Top 6 Basic Quality Concepts you should know for the PMP
- Create a plan to manage quality in the planning phase.
- Are performing quality checks in the execution phase.
- Need to reevaluate quality standards in the monitoring & controlling phase.
1. What is quality? Why does it matter?
Let us start by defining quality itself, and then applying that definition to project management. Quality, very simply put, is a measure of how good or bad something is. Simple enough! Quality in the context of project management, then, is a measure of degree to which specified deliverables adhere to the project plan. Put another way, quality is the degree to which all deliverables required in the project plan meet the customer requirements.
Who determines if a deliverable meets quality standards? Quality is often said to be "in the eye of the beholder" - for project managers, which means that quality is in the eye of the customer. The customer or end user of any project has to sign off on deliverables, agreeing that they meet specifications that were agreed to in the project plan. When assessing quality, the customer is determining how well the end deliverable aligns with their needs and expectations.
However, quality management is never the customer's job. It is the project manager's responsibility to ensure that quality, and how to assess it, is defined in the quality management plan. It is also the project manager's job to ensure that quality is assessed and monitored throughout the life of the project, and to communicate with stakeholders if any risks arise which may impact quality. The customer signs off at the end - but you are responsible for maintaining quality standards throughout your project!
Key takeaway: The customer signs off on quality, but the project manager is responsible for enforcing quality standards on the project.
2. Quality vs Grade
Quality and grade are two terms which are often confused. Both terms imply measuring a deliverable against certain standards, but they do not mean exactly the same thing. "Grade" is already assigned to certain products that may have the same functional use. This is easiest to imagine in the context of physical products, so let's take construction materials as an example.
Construction Project Example: A newly approved construction project to renovate a building involves installing new hard wood floors. There are different grades of wood available for you to buy to fulfill this need, varying in cost based on several factors which are important to wood buying experts, such as:
- How durable is the wood against elements?
- How thick is the wood?
- Is the wood of any significant rarity?
Now, if the customer selects a certain type of wood based on standards required for the project, the project manager needs to ensure that we meet the quality requirements the customer has set forth. The project manager purchases high-grade wood that should meet the quality requirements of the customer, only to find that the wood arrives damaged, or is not the same uniform color they were expecting. In this case, the wood would be considered high grade, but low quality.
Key takeaway: High grade does not imply high quality. This is why we must manage quality over simply picking a grade of good that should work.
The next three concepts are related to certain processes in the project management lifecycle.
3. Plan Quality Management Process
In order to effectively manage quality, a proper Quality Management Plan must be in place for the project. Therefore, you must first plan for quality during the planning phase of the project (formally, this is called "plan quality management.")
In this phase, quality standards are agreed upon and metrics are defined to determine how well the project deliverable meets outlined specifications. Planning quality will result in the following outputs in addition to the quality management plan:
- Quality metrics for all project deliverables
- Quality checklists for Quality Control (QC) activities
- Process improvement plan
4. Manage Quality Process
After establishing the plan, quality must be managed. When managing quality on a project, the project manager will make certain that the project work and deliverables produced conform to the Quality Management Plan.
Throughout the project lifecycle, your project team will perform various activities specified during planning to ensure that deliverables meet standards. We will go through this in more detail when we talk about Quality Control (QC), #6 below.
5. Monitoring & Controlling Quality Process
Project monitoring and controlling activities help to keep the project on track and does not fit into a certain part of the project. It's done throughout the project lifecycle, from initiating to closing.
When it comes to monitoring and controlling quality, the project manager must be proactive in determining whether current methods of assessing quality are "good enough" to conform to project specifications. This is done through Quality Assurance (QA) practices. The project manager will monitor variances in quality and determine if quality management needs to be reevaluated. They will perform integrated change control if a change to quality control processes is necessary. Let's go through the difference between Quality Assurance and Quality Control to get a better understanding of these two processes.
Key takeaways: Planning quality management, managing quality, and monitoring and controlling quality all cover separate phases of the project management lifecycle.
6. Quality Assurance vs. Quality Control
Differentiating between Quality Assurance (QA) and Quality Control (QC) can be confusing at first. Let's dive into the differences. Quality Control is related to the manage quality process while Quality Assurance is related to the control quality process.
QA focuses on modifying processes throughout the project life cycle in order to avoid defects in the end deliverables. It is an activity performed to ensure that the deliverables are being produced in the right way and is part of the monitoring and controlling phase. Note that Quality Assurance is proactive and involves challenging assumptions and current processes in place. If you are modifying the methodology which is used to measure quality standards, you are performing Quality Assurance.
Quality Control (or QC) means to ensure that a deliverable meets a quality requirements set forth in the project plan. This happens during the execution phase and is part of the manage quality process. As part of the manage quality process above, your project has defined quality standards that it must meet in order to deliver a project on time. QC involves all responsible team members on the project are evaluating how well the project conforms to specifications. Some techniques used to perform quality control may include:
- Peer reviews: another team member reviews someone else's work
- User testing: either a team member acting as a user or an end user themselves evaluates the deliverable to provide feedback
- Functional & Safety testing: the project team ensures that the deliverable meets all safety & security requirements, and that it meets required functionality
- Cause and Effect Diagrams (also called Fishbone or Ishikawa diagrams): to map out root causes that could lead to deliverable failure
- Pareto charts: to track accumulated defects found in a deliverable and determine whether or not they are at acceptable levels
- Histograms: to track frequency of defects found in a deliverable and determine whether or not they are at acceptable levels
Key takeaway: Quality Assurance is connected to the Monitoring & Controlling Quality process. Quality Control is connected to the Manage Quality process.
Quality concepts on the PMP exam may seem confusing at first. The separation of quality concepts into separate phases of the project management lifecycle may not be intuitive if you are not familiar with performing quality management activities on your past projects. However, the distinctions are important, and will begin to make sense with enough practice. They differentiate between establishing quality processes for your project and making sure that you satisfy requirements for customers and stakeholders. Proper quality management cannot be done in a silo, as is the case with the vast majority of project management activities. In order to deliver a successful project and ensure that quality is managed properly, you must also have proper communications, stakeholder management, cost management, and schedule management plans in place.
In order to solidify your understanding, work through examples of quality management versus quality control. Read sample scenarios and activities, and then determine which phase of the project lifecycle you are in - this will help you know whether you are managing or controlling quality. If you can nail these concepts, you will be prepared to answer most quality related questions on the PMP exam.