Poor quality management can stand in the way of a successful project. The two keys to avoiding lapsing into substandard quality management are to remember, first, that the project sponsor and your client determine quality—the project manager and project team do not. And, second, you need to resist the urge to think that quality means the best material, the best equipment, and absolutely zero defects. In most cases, the client does not expect, and cannot afford, a perfect solution. If there are just a few bumps in the project, the client can still say that the project delivered to a high level of quality.

On the other hand, a flawlessly designed, defect-free solution that does not meet the client’s needs will not be considered high quality. The purpose of quality management is to first understand the expectations of the client in terms of quality, and then put a proactive plan and process in place to meet or exceed those expectations. Here’s how to do just that.

Why do projects fail?

All of us have been on projects that were less than successful. What are the most common factors behind this? I’ll discuss the five most common project management mistakes in this series. See part one, “Poor planning is project management mistake number one”; part two, “Poor scope-management practices could precipitate project failure”; part three, “Project managers must manage their work plans to be successful”; and part four, “Good communication is an IT project requirement, not a luxury.”

Heed the signs
Problems with quality show up in a number of areas. For instance:

This is the primary problem caused by poor quality work during a project. Rework means that you have to do the same work twice because the original effort was not satisfactory. For example, let’s say your team has created a software component in a large application. Component walk-throughs or peer reviews are not considered rework, since they are part of building the component the first time.

When you say the component is complete, the hope is that no more work is needed. However, if there are subsequent errors when your component is tied into the larger application, rework is required. This is work that is required because the original construction and testing process was not thorough enough and errors still existed in the deliverable.

Higher maintenance and support costs
If errors are caught within the development process, there is a cost associated with rework. However, many times quality problems surface after the project deliverables are completed and in production. This situation just hands the problem off to the support organization. High support costs from a poor quality solution are a sign that the team willingly delivered a less-than-acceptable solution, or else it did not realize the poor quality because the team’s testing process was also inadequate.

Client dissatisfaction
If a solution is of poor quality, the client will not be happy. Some of this unhappiness may be transferred to the support organization. However, if the client has a choice, it may not buy from you again at a later date.

Missed deadlines and budget
In many cases, projects that do not manage quality well end up with a lot of rework, which in turn leads them to miss their deadlines and exceed their budget. This can cause the business value to be delayed, or it may change the value proposition for the entire project.

Poor morale
No one likes to work for an organization that has poor processes or produces poor quality solutions. No one likes to work on projects that are missing their deadlines because of rework. People tend to find excitement and challenge in building a solution. However, the team’s motivation level will go down when it has to continually repair and rework deliverables that don’t work correctly. In addition to poor morale in general, specific costs can include increased absenteeism, higher turnover, and less productivity from the staff.

What can be done?
Quality management is not an event that you consider once in a while. Quality management is an ongoing process that the team needs to focus on throughout the project. When the project begins, the project manager should prepare an overall Quality Plan containing these three major components:

1. Criteria for completeness and correctness
I said earlier that quality is determined by the client, not by the project manager. That might make the project manager uneasy, since he or she may not be sure of the client’s expectations. That is where completeness and correctness criteria come in. The project team and client then have a common expectation of what is required for each deliverable to be accepted.

2. Quality control process
Quality control refers to the ongoing activities that the project team will perform to ensure that the deliverables are of high quality. This can include deliverable walk-throughs, testing of subcomponents, completeness checklists, and so on.

3. Quality assurance process
These are the activities designed to ensure that the overall processes used to create the deliverables are of high quality. These types of activities include third-party audits, checklists to ensure that all parts of a process were completed, and deliverable approvals.

Everyone on the team needs to have a quality mindset to ensure that work is completed with a minimum amount of errors—the first time around. The project manager and team need to understand that the first goal of quality management is to produce deliverables with no errors. The second goal is to catch any errors as early as possible.

From a practical standpoint, if you can build the deliverables with as few errors as possible, and then find those remaining errors as early as possible, your overall project will have much fewer problems. Quality problems tend to show up late in the project—usually during the testing process. However, if you have a good quality process in place, testing should only confirm that everything is working correctly. Then you can work quickly toward final approvals, implementation, and a smooth production cycle.

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Discover the secrets to IT leadership success with these tips on project management, budgets, and dealing with day-to-day challenges. Delivered Tuesdays and Thursdays