I saw it. Fortunately, I hired the right person.
I’ve written about the need to think about project quality. And I’m often surprised by the number of clients who talk about quality when I raise my triple constraint questions. And one of my blogs on measuring project quality continues to get good traffic. So, there must be other people who are struggling with this subject.
My blog on measuring quality is an overview of how traditional project managers think about project quality. By that, I mean, find a way to break your project down from the beginning, and determine what quality you want on each activity, how you will test it, and what constitutes success. But what happens when you are doing a project, such as a website design and build, a marketing campaign, or a new retail store design? What happens when you really don’t know what you want, but you’ll know it when you see it?
I’m not going to suggest it will be easy. I still recommend the process that I outlined in the blog on measuring project quality. Here are some other tips that you can try.
Spend extra time talking with stakeholders.
It’s not just about brainstorming without a plan. It’s about trying to learn what people are having a hard time understanding for themselves. And, it’s about coming up with good questions that will force people to think.
Take for example – a retail store design. Can you ask about favorite colors, how they think customer traffic will flow, or what products are hot? Do you want to drive customers through as efficiently as possible, as you might expect in a grocery store? Or do you want to create a longer buying experience, replete with high-end customer engagement?
Planning project quality is also about really understanding who gets a say in what is going to be done. Be careful when the CEO or an EVP seems to give you full sway. It’s likely true that the CEO is not going to be involved in your project, but if you are rebranding the company, you had better get it right. Someone on your team needs to know what might not fly with the executive, before too much money is invested.
Know which decisions need to be cast in stone and which ones are easily changed.
As projects unfold, we aim to work in a way that minimizes rework. Rework is costly. But experimenting and failing is a learning process and we will make mistakes. This is what Jeff Bezos means when he says that “Multibillion-dollar failures are actually a good thing.” While few of us can afford those kinds of failures, experimentation is part of the process.
For example, suppose you are building a WordPress site that will have a global presence and a local presence. Don’t you want to nail down the global design before you build the local presence – even if you aren’t ready to have a global presence?
Sometimes, reducing rework is a question of how you prioritize decisions and work, or it’s a question of how quickly you can sprint. Here, I’m referring to the length of your sprints. Are you delivering something of value every day, week, or month? The faster you deliver something of value, and learn what worked and what didn’t, the sooner you can move on.
As you are planning project quality, identify the activities that have the highest risk. Figure out which decisions need to be etched in stone, and which ones can be easily changed without too much rework. Focus on those activities as early as possible.
At team meetings, make sure you hear from everyone.
As a project manager, I pay attention to who is talking and who is not. And I look at the power dynamics on the team. Are the most senior ones deferring to the more junior ones? That’s often a good sign, in that it can mean that the senior players very much value the junior players. But don’t make the mistake of leaving the meeting without hearing from everyone at the table. And if it’s the junior players that haven’t spoken up, you may be looking at some reticence that needs addressing.
Look into the future and imagine failure. What does that look like?
I first read this suggestion in Dan Pink’s book When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing. He recommended that project teams consider a pre-mortem. Hold a meeting. Fast-forward the discussion to the project closure. Assume it was a dismal failure and ask why.
When you are planning project quality and it feels impossible to know what to do next, what works for you? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
If you are struggling, try out my Eight Lesson Crash Course on Project Management.