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Quality Of Work. Managing projects “of quality”

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Translation of Calidad del trabajo. Gestionar proyectos “con calidad” by Miguel Ángel Portoles published in VERSIÓNCERØ

[Note by the translator: it has been fashionable in recent years to use the word 'quality' as an adjective, such as in 'quality procedures'. In this usage 'quality' means something like 'made according to documented procedures' or 'what the customer wrote that she wanted' or appropriate for the documented purpose. I am using the term 'of quality' in this article to reflect what most people mean by the word, as something 'good' in an undefinable way. You know it when you see it. Something that delights the customer.]

Is it possible to bring “quality” to the management of a project? This article suggests some ideas for achieving this goal.

Managing a project according to quality procedures can become tortuous and can make you feel like a copist monk of the middle ages.

I am not denying the need to apply quality procedures to one's work, and I am convinced of the need for methodologies (if I even have a methodology for shaving, why should I not have methodologies for working with software and hardware), but what some quality departments have not fully come to terms with is that following a quality system is not the same as achieving work of quality. They are not related.

In my working life I have discovered a strange law: the size of the company is directly proportional to the internal documentation that needs to be produced during the work. In case this law does not already exist and you want to quote it, you can call it "Portoles' law of the management of quality projects".

It may be that the ideas I am going to share below are already in some “ISO some thousand”. But they are hidden amongst millions of other phrases, inspired by the natural desire to codify and to normalise, that try to ensure that the statements that apply to a fast food company will apply equally to a software development company or a consultancy. In the race by companies to collect certifications or hard evidence, my personal experience has been that obtaining a certificate is more an act of will (and paying for it) than having and following quality practices.

Here are some ideas for achieving what I consider to be work of quality:

  • To start with, the sale has probably been closed without the full facts being disclosed. The idea sold by the salesman has been exaggerated; he has said yes to everything. You have to start by checking what needs to be done and agreeing a definition of the product with an appropriate representative of the client, then bringing this to the in-house technical team.

  • The definition of the product implies writing it down. The principles of all methodologies, and our own laziness, have left us with a certain “mania” for documenting things. My experience is that it doesn't take that much time. We shouldn't be afraid to document things when necessary. The real communication within the project will have a written document as its end result.

  • It is necessary to show to the client what she will get from the project in a way which she can understand and to get her agreement and feedback. This may be in small doses, starting from a high level view and detailing each of the parts into which we can decompose it. It is important to provide enough information and assistance so that the client can validate the proposal.

  • The project team should participate in the planning of the project and the definition of the tasks in the detail that is appropriate. The team must review the choice of methodology for the work, including participating in its definition if possible.

  • At the end of the project, the project team should perform a review of the project, highlighting the most important successes and the problems that they overcame. In this way we can address another of the concepts that is so fashionable, knowledge management.

None of these ideas is revolutionary, all of them are mundane and completely understood. I believe that doing work of quality consists in knowing what is appropriate and everyday. Continuous improvement is the search for that little action that is better than another, and once found, its introduction into the normal everyday way of working.


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