Building quality into the project

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In the last article, we discussed developing quality benchmarks to effectively evaluate the project when it is completed. The quality benchmarks can be internal standards defined by the project team or external standards recognized more broadly in the industry or sector. Achieving these benchmarks will help us determine that we have delivered a good project.

My friend Lola read the article because she is interested in measuring the quality of her project to deliver a donor’s database for her employment organization. Lola rightly pointed out that it does not benefit the organization to evaluate the project just to find out that it was poorly delivered. She suggested that there must be processes during the project that help ensure that the project is successful, and she is right. This article provides you with some tips to assist you in delivering a quality project.

Scope

The first step in ensuring a quality project is knowing exactly what you are to deliver. You need to clearly define and communicate the project scope with all project stakeholders. What are you going to create?

When initiating a project, I always pose the scope question to my clients. They look at me strangely, question their choice in contracting me, and then answer the question. However, usually everyone has a different answer. The executive director says, “We are creating a database of people who have donated to the organization.” The fundraising director responds, “We are creating a database of people who might donate to the organization in the future.” The HR coordinator says, “We are creating a contact database of our volunteers.” These are all very different databases, and unless everyone clearly understands and agrees to the project scope, they are going to be seriously disappointed with the outcome.

My next question to them is why. Why do they want to deliver the project? What problem will it resolve or what opportunity could they realize by doing the project? Again, it seems simple, but unless it is clearly defined, the organization risks delivering a product that does not quite meet its needs. A friend of mine told me a consultant recommended that she transform her association’s web site because it isn’t dynamic enough and that a blog would help her better engage her member organizations. I pointed out that a blog facilitates communication from one person to a large audience, but that it does not promote discussion among people. A better way to engage her member organizations would be to have regular conference calls with them or hold a conference. Creating a blog may have addressed some issues, but not the ones she was trying to address. It did not meet her objectives.

By clearly defining why you are delivering this project, and what you are delivering, you can prevent a lot of issues that will seriously reduce the quality of your project. Having a clearly defined scope provides a strong foundation for the rest of the project . Without this foundation, it is impossible to deliver a project that will satisfy all of your clients.

Stakeholder consultation

Another important aspect of delivering a quality project is ensuring that the project stakeholders are adequately involved. Not-for-profits are often provided with funding for a project that will affect many stakeholder groups. For example, an employment organization may be given the task of developing a province-wide program to assist newcomers in preparing for the Canadian workforce. In addition to the newcomers themselves, this program will affect other employment and immigration organizations and potentially even ESL organizations. Each of these groups should provide feedback because they will be affected by the project and ultimately judge whether it was successful.

I often bring the stakeholder groups together as soon as the project begins to help the client define the project scope. They will likely not be decision makers for the project (that will be left to the organization delivering the project), but it is important to understand the needs of the various stakeholders because the sector will eventually have to adopt the program. I also bring them together when we are designing the product itself because they can provide valuable feedback on what works and what doesn’t.

In the example about the organization delivering a program for newcomers, I would ask representatives from the employment, immigration, and ESL agencies and even the newcomers themselves to help identify the project scope. They might say an important gap that needs to be filled is a mentorship program that matches foreign-trained professionals with Canadian companies to provide them with experience in a Canadian workplace. When designing the program, I would ask the newcomers and the companies to provide advice on how this matching should occur and what would meet both of their needs. Without this feedback, I would risk delivering a product that does not meet their functional needs or expectations.

Iterative review

A common issue with projects is that the project team and decision makers work together at the beginning of the project and then do not see one another again until the end. The decision makers identify the project scope and objectives, and the project team comes back to them with a completed product. This is a significant risk to quality because the project team may make a mistake during the design or development phases of the project that affects the final product. It is much, much easier to address the issue if it is identified earlier.

Let’s look at the example from above. After the scope and objectives are defined, the project team creates a model for the training program. They decide who will be involved and how it will work. After designing the program, they create the materials required. They might make training materials, policies to guide the program, develop a governance structure, create promotional materials, and so forth. Once this is all done, they select a few companies to pilot the program and then deploy the program to the rest of the province if the pilot is successful. However, unless the decision makers review each of these steps, the team risks making a mistake when they are creating the program model that may impact the training materials.

A mistake in one step will snowball so that, at each successive step, it becomes more significant and difficult to address. The only way to avoid this is to have the decision makers review the key deliverables after completion so that they can catch minor issues. Because each project deliverable builds on the previous one, a mistake will permeate through every subsequent phase, gradually causing larger issues. Iterative review will help ensure that you deliver a higher quality project.

Change management

It is inevitable that you will need to change your original plan. Whether it’s because of technological issues, budget problems, new organizational developments, and so forth, there will be factors beyond your control that will force you to change your plan. Delivering a quality project requires you to have a strong change management process in place because you need to fully understand the impact of the change on your project, have the appropriate decision makers endorse the changes you recommend, and communicate any changes to all project stakeholders. Without strong change management, the project could take on an unmanageable life of its own.

The first step in change management is actively monitoring the project budget, schedule, and scope to ensure that it is still on track. If an issue arises, the project manager needs to examine whether it can be addressed within the project scope and constraints. If not, he or she needs to discuss the change with the project decision makers and develop a plan of action to address it. The project manager then updates the project documentation and communicates the change to the project team members so they can begin implementing it.

The key benefits of the change management process are that it allows you to fully understand how the issue or change will affect the project and it forces you to make an active decision about how to address it. This helps you to deliver a quality project because instead of reacting to problems and issues, you are more effectively managing and directing the project where you and all the other stakeholders want it to go. As in our first point above, it helps to ensure that everyone is working to the same goal and meeting the organization’s needs.

Summary

A key aspect of project management is building processes into the delivery approach that facilitate delivery of a high-quality project. Although these processes will depend very much on the nature of the project, my experience indicates that there are some key steps that you should take to facilitate high-quality delivery.

We have discussed a few tips above that will assist you in delivering a better project. None of the tips are difficult to implement. But they are often forgotten about when the project gets rolling. Try to remember for the next project you deliver though. They may make a world of difference for you!

Blair Witzel (blair@mcdoane.com) is a member of the Project Management Institute and a consultant with McDonnell zDoane + Associates, an information management and technology firm focusing on the not-for-profit and public sectors. His work centres on managing multi-project portfolios and working with organizations to develop project management methodologies to more effectively deliver projects.

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