Define the client's view of quality and then manage to that level

The purpose of quality management is to first understand the expectations of the client, and then put a proactive plan in place to meet those expectations.

On a project, the project manager and project team must understand the client's requirements for quality and then meet those requirements. This is a critical concept to understand when you are managing quality. Sometimes there's a tendency to think that quality means the best material, the best equipment, and zero defects. However, in most cases, the client does not expect, and cannot afford, a perfect solution. If there are a few bumps in the project or a few defects in the deliverable, the client may still say that the solution was delivered with a high level of quality. In fact, you may have been on "quick and dirty" projects where the client's expectations for quality might be very low. On the other hand, a flawlessly designed, defect-free solution is not considered high quality if it doesn't meet the client's need.

The purpose of quality management is to first understand the expectations of the client, and then put a proactive plan in place to meet those expectations. Of course, this may seem completely subjective and it may seem impossible to meet the client's expectations. Fortunately, there is a lot about quality that can be made objective. This requires first breaking down the generic term of "quality" into a number of specific areas that define the characteristics of quality on your specific project. For instance, one of the features of a quality solution for your client may be that it has a "minimum" amount of errors. You can work with the client to define "minimum" but it doesn't mean zero. That is, there is some level of errors that the client is willing to accept, since he can't afford (or wait for) a perfect solution. The project manager can then monitor the error rate and proactively strive to achieve the minimum' error rate that the client expects.

Usually, when a project team defines exactly what quality means to the client, it will end up documenting multiple characteristics. Product quality and service quality will need to be defined separately, if they are both important. The following list provides some more examples of exactly what quality might mean.

Product quality

  • Reliable (performs as expected)
  • Easy to use
  • Easy to maintain when completed
  • Available when needed
  • Flexible for future needs
  • Good value for dollars spent
  • Intuitive / easy to understand
  • Secure
  • Well documented
  • Minimally defective
  • Responsive
  • A match to client needs

Service quality

  • Responsive (you get back to the client quickly)
  • Competent
  • Accessible
  • Courteous
  • Good communicators
  • Credible
  • Knowledgeable of the client business
  • Reliable (you do what you say)

In summary, the essence of managing quality on a project is to first understand exactly what the client's perception of quality is. This requires you to dig deeper than just saying "high quality. Once you have that understanding, you can put a plan in place (consisting of quality control and quality assurance activities) to ensure that you meet the client's expectations.

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