3 Levels of Quality

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A blog that looks at all aspects of project and program finances from budgets, estimating and accounting to getting a pay rise and managing contracts. Written by Elizabeth Harrin from GirlsGuideToPM.com.

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Because quality costs money…

In their book, Project-Driven Creation, Jo Bos, Ernst Harting and Marlet Hesslelink write about the 3 levels of quality. “When is the project result good enough?” they write.  “Countless projects are deemed failures because when the result is finally delivered, it runs out that the sponsr had expected something completely different.”

Setting clear objectives and involving your stakeholders and end users at every step of the way is one approach to addressing this. But understanding what quality means to your stakeholder groouop and how they want you to service quality on your project is also really valuable.

The levels of quality that the authors talk about are:

  • Acceptable quality
  • Appropriate quality
  • Aspirational quality.

Let’s look at what each of those means, and I’ve got some examples as well to share with you.

Acceptable quality

This is the minimum level of quality. You can even call it “minimum” if that’s what you think your end users would respond best to. This is the lowest level of quality that you can deliver and still get away with – it will ensure that you hit the bare minimum of expectation levels. If you don’t reach these targets your sponsor isn’t going to be pleased and your project would be considered a failure.

Note that your project sponsor will probably not tell you about this level of quality. You’ll have to surmise what you can get away with and then put a positive spin on it.

Example: Building a website for the company that delivers functionally but that does not have all the content expected at the point of go live. You believe that this can be added in later and – with the agreement of your sponsor – you feel that it’s more important to hit the published go live date for the new website than it  is to have all the content there on go live day. It’s not the quality that you signed up to at the beginning of the project (as you thought you’d have everything in place, including all the copy) but it will do.

Acceptable quality will do. It’s not substandard. It’s just good enough given the circumstances.

Appropriate quality

This is what your sponsor has actually asked for. It’s what they want and what they have conditioned themselves to accept. It’s what you should strive to deliver (because you are good at your job and want your team to deliver something valuable, right?).

Example: Completing a project to the standards set out in your quality plan, or if you don’t write one (like me) then understanding your stakeholders well enough, and working with them consistently enough, to get a result that they consider “quality” and successful. Importantly, you know what this is before you set out, so that when the project finishes you can honestly say that you met their expectations with the product/service/etc that you delivered.

Appropriate quality is really the minimum that you should be aiming for. Delivering to this level should be costed into your project plans.

Aspirational quality

Ignore the first two levels and shoot for gold. This is where you deliver above and beyond the expectations of your project sponsor. You know what the objectives are and you aim to exceed them. This tends to happen when your team (and you) are fully committed to the project and are able to take responsibility for their areas. It also helps to have a hugely positive project sponsor who is behind you and supporting you all the way.

Example: Delivering a product that sells 30% over the original sales target because you know your market so well and are able to suggest changes along the way following your team’s customer focus groups that boost conversions and bring in more revenue.

Aspirational quality comes at a cost. It involves the team being self-managing instead of micro-managing. It relies on good communication and collaboration. It depends on a supportive working environment and a culture that is blame-free. It also helps to be out of the mindset that project management is just about ticking boxes and making sure that tasks are completed. Instead, think about how your job adds value if you do it right.

The flip side of aspirational quality is that it can cost you a lot of money if the changes that lead to overachieving aren’t adequately managed through change control. Even small changes at a late stage can add significantly to your budget.

What level of quality do you go for on your project? And how successful have you been? Let us know in the comments section below.

Posted on: March 23, 2016 12:00 AM | Permalink

Comments (10)

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Thank-you for this article. Very thought provoking. A recent project of mine had sponsors looking for one level of quality and stakeholders looking for a different level of quality. One side looking for Acceptable and the other looking for Aspirational. As a believer in and student of project quality, I would love to see you continue to develop this line of thought. It could be both amusing and thought provoking. A fun blog read.

Thanks, Karl-Heinz

thanks Elizabeth,
I think aspirational quality is an added value when sponsor express an appropriate quality without a complete understanding of this. for instance your example express a superior knowledge of the market by project manager.
In the case sponsor understands and knows very well the requested quality aspirational quality could be an unnecessary cost increment.
As you underlines correctly in both cases it is necessary that the issue should be managed below change's procedures and policies

I was involve in a project where quality requirement where so vague that it was useful for no one. The client had but unclear information in the requirement, hoping for a gold plate. Supplier you guest it didn't go for the gold plate.
So important that the contract requirement be clear.

Thanks Elizabeth for yet another interesting topic. Aspirational quality is something I will like to implement when there are sufficient buffer in the timelines, buffer in the budget allocated and sufficient resources assigned to a project. If I have a customer who understands that there are risk/cost/timeline implications for the unknowns, aspirational quality is definitely more exciting and challenging.

Interesting topic. Nice info Thanks

Thanks Elizabeth for this simple-to understand write up on levels of quality. However, I would like to clarify what I consider a conflict (personal opinion pls.) between Aspirational quality and Gold-plating.

Thank you very much.

Thank you for this article. I am not sure if I have ever hear these three types of quality explained in this manner. I question Aspirational Quality as this may turn into Gold Plating. I may have to read the referenced book to get a deeper explanation.

Dear Elizabeth
Thanks for unfolding different layers of quality and its understanding.
Will it be appropriate to have one more layer as "Adequate Quality " to have assurance to oneself of customer-acceptance. This is quality level with additional delta over Appropriate Quality -that depends on different factors such as capability ,consistency,technology etc.
This will mitigate a risk of likely non acceptance of delivered product by the customer risen because of his perception of low quality and there are possibilities that Quality as committed to customer may not get defined in absolute measurable terms and can have some inherent abstractness.This will help easier Handover.
Would like to have your view.

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