CXO

Quality is a mind-set, not an event

It's a great idea to perform regular quality control checks during a project. But don't wait until the end of a project or push them off onto the customer. Project Mentor Tom Mochal explains why project teams must adopt an overall quality mind-set.


Each week, project management veteran Tom Mochal provides valuable advice about how to plan and manage projects. Tom first describes a common problem scenario, based on real-life situations. He then offers a solution, using practical project management practices and techniques.

Lori caught me on the way to a meeting. I’d reviewed the project definition on her initiative for the human resources division a month ago, but we had not spoken since.

“I’ve heard you talk about the need for building quality control into a solution,” Lori said. “I wanted to let you know that our team used the information to come up with a quality plan. The HR area has a lot of sensitive information, and our plan will make sure the information is accurate and secure.”

“Great,” I said. “I think you’ll find that building quality into your process will save you work and money over the entire project. What’s your plan?”

“First, we have a ‘quality day’ scheduled every two weeks,” Lori explained. “That’s when we’ll check the results of everyone’s work so far. Second, we’ve designated a person to thoroughly check the application when it is completed to find any errors that were missed up to that point. We’ve also asked one of our customers to be responsible for the overall quality of the solution. With these checks in place, we should end up with a good process.”

On the surface, all of this sounded good, but something wasn’t quite right. “What are your developers doing in between the quality days?” I asked.

“They’re working hard to construct the solution,” she said. “In fact, they think they can get more work done since they know that reviews will be done every other week and that someone will double-check the application at the end of the project.”

“That’s my concern. Quality is a state of mind, and building quality into your solution needs to be an integral part of your process. It appears that for your project, quality control is scheduled as a series of events and the responsibility for it rotates.”

Mentor advice
On some projects, team members view quality control as one or more events, or worse, something that is performed at the end of the project. To be effective, however, employees need to adopt an overall quality mind-set. Team members need to take ownership of their products and ensure that they are of the highest quality from the very beginning. They also must be open to critique and understand that the quality control process is in place so that the project results in quality deliverables that require a minimal amount of rework.

In Lori’s case, the developers might, in fact, produce lower quality work if they see the ”quality day” as the time to catch all the errors. The developers might also rely on the inspection at the end of the project to catch errors, again putting the onus for quality on someone else. Finally, designating a customer to be in charge of overall quality appears to shift the responsibility as well.

Instead, the developers need to understand that they are responsible for the quality of their work. It must be of high quality as they progress—not after someone else checks it. The quality plan needs to reinforce this by having walkthroughs and testing inspections throughout the development process—not at arbitrary times in the project plan. Lastly, overall responsibility for quality must remain with the team that builds the solution, not with a customer, even if the customer takes ownership of the acceptance testing process. These changes will ensure the team has a quality mind-set and takes responsibility for the quality of the application it is building.

Project management veteran Tom Mochal is director of internal development at a software company in Atlanta. Most recently, he worked for the Coca-Cola Company, where he was responsible for deploying, training, and coaching the IS division on project management and life-cycle skills. He’s also worked for Eastman Kodak and Cap Gemini America and has developed a project management methodology called TenStep.

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