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Quality Control is Inspection

All right, so all this planning sounds good (and it's even better when it all works), but how does a project manager know that the project is meeting the quality expectations that were set? You could wait until the very end of the project and see what the customer says, but that's a risky as blow-drying your hair in the shower. What you need, indeed what you must have, is quality control (QC).

QC is inspection-driven. QC requires the project manager and the project team to inspect the work that's been done to determine if the work results are in alignment with the stated and implied objectives of the project scope. And if they're not? Fix the freakin' problem.

QC is all about keeping your mistakes out of the customers' hands. You and the project team must work diligently to ensure that all of the work is accurate, on-scope, and meets the objectives that customer has defined—and quickly. But remember, QC takes some time. It takes time to inspect the work, and then, if necessary, redo the work. It takes time to check the work that's been redone. And time is rarely on the project manager's side.

And who's paying for all these inspections? Usually your project's budget is. As we talked about in our discussion on planning, the project manager must plan for time to inspect the work and provide monies for the inspection of the work. If all goes well (if all ever goes well, that is), then there won't be a need for additional funds and time. When projects are under tight time and cost constraints it becomes paramount for the project team to do the work right the first time.

Have you ever wondered why there is always enough time to do the work right the second time? For me, there's nothing more aggravating than listening to barking dogs while I'm trying to write articles (note to the neighbor behind me: shut your dog up, please). I also find it aggravating, in the project management world, when we've got a fantastic plan on how to do the project work, we've got a fantastic plan on how to meet the quality objectives, and we've got a fantastic plan on how we'll follow-through with all of our promises—and then somebody chokes and turns in slop.

Now everybody wants to quote Steinbeck: “The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray.” Don't you just love that? Well, take me out to the field and shoot me.

Now we're redoing work, spending more cash, wasting more time, and arguing about famous writers and their quotes. All in all, lack of quality hurts a project in more ways than one: time, cost, team morale, customer confidence, and on and on.

Sometimes lack of quality causes a domino effect. Have you ever had quality issues that consumed all of the project team's time to correct errors? Of course you have. And then what happens? Your project team feels rushed to complete other assignments to make up for the lost time, which usually creates more quality problems, which starts the process all over again.

It's always more cost-effective, more time-effective, and just more fun, to do the project work right the first time. Fun? What I am thinking? This is project management—there ain't no stinkin' fun.

There are plenty of tools a project manager can use to assist with quality control. Here are three for now:

  • Ishikawa Diagrams: these are also known as cause-and-effect diagrams or fishbones, but Ishikawa sounds brainier, doesn't it? The point of these diagrams, regardless of the nomenclature, is to facilitate a conversation on what's causing the problem. See Figure 1 for a sample Ishikawa Diagram.

  • Pareto Chart: Ever hear that 80 percent of your income comes from 20 percent of your customers? Or that 80 percent of your help desk problems come from 20 percent of your employees? That's the 80/20 Principle, and the Pareto chart can show you the categories of failure within a system. Then we can use 80 percent of our effort to attack the largest identified problems. See Figure 2 for a sample Pareto Chart.

  • Control Charts: A control chart shows normal distribution and allows us to track trends and adjust our mean (or average) when we reach goals and need to set new quality goals. As our performance gets better we raise our mean, the middle of the bell curve, to help us aim for a higher goalThe point of a control chart is that we can track trends over time. See Figure 3 for a sample Control Chart.

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