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Wednesday, 04 July 2012 00:00

Don’t Be Confused by Quality

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What is quality? There are many different definitions of quality thus the term may cause confusion for project managers.

For the Project Management Professional (PMP) exam, you need to understand that quality is defined as conformance to requirements. The Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) defines quality as "the degree to which a set of inherent characteristics fulfill requirements."

Quality management involves ensuring the project meets defined needs. The PMBOK states that quality management "ensures that the project will satisfy the needs for which it was undertaken."

With quality defined in these terms, you can begin to appreciate and more readily understand that clearly stated requirements are essential. Requirements should define project scope, describe what is considered to be acceptable quality, and indicate how quality will be measured. This is critical to understand for the exam.

Many project managers do not understand quality in these terms. There is a tendency to think that quality means the best material, the best equipment, and absolute perfection (zero defects). As a result, many project teams deliver additional scope based on impressions of what the customer might like or assumptions that these extras will be acceptable to the customer. This is referred to as gold plating.

PattiJuly5th1As an example, let's consider the Classic Italian sports car — the Lamborghini.

While you can't deny that the Lamborghini is an elite and stylishly impressive car, don't confuse discriminating taste or personal preferences for what will satisfy the project needs or objectives. Perhaps it is too costly. Perhaps it is not practical. Perhaps it is overkill for what is needed, etc.

In most cases, the customer does not expect, and cannot afford, a perfect solution. And although the Lamborghini may be on the customer's wish list, it may not offer a practical or financially feasible solution.

Gold plating, or giving the customer extras, is not recommended practice as per the PMBOK. From this example, you can see how such extra efforts can be futile and even detrimental to the project. Gold plating can lead to failed customer experience, cost and schedule overruns, project delays, or even project failure.

Instead you need to understand the voice of the customer (VOC), which refers to the stated and unstated needs of the customer. Before you begin designing any product or service, you must know and understand VOC.

Quality must be defined based on objective criteria. CTQs (Critical to Quality) are a product, service, or process where performance standards or specification limits must be met to satisfy a customer requirement. CTQs define what is perceived to be important to the customer. Thus, CTQs ensure you are delivering value to the customer.

CTQs link customer needs gathered from VOC data with specific, measurable characteristics.

So don't get confused by quality. Don't let personal preferences and assumptions cloud your judgment. Instead, focus on delivering what the customer needs and establishes as important, and not what you think will impress them.

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Patti Gilchrist

Patti Gilchrist is a Sr. Technical Manager with extensive experience in the field of IT Project Management. Patti has more than 20 years of IT experience and a reputation for effectively implementing strategic enterprise initiatives, with a proven track record of delivering simultaneous large-scale, mission-critical projects on time and budget. Her experience includes ERP implementations, data conversions, business software application development aligned with critical business requirements, IT infrastructure delivery, and process implementation in existing and startup organizations. Patti currently manages a team of project managers and is dedicated to the continued development of her team and knowledge sharing within the project management community. Patti has worked and consulted at many large corporations such as Westinghouse Electric, Progress Energy, Alcoa, Bank of America, and UPMC Health Plan. Industry experience includes Manufacturing, Energy/Distribution, Banking/Finance, and Health Care.

Patti is originally from Pittsburgh, PA, the "City of Champions." It is the home of the Steelers, Penguins, and Pirates. Patti now resides in the Southeastern US.

Patti has a BA from Temple University and holds PMP and Six Sigma Black Belt certifications.

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