Magazine article PM Network

Quality First

Magazine article PM Network

Quality First

Article excerpt

As the never-ending quest for project management quality continues, companies are looking at people and process.

FIRST, IT WAS TOTAL QUALITY MANAGEMENT. Now, Six Sigma is generating the buzz in quality circles. However, it may not be the be-all, end-alL Of the 156 business-technology executives surveyed by Optimize magazine, only 38 percent said their companies employ Six Sigma. The big question is whether it focuses too much attention on process rather than people, who can make a true difference in improving project management quality.

Lynn Crawford, DBA, of the University of Technology in Sydney, Australia, and Jeanne Dorle, Ph.D., PMP, of Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, N.C., USA, tackle the quality issue.

Overall, how are companies approaching quality?

Dr. Crawford: The whole concept of quality has become very blurred. It's being given different names and annexed into other areas. As it moves into IT, organizational change and things of that sort, what constitutes quality? It's not just the quality of the end-product. Often, the way in which you have delivered is just as important as what has been delivered-sometimes it's more important.

In a way, good project management in an organization is, in itself, a quality management process.

Dr. Dorle: If you integrate quality into your organization and you build quality-assurance activities, quality is everyone's responsibility. As organizations grow more complex, there are a lot of incentives for looking at quality.

I couldn't agree more with Lynn that it's called all kinds of different things. That's probably a good thing, because it needs to be part and parcel of the way a company operates-and not a unit or a saying on the building as you walk in.

When it comes to quality, what's more important: people or process?

Dr. Crawford: You can survive not having process, but it puts a lot more pressure on the individual. When you have the process, the people make the difference every time, because the way in which the processes are used comes back to them.

People skills make the difference between poor, average and superior quality. You need people skills to get the commitment from team members and to follow through on the process. You need the process skills for the quality-assurance aspect.

Dr. Dorle: It's fine to have good people skills, but then you need the discipline to make sure you have scheduled quality-assurance activities into your process and that you are collecting data. That requires process skills.

One of the things quality and people skills share is they're both difficult to measure. Project managers have suffered because we tend to focus on those things that can be easily measured-schedule, budget and so on. I am deeply concerned. We must figure out a way to measure quality and the specific behaviors associated with effective people skills and start trying to prepare people. Until we can develop better measurements, it's going to be very hard-other than at the gut level-to know how well we're performing these skills.

Can Six Sigma help companies with quality?

Dr. Crawford: That's a really interesting question because I see Six Sigma coming up in programs for improving project management within organizations. One company I work with has project managers, business, analysts and Six Sigma black belts included within a project management job family. They're all applying these skills in different tasks of the project process.

Dr. Dorle: One concern I have is a commitment to Six Sigma is often seen as a commitment to quality, which, of course, it may well be. But it focuses even more attention on the process side of the equation. You need to be cautious about assuming it's going to make a substantial improvement in your project outcome, because I don't think the kind of people and facilitation skills needed to effectively lead a team are emphasized in Six Sigma. So much of it comes out of a manufacturing environment. …

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