How to plan and manage product quality?

1 A Painful Project Experience

I don’t know whether any of the readers has encountered issues like this:

The quality standard defined by client was as ambiguous as it was. After the project entered the test phase, lots of defects had emerged and the project had been delayed. Because of the defects, client refused to accept the product and project failed.

In this article, I am going to share a real and painful project experience.

Here is the case.

Mike was appointed as a project manager for a new product development. In that project, the development team had to work with the product team and marketing team to do some works about concept development and marketing plan. Because the project involved an entirely new business area and was belonged to an important part of the company’s business strategy, the company devoted lots of resources into that project. Meanwhile, having years of system development and maintenance experience, the project team should be very high level and have strong ability on technical development and deliverable management.

However, this high level team encountered various problems when the product was going through the test phase.

First, the product requirement provided by product team did not include a clear “Definition of Done”. Evenworse, the product team did not provide overall quality management method or any detailed quality standard. Therefore, the development team can only develop the product based on their own experience. At the end, the quality standard which development team adapted for development was found different from the quality standard which test team adapted for the product test. This inconformity had caused intense conflicts between development team and test team.

Then, lots of defects was reported. The enormous amount of defects not only affected the acceptance of the product, but also discouraged the entire project team. In fact, the root cause of most defects was the insufficiently defined quality standard and acceptance criteria.

If such a product was launched to the market, customers would probably not buy it. Because the low quality and defects had certainly lead to the project’s failure. And, in reality the result of product launching had proven the point.

Regarding to the quality management of project, most project team would say slogan like “Quality is the foundation”, and also another saying like “Prevention over inspection”. Then, what should we do to prevent the tragedy of the upper case from happening again?

In planning and managing deliverable’s quality, PMBOK has given us many suggestions and methods. The management philosophy of “Prevention first, inspection second.” in the PMBOK is consistent with the overall theory of quality system.

In project management, an essential job is to define the overall quality standard and standard of finish base on project scope, risk and other project requirements, in the early phase of the project.

In the upper case, most of the quality issues was due to the insufficient definition of quality standard, which lead to the poor product quality.

2 Why a high level team has developed a poor product?

We would probably and naturally consider that any team has a high standard of delivering product, especially working with a bunch of experienced team members.

However, as shown in the upper case, as project manager, we would rather make sure that every team reaches a common understand on the quality standard. Just as described in the case, development team and test team’s understandings of quality standard are unaligned. Not only it affects the project schedule, but also discourages the project team members and cause the project to be sub-healthy.

Therefore, at the early phase of the project, when sufficient information is available, project manager should develop a “quality management plan” which is agreed upon by all key stakeholders. The quality management plan should contain quality management method, quality acceptance criteria, quality standard, quality test method, and so forth. Quality management plan is fundamental for building the product quality. On other words, during the execution of project, any quality activity and standard are all under the guidance of this management plan.

Next, we have to continually inspect the product quality in the process of project. Regarding to the upper case, just because all team members were very experienced, Mike, as the project manager, had ignored the continuous quality inspection, which lead to lots of product defects that could not be effectively controlled for a very long time.

3 What are the methods for quality control?

In fact, the process of quality assurance should be performed continually during the entire project. Furthermore, the entire project should be executed under a sufficient quality standard.

A good method is like this:

During the execution of project, certain methods of process analysis and data presentation can be used to validate the execution process of the project whether or not is fit for the original defined quality standard. That would be an efficient method. Or quality audit can be performed, which would be the best practice of improving quality. A common belief is: perform quality assurance for processes, and perform quality inspection for results, which would benefit the improvement of product quality.

On the other hand, in nowaday development process of project, there are lots of excellent practices can be adopted. For example, regarding to software development, practices such as develop the minimum deliverable product, and continually delivery, would significantly lower the quality cost of the project, and furthermore improve the delivery efficiency and client satisfaction.

Lastly, all deliverables of the project should be inspected. The purpose of inspection is to make sure the deliverables are all complete, correct, and reach the client’s expectation. That would be the last protective screen before handing over the product to client.

In summary, this article shares the information and methodologies of quality planning and management by using a practical quality management case. Understanding the importance and thoughts of best practices would help achieving the project’s quality objectives more effectively. Hope this article and case is useful for the readers’ future project management.

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