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HOW ? -Quality, the Elusive Property

What is Quality?

How can I get Quality into my projects?

We can all agree it is a good thing, and I would like my project to have lots of it (wouldn't I?)

The difficulty found in discussing project quality is due to our common usage, and history CLICK HERE. Though commonly misunderstood, we must know this: Quality is not Grade.

Here are 2 pictures. Both illustrate very good Quality,

but not the same Grade.

  • Grade: Same function but different perceived worth. A steak and a hamburger have different grades.

  • Quality: The degree to which characteristics fulfill requirements. Hits the target, consistently. A hamburger chain where every ‘big burger’ is the same thereby consistently meeting your expectations, has higher quality than a steakhouse whose product does not always meet the customer's expectation.

Today's definitions for 'Quality' include:

  • Conformance to Requirements

  • Fit for intended use

  • Consistency

*There are some really useful links found when you CLICK on the words in BLUE font.

As Professional Project Managers we use the word "Quality," but need to be clear whether we are discussing Quality of the Project Objective, or Quality of the Project Management Goals.(Click here for a review of these ideas).

A) Quality of the Objective:

  • How well does the project solve the problem, answer the question, or provide the desired outcome of the seized opportunity?

  • How well does the project objective do that which was required?

  • This is a responsibility of the Project Sponsor

B) Quality of the Project Management

  • Was there good conformance to the requirements (expectations and needs)?

  • Did the project run smoothly, hitting each goal?

  • Was there a minimum disruption to ongoing operations?

  • This is a responsibility of the Project Manager.

Quality - HOW?

We have previously seen that the Scope of a project answers the questions "What" will you actually do, and "Where" will you do it. Scope also begins to discover "HOW” you will do your project, by collecting Stakeholder Expectations. Click and scroll down the page for information about Stakeholder Expectations.

By measuring the Quality variables in your Project Management Goals you will see HOW concentrated the test results are around the target value of the characteristic being measured.


The 8 principles for Professional Project Quality Management are:

  • A written Quality Management Plan, clearly communicated, that describes what will be measured, when it will be measured, how it will be measured, by whom, and so on.

  • Established acceptable limits for the measure. For example what size is ‘too big’ and what size is ‘too small’.

  • Retained records (documented) of the measurements taken about the work done.

  • Improvement Planning to improve the measured results. We want to reduce variability in the measurements taken, and to make the measured “dimensions” close to the targets.

  • Cyclical thinking for improvement between doing work, taking measurements, making improvements, and doing work (etc.). This is called 'Continuous Process Improvement.' The cycle of Plan-Do-Check-Act ( PDCA) or Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) illustrates this idea.

  • An aim for Continuous Improvement must exist with each cycle.

  • An emphasis on prevention rather than on cure.

  • Process auditing. We audit for 2 reasons: To ensure the processes found in the Plan are being followed, and to ensure these processes are yielding the desired results. 'Process Quality' is described in Item 2, below.


Quality Management is largely about taking measurements and comparing the values to acceptable variations from the target value. Without something to measure there can be no Quality Management.

Selecting (the right) critical characteristics to measure is important for successful Quality Management. You are looking for the measurable features which are most important to project success.

There are 3 categories of Quality found in every project. You should select critical characteristics from all three categories. These 3 categories are:

1. We often think about technical specifications and how well the project deliverables conform to those. This is called

Product Quality and is relatively easy to measure. Product Quality relates mostly to Scope.

2. In addition, we need to look at the Project Management processes used (how we get the project done), and how well

these processes satisfy Stakeholder Expectations. This is called Process Quality and is a little more subjective than

Product Quality. Process Quality relates to the project management Knowledge Areas. As mentioned above, Process

Quality is audited to ensure:

a) The established process are being followed and,

b) The established processes are yielding the desired results.

Examples of Process Quality critical characteristics for your projects could be:

  • On time delivery at milestones

  • Minimum cost variations from budget at milestones

  • Correct templates and formats are used

  • Communications are accurate, clear, timely

  • Issues are resolved in a timely manner

  • Suitable contractors are selected for the work

3. Finally, we also need to look at the people-type characteristics such as responsiveness,

empathy, and professionalism. These are called Organizational Quality, and require surveys and

people-feedback for measurement. Organizational Quality Management relates to Stakeholder

Engagement. Understanding your Stakeholders' Expectations (found when you CLICK HERE) is

vital for success in Stakeholder Engagement.

Examples of Organizational Quality critical characteristics you can consider for your projects are:

  • Fairness to all Stakeholders

  • Team Member attitude, engagement, motivation

  • End product operability and serviceability

  • Sensitivity to the organization’s culture


It is fair to say that all Quality Management consists of three major processes. They are:

1. Quality Planning consists of: Identifying the Quality requirements and/or standards, Setting Quality goals and the plans to achieve them, Determining how the project will demonstrate compliance, Changing plans when needed.

  • How will we define Quality in our project?

  • How will we ensure Quality?

  • Here is where you say what you will do in your project, for Quality

  • Looking forward in time (Planning)

2. Quality Control (QC) consists of: Measuring and recording outputs, Comparing to acceptable levels, Reporting variances, Recommending changes.

  • Are the work results meeting standards?

  • Re-working or Scrapping the non-conforming outputs

  • Finding root causes of non-conformities

  • Here is where you carry out Quality measurements

  • Looking backward in time at the measured results of checks, inspections, tests.

Deliverables that have passed Quality Control are said to be


3. Quality Assurance (QA). This process includes Auditing to ensure the Quality plans are being followed, and that the Quality plans yield the desired Quality improvements. QA ensures we are measuring the right things; and interpreting the results correctly. The goal of QA is to improve the tools, techniques, and processes used in QC.

  • Are we following the procedures?

  • Are the procedures giving us what we expected?

  • How can we improve the process?

  • Here is where you determine if you are doing what you said you would do, for Quality.

  • Looking backward in time at the Processes and Procedures being used.

In a circular fashion, Quality Control and Quality Assurance loop back to Quality Planning.


To measure quality we need some tools. We need some Quality Planning Tools, some Quality Control Tools, and some Quality Assurance Tools. These are not the tools used to measure characteristics. Rather they are the management tools to plan, measure, and analyze the degree of conformance to accepted values. Below are a few of the most common Quality Management Tools. For a full explanation and video of Quality Management Tools, click here.

Quality Planning Tools

In common use for planning Quality are:

  • Benchmarking. What is the industry standard variability?

  • Cost/benefit analysis. Is this characteristic worth measuring?

  • Process Map (Flow Diagram). Map out the steps of your Quality Management Plan.

Quality Control Tools

In a certain project, a critical characteristic is ‘length’. The target length is one meter. We use a tool like a tape measure or a calibrated rod to measure the critical characteristic of length. Suppose six measurements were taken, and they are: (1.1 meter, 0.9 meter, 0.8 meter, 1.3 meter, 1.1 meter, 1.2 meter). Is this good quality? To answer that question we need some QC Tools. These include.

  • Control Chart. Plot the results against the measured target and the acceptable limits.

  • Pareto analysis. Find the most significant causes of variability.

  • Cause and Effect. Find reasons for the variability from target.

Quality Assurance Tools

To ensure the quality processes are being followed and that these processes are accomplishing the intended purpose we need some Quality Assurance Tools. Frequently used tools for QA include:

  • Quality Audits. These may be at planned intervals or as a “surprise”.

  • Process Analyses. A close look at the QC processes being used.

  • Affinity (grouping) diagrams to look for commonalities in the causes of variation.

  • Tree Diagram. Used to break down broad categories into finer levels of detail.


Quality management in your projects will cost you something. However, done properly, it will be worthwhile in savings- both economical and otherwise. The cost of prevention is less than the cost of the cure. Cost of Quality (COQ) is a term which includes money spent to avoid failures (cost of conformance) and money spent after failures that do occur (cost of non-conformance). It can be seen this way:

I. Cost of Conformance (avoid failure).

A) Prevention Costs (provide Quality)

  • Training

  • Documentation

  • Equipment maintenance

  • Time to do it right

B) Appraisal Costs (QC and QA)

  • Testing, inspection, measuring, checking

  • Loss of materiel from destructive tests

  • Audit costs

  • Cost to make process improvements

II. Cost of Non-conformance (after failures occur).

A) Cost of Internal Failures (found within the


  • Scrap

  • Rework

B) Cost of External Failures (found by the


  • Warranty work

  • Liabilities

  • Lost Business

Now look again at your Cost plan and insert some Cost of Quality into your budget.

The idea of Quality is not new. Aristotle (born 348BC-died 322BC), the Greek philosopher said, “Quality is not an act, it is a habit”. English philosopher, John Locke ( Born 1632- Died 1704) proposed, “Quality is an idea of a sensation, or a perception.” However, much of what we know today, about Quality, comes from the modern manufacturing sector, where Quality enjoyed a North American revival in the 1980’s. Click here for the story.

The Quality Management document found here has some very useful elements for creating your Quality Management Plan. The appendices in this document provide considerations for design, construction, environment, and services work.

This article by E.J. Smith (edited version) gives great pointers on QC and QA with a nice example based on the knowledge area of Risk.


  • Quality is not Grade

  • Distinguish between Quality of the Project Objective and Quality of the Project Management Goals

  • Follow the principles for managing Quality, given above

  • Select critical characteristics from Product Quality, Process Quality, and Organizational Quality.

  • Use the the three Quality management processes: Plan, Control, and Assurance.

  • Select and use the most appropriate Quality Tools

  • Aim for Prevention over Cure.

  • Allow for the Cost of Quality in your Budget.

Control Quality is usually considered to be a Monitoring and Controlling process. After planning, you will want to begin Monitoring and Controlling the outcomes of your project. CLICK HERE and follow the links to find more about how to monitor and control Quality.

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