If you are a project manager and you need to deliver quality, then go look at your car for inspiration. Your car is a high quality product which should inspire you in your project management…
A modern car is long-lasting and useful. It’s high quality. The car manufacturers (Toyota, Renault, Ford, etc.) have worked hard to improve quality over many decades. Consider the last 50 years. If you compare the quality of two cars from 1964 and 2014, the difference is huge. The 1960’s car had an limited lifespan, typically less than 10 years – its body would rust away year by year, its engine would wear out; whereas today’s car should run for several hundred thousand kilometres and remain largely rust free for all its long life. Additionally, that 1960’s car was basic – no radio, no heater, no seatbelts. That’s very low quality in today’s terms. Today, all that comes as standard.
So when you look at your car, you should admire a high quality product, and ask what the project manager can learn from car manufacturers.
In manufacturing, quality is defined in two ways: “Meets specification” and “Fit for use”
The manufacturer has delivered both in your 21st century car
– manufacturing specificationshave vastly improved (better paint, more robust engines, etc.).
– customer satisfaction has vastly increased (the car is more “fit for use” – temperature control, audio, safety…)
Both of these definitions come from the world of manufacturing, but both can be applied to projects.
- In project management, your project has a “product” – this is your deliverable or your solution. This is where your quality focus should be.
We have two definitions of quality, so there are two ways to focus on quality in products.
- Using the approach of “meet specification”, the starting point is to define (i.e. write down and describe) your final product, then to break it down into sub-products. To document that breakdown, you can draw a simple diagram called a “Product breakdown structure“, which shows the 15 or 20 deliverables that make up your final product. You can then focus on each of these deliverables – particularly, on how to deliver quality for each deliverable, one by one. If each deliverable is high quality, then your final product will be high quality
- Using the approach of “fit for purpose”, you start with a less defined final product, typically a list of user needs or functionalities. (Sometimes these are expressed as “user stories”). You then work iteratively, trying to converge towards a solution that meets user needs. Each iteration is a better approximation to the final product, and where possible, is a partial working solution. Throughout the process, you work closely with your user or customer, showing them each iteration to get their feedback, so they can check that it’s fit for purpose. Iteratively, you converge towards a high quality solution.
These two approaches correspond to two Project Management methods
- Prince2: The specification-driven approach is the way that the Prince2 project management method addresses quality. Prince2 has a “path to quality”.
- AgilePM: The iterative approach is an Agile way of working, supported by methods like DSDM (which is the basis for the AgilePM certification). DSDM says “never compromise quality”
Whatever your method, it’s time to take action on Project Management quality.
One of the famous books on manufacturing quality is called “Quality is Free”. The book says that addressing quality correctly doesn’t cost you time and money, it saves time and money.
If you don’t use a robust approach to quality, you’ll probably waste time. You’ll discover the defects downstream. You’ll find out the customer’s quality expectations when you deliver. And you’ll probably fix any problems. But fixing quality defaults once the product is delivered can be very time consuming. You may end up doing the work twice… once to make the product, and a second time to fix it.
So addressing quality saves you time, keeps your customer happy, and delivers added value. Free of charge.
So maybe it’s time to go admire your car… and to get inspiration for your next project.