Seasoned project managers understand the importance of thinking about project quality. If you think about it from a technology standpoint, no one wants software that is loaded with bugs, so there needs to be a strong focus on testing software as it is being created. Hence, the term testing project quality.
From a residential construction perspective, ensuring project quality means aligning the resulting quality of the home construction with what the homeowner can afford. Obviously, no homeowner wants their home to fall down in five years, but most homeowners live with financial constraints, so there are tradeoffs. Brick, wood framing, aluminum siding…
Depending on your industry, you may be well acquainted with the idea of project quality. Yet, I often find that in business projects, where the deliverables can be intangible, people stop thinking about it. What I recommend is that project leaders understand the quality objectives for each of the major activities. Creating quality objectives can be hard at times because not all projects are created equal. Sometimes it’s just as much a state of mind as it is an overt process. Regardless, thinking about project quality early can save you re-work.
I was chatting with a friend recently who is working on a very large non-profit fundraiser. This particular event has never been done before in her organization. She is running a sub-committee that is charged with decorations. There are about 10 people on her committee, close to 100 volunteers, eight senior leaders, and a project manager spearheading the event. Anything the committee spends on professional decorators and materials is money that the non-profit will not get. Most people agree on the need for beautiful decorations. Yet, there is the ongoing question of just how beautiful they need to be, given their limited budget.
Contrast that situation with a change management project in an organization. The project activities are not nearly as visible to the eye. Project activities often involve a series of meetings and documents. Success is less about how perfect the documents are, and more about how effective the conversations and documents are in moving people from one paradigm to another. How do you measure project quality on something like that?
It’s tough… Sometimes, what is needed is a passel of simple, one-to-one conversations where you wrestle with tough questions. For example, how are you going to compensate people? Does it make sense to shut down the entire office because so many workers want to work from home? Is a major change in the business model needed?
When you are dealing with massive change, you often can’t do it in large meetings. It takes a lot of small meetings and one-on-ones.
So, how does thinking about project quality help? Here are four suggestions.
Define the project quality objectives for each of the major project activities.
Let’s take a few examples:
Project: Large non-profit fundraiser event.
Activity description – Develop overall theme, colors, fabrics, and materials to be used in decorations.
Quality objective – is it your objective to have a decision that your committee of ten agrees on? OR, is it your objective to have a decision that most of the volunteers agree on? Is the decision to be confidential for now, or to be announced (which is a form of testing)? Does the quality objective need to be aligned with any kind of budget? Just knowing the answers to these questions will save some headaches later.
Project: Develop 15-page Weebly website for a new client.
Activity description – Build out site architecture.
Quality objective – Should the site architecture be a simple Visio document that shows the architecture? OR, does it make more sense to build out the pages in Weebly since it is such an easy, drag and drop tool and changes can be made easily? In my experience, once people start playing with Weebly (or any of these tools), time adds up fast. And yet, for many clients, seeing the actual pages and links will be far more illuminating and thought provoking than a Visio diagram. So, ask the client what he/she prefers.
Project: Merge two large partnerships into one, with 25 locations.
Activity description – Define new compensation structure for merged firm.
Quality objective – What does this deliverable even look like? Is it an executive summary of the new structure, or a PowerPoint that can be used to review it in the many meetings that need to take place? Does the deliverable need to persuade the partners in the new organization that this new compensation structure is the best approach? Or, does it simply need to persuade the leadership committee of the new partnership?
The more complex the project and the more stakeholders there are, the more important it is to understand the quality objectives on your deliverables. And the harder it might be to get everyone to agree on what is even needed. But the harder it is, the easier it is to understand why it’s so important.
Define who gets to approve each quality objective.
- On the non-profit fundraiser event, who makes the final decisions? Do you have a committee of eight that needs to sign off on every decision? Does the project manager have any approval authority? Do the sub-committees have any autonomy? Are there going to be professionals involved to advise the committee, and if so, how much weight do their voices have?
- On the Weebly website, it will most likely be the client. But, have you checked to make sure that you know who the decision maker at the organization is? Does the team that you are working with at the client’s office have to get the owner’s approval on every decision, or just the final website design? If it’s the latter, don’t wait until the end to get the owner’s okay.
- On the partnership merger, what decisions need to be approved by the entire partnership? Does the managing partner(s) have any approval authority? Which decisions must the leadership committee approve? Do the local partnership offices have any independence?
Define how you are going to test the quality objective for each activity.
- On the non-profit fundraiser event, the testing might involve a meeting with the senior event leadership. Or, it might involve a meeting with a much larger group of volunteers. Testing might include some type of research to ensure that the proposed decorations can be implemented within a certain budget.
- On the Weebly website, will the testing involve a meeting with designated stakeholders, or simply an email approval?
- On the partnership merger, the compensation structure may be one of the trickiest subjects. Once you understand the deliverable and who has to approve it, be clear about what that approval looks like. Committee approvals can be tough. The lone voice may not be heard, but it may be very important. People need time to process the details, so don’t expect to walk into a meeting, present a new compensation structure, and walk away with consensus.
Designate the person who is going to do the testing and when it gets done.
Is the testing going to be done after the deliverable is finished, or will it be done while the deliverable is being created? To some extent this depends on the size of the deliverable.
One of the struggles is that it can be hard for people to view isolated deliverables in a vacuum. You don’t want to get everyone’s approval on the decorating theme, colors, and materials, only to find out that it is just hideous when it’s actually installed on the day before the event. The more complicated and the more abstract the deliverable, the harder it is to get a green light.
And yet, if you wait until all of the work is done, and the decisions are made before you test out any quality objectives with the decision makers, you are likely to run into a lot of re-work.
If you are working with a client, and the client clearly is going in the wrong direction, try to use your project manager or a professional to add some balance to the conversation. When there is a lot of money at stake, engaging a professional early can save time and money in the end.
Sometimes, just talking through some project quality ideas helps. Sign up for a free, no-obligation, phone consult with me to brainstorm your concerns.