Quality Doesn’t Work the Way You Think It Does

Mark Mullaly is president of Interthink Consulting Incorporated, an organizational development and change firm specializing in the creation of effective organizational project management solutions. Since 1990, it has worked with companies throughout North America to develop, enhance and implement effective project management tools, processes, structures and capabilities. Mark was most recently co-lead investigator of the Value of Project Management research project sponsored by PMI. You can read more of his writing at markmullaly.com.

In the grand scheme of project priorities, quality ranks pretty highly. Once we got past the iron triangle of scope, cost and schedule as the priorities that defined project success, quality was right there as a fourth horseman, framing the limits of whatever project apocalypse we happened to be responsible for at the time.

On the face of it, that’s a hard concept to argue, at least theoretically. We want to do quality work. We want our results to be seen as being quality, as well. We don’t want to be judged as not having met the mark as far as quality goes.

The challenge is, what does that actually mean? And how do we test for it? How can we satisfy for ourselves—and demonstrate to others—that we’ve delivered on expectations in terms of quality? That’s a conceptually loaded proposition, and one where as project managers we’re missing a few tools, concepts and perspectives.

Where this problem starts, if we’re entirely honest, is how we are taught—and tested—on quality management principles. For anyone certified as a project manager, you will have been drilled on the fact that there are seven tools of quality assurance, and seven tools of quality control. More specifically, you’ll be quite confident in the premise that quality assurance is about prevention, and quality control is about inspection. And …

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"You do not really understand something unless you can explain it to your grandmother."

- Albert Einstein

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