Achieving Quality Performance and Results
Projects are performed to deliver quality products/services and satisfy budget, and schedule expectations. This article focuses in on quality deliverables, their relationship to quality performance, and the quality management process that seeks to ensure that quality criteria are met.
The quality of performance (the work required to deliver results) and the quality of the outcome (a service or product) are intimately related. Every outcome is the result of performance, a process. High quality performance delivers high quality outcomes. The process is the key. If it is a good one, it makes sure that quality is defined and mutually understood by stakeholders and that “critical assessment” is done with positive attitudes.
If you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, you don’t know what you’re doing.
W. Edwards Deming
Quality management (QM) is a process. It is well described in PM standards, yet poorly defined quality criteria and personal reactions to critical assessment, if it is done at all, get in the way of applying quality management principles.
The goal of quality management is to improve the probability of achieving quality outcomes. It makes sure results are being developed in a way that leads to success and whether success has been achieved.
Effective quality management relies on a simple model:
- Set quality criteria
- Define the process for controlling quality, including roles and responsibilities
- Assess performance against the criteria
It is a variation on the classic Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDCA) model. So simple and rational. Yet, there is still need to raise quality consciousness and overcome the obstacles to a practical effective quality management process.
What Gets in the Way?
There are three primary obstacles to achieving quality outcomes: lack of clear definition of quality attributes (specifications), poor collaboration, and resistance to critical assessment. These are strongly influenced by people’s attitudes (mindset) and their setting – organizational values, processes, and relationships.
Fuzzy Specs – Lack of Objective Criteria
If you and other stakeholders don’t know what quality is how can you achieve it?
Clarity and agreement regarding what you and other stakeholders mean by quality in each case, avoid subjective expectations and the inevitable conflicts that occur between those who deliver and those who receive and/or assess results. One person’s sense of quality is often not the same as another’s, so it is important to get into details about what is expected.
This obstacle seems easy to overcome. All you have to do is specify the product and performance with objective quality criteria.
But anyone with experience knows that it is not so easy. It takes time, skill, effort and most of all collaboration among performers requirements analysts, quality management staff, users, and clients.
For example, performance quality can be defined in terms of error or defect rates and productivity. Product quality, in terms of measurable attributes such as resiliency, duration, reliability, and customer satisfaction. Service quality can be specified with parameters for response time, customer satisfaction, etc.
Defining requirements takes time and effort. And it is hard to specify the less quantifiable quality criteria like color and texture, look and feel, refined finishing, absence of subtle flaws.
Clients often say that they’ll know quality when they see it. That tells you that when it comes to specifying quality look and feel requirements, it is best to use examples, CAD renderings, prototypes, and an agile approach.
Collaboration is the key to success. A collaborative process helps to get everyone to own the definition and to make sure that what is expected is feasible and fits within time and cost constraints. When quality specifications are set by the client without involvement of the people who must deliver and test, the stage is set for conflict and unnecessary pressure on the delivery team.
In a collaborative process, the delivery team can give feedback about the costs of quality features while clients and others can bring in cost of quality (for example the cost of errors and maintenance) to enable the team to justify costs related to higher quality. The quality control people can set expectations and engineer the best testing approach.
Together, stakeholders, deliverers, clients, quality assurance and control staff, users agree upon a set of criteria that is likely to be met with expected levels of cost, time, and effort and on the process they will use to make sure quality is achieved..
Whether you are taking an agile approach in which the team is working together to evolve the product throughout the project, a hybrid approach, or a more waterfall like approach, the time and effort required for collaborative work more than pays off by minimizing unnecessary conflict and unmet expectations.
Resistance to Assessment
Setting criteria is critical. Once set, assessment is a natural, obvious follow up.
How hard could that be? You just measure interim and final outcomes against quality criteria, when there is a diversion, determine cause, decide how to proceed?
However, overcoming resistance to assessment is even more difficult than overcoming the “fuzzy specs” obstacle. Here we are confronted with cultural, procedural, and psychological barriers.
The psychological level is the most important. Many people take criticism of their work as personal assault. There may be cultural issues regarding critical assessment. Some fear being fired. Old personal issues are triggered. Some fear saying something that might upset key performers and co-workers. Sometimes performers get angry at testers and reviewers when they come up with errors or performance issues.
Its complex. The secret ingredient is clear communication regarding what assessment is all about and how to do it in a way that continuously reinforces the sense that criticism is a positive thing that contributes to ever increasing quality. Acknowledge the obstacles.
If below par performance is not confronted it will continue. Individuals will not have the opportunity to learn and improve their performance. If errors and omissions are not discovered during controlled testing, they will be discovered after the product is released for use, at a far higher cost than if detected earlier.
Quality process leads to quality outcomes. We are addressing the quality management process. Its success relies on mutual understanding and collaborative effort by stakeholders. Together they address the obstacles of fuzzy specifications, lack of collaboration, and resistance to critical assessment.
Spend the time and effort on continually refining the quality management process to avoid unnecessary conflict, dissatisfaction, and poor-quality outcomes. Start with a review of your current situation – Is there a documented process? Is everyone happy with the way things are being done and the results?
See the article The Key to Performance Improvement: Candid Performance Assessment