Lean Six Sigma Project Management

10 minute read

Project Quality Management: The Ultimate Guide

Cody Steele

Cody Steele

What is project quality management?

Project quality management is the process responsible for making sure that everyone on the project understands and is motivated to deliver quality on schedule and under budget. 

An important idea is that the role that manages project quality is not solely responsible for quality. Quality can only be realized when the entire team recognizes everyone’s responsibility to ensure quality.

Many frameworks exist for achieving quality within these constraints, such as Total Quality Management (TQM) and Lean Six Sigma (LSS).

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Project quality management frameworks

While different frameworks provide tools to achieve the same goals with respect to quality, Lean Six Sigma includes some distinguishing elements that can help your teams increase quality so that your products succeed. 

One element is the philosophy that LSS takes towards zero defects. Many quality practitioners are familiar with the tenth of Dr. W. Edward Deming’s 14 points which states:

Eliminate slogans, exhortations, and targets for the workforce asking for zero defects and new levels of productivity. Such exhortations only create adversarial relationships, as the bulk of the causes of low quality and low productivity belong to the system and thus lie beyond the power of the workforce. 

One interpretation is that quality managers should not have zero defects as a goal. Deming’s warning is noticeably about exhortations to unrealistic goals. 

If the production system creates defects, then asking people to work harder will never reduce the number of defects to zero. In LSS, Zero Defects is a management tool that summarizes three important philosophies of quality:

  1. Quality is conformance to requirements.
  2. Prevention of defects is superior to finding and correcting defects later.
  3. Reduction of defects to zero is one goal of continuously improving a production system.

Once we know what the requirements for a product are, what the customer needs, we can identify what the defects are and work to prevent them. 

As we plan and produce, we’ll look for opportunities to prevent defects so that they don’t need to be found and corrected later. 

Project quality management uses strategies and tools that help drive a process towards higher quality, ensuring greater utility to the customer.

Quality professionals familiar with the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) will be familiar with three phases of quality management:

  1. Plan quality management
  2. Manage quality
  3. Control quality

These sequential phases each have their own set of inputs, tools, and outputs that help ensure that systems prevent defects and improve quality. Let’s examine these phases in more detail using a fictional project — the cleaning of a hotel room.

Project quality management

Plan quality management

At the phase where you plan quality management, one of the key tasks is to get agreement from stakeholders on quality requirements. Using inputs like project charters and assumption logs, the planning phase typically results in the creation of outputs, including a quality management plan and, vitally, quality metrics. 

By the end of quality planning, we should have been able to use the goals and objectives of the project to arrive at ways to measure the quality of the resulting product. Keep in mind that part of what we want to accomplish is defining a quality process that will prevent as many defects as possible — maybe even all of them.

Project quality management

Plan quality management example

In the hotel room example, one of the first things to consider is how to reduce the defects that can occur. How do we reduce defects like the hair on the bathroom floor, trash left under the bed, lights that are burnt out, or bathrooms not stocked with extra toilet paper? 

These sorts of service situations are where we must be most mindful not to turn Zero Defects into an exhortation to the workforce to do their jobs better without improving the processes that allow defects.

For this example, let’s focus on the defect where a bathroom is left without enough toilet paper. Hopefully, the project charter or project requirements will outline an objective such that it is easy to identify a defect. 

Let’s say that the objective is that each time a room is cleaned, there are two unopened rolls of toilet paper left for guest use. The defect is a case when a guest has to call to request additional toilet paper. 

The quality plan must lay out the process that will ensure meeting requirements and the ways to measure quality. The process might include steps like the following:

  • Obtaining cleaning carts that can hold a large enough volume of toilet paper. This is so that workers don’t have to decide whether to complete their work quickly or to return to a supply cabinet to get more toilet paper. 
  • Stock toilet paper in supply rooms on every other floor weekly so that workers can restock if they find their carts low.
  • Ask workers to record the number of rolls of unopened toilet paper that they find in a room and the number of unopened rolls when they leave. This is so that they are more likely to pay attention to the number of rolls.

The ways to measure quality might include some of the following measurements:

  • Number of customer requests for additional toilet paper (defects).
  • Number of times that workers restock the toilet paper supplies on every other floor.
  • Number of times that workers submit completed logs for the number of rolls of unopened toilet paper in rooms.

Project quality managementWith the quality plan in place, the team can work on the next two phases to see whether the team is providing the expected amount of quality. At the same time, it’s important to remember that the quality plan is a living document. 

If we find, for example, that the carts carry so much toilet paper that no one ever restocks from the rooms on the floor, then maintaining those toilet paper stocks does not add quality by preventing defects. 

Instead, the step adds waste by taking up time and moving resources away from where they are most needed. Having made the plan, we should make sure that we can adapt it with the goal of reducing defects and increasing quality. 

Manage quality

Sometimes called Quality Assurance, the Manage Quality Phase determines how to make sure that the key steps in the quality plan are carried out. It’s in this phase that you are most likely to use tools like quality audits. Whatever needs to happen to ensure quality, we manage quality to make sure that it takes place.

Manage quality example

When we developed the quality plan in our hotel example, we might have decided that workers should have two shelves on their carts full of toilet paper when they begin their shifts. To audit that step, someone might observe whether workers are leaving with the expected volume of rolls on their carts. 

Project quality managementWe might also examine the logs that workers use to keep track of how often the supply rooms are restocked and how many rolls of unopened toilet paper are left when guests have their rooms cleaned. Making sure that the logs are complete and accurate would be an important step in providing quality and reducing defects.

As in the planning phase, the Manage Quality Phase presents an important opportunity to look for ways to continuously improve so that the process leads to defect reduction and minimizes waste. 

Perhaps looking at the logs of remaining rolls of unopened toilet paper and then auditing unoccupied rooms show that the logs are not being filled out accurately. Rooms are being left with zero or one roll of unopened paper instead of two as indicated in the logs. 

If such logs don’t help prevent defects, then the logs are waste and a change to the quality plan might be in order.

Quality control

The key idea for the Quality Control Phase is to make sure that a product has the right amount of quality. 

The Manage Quality Phase focuses on the steps in the process that lead to quality. The Quality Control Phase looks at your measurements of the product to determine whether the plan and process are achieving the desired amount of quality.

Rather than looking at the steps that produce the quality, we look at the measurements of quality.

Quality control example

In the hotel example, that means that we want to look at the actual defect count. How many times per week do guests request extra toilet paper? We might also find that we want to count how often workers must return to the main supply closet to get more toilet paper and how many rolls of toilet paper need to be replaced in the supply rooms on each floor.

Broadening out from the toilet paper defect, the Quality Control Phase would be a common place to find a Pareto chart showing the most common defects. 


Project quality management


Pareto charts can help you to plan future quality improvement efforts by showing the most common or the most costly defects, depending on how you construct the chart. 

The knowledge you acquire by measuring whether you meet your quality standards gives you insight into whether your quality plan is effective in reducing defects and providing quality.

Summary

Quality management is how you make sure that your products and services provide the right amount of quality for your customers. 

To ensure the right amount of quality, it’s important to plan what quality is, what the necessary steps to ensure it are, and how to measure it so that you know it’s being delivered.

Project quality management gives you the tools and resources to make sure that projects deliver on their promise of quality, leading to greater satisfaction for your customers. 

Learn more  

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Cody Steele

Cody Steele

Cody is a technical communicator and statistician who wants to help people collect the right data and analyze it to make informed decisions. His specialities include statistics, technical communication, statistical reliability, JMP, SAS, and writing for translation.

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