In the late 1950s, C. R. Smith, the boss of American Airlines, was envisaging a ‘Blue Streak’ all first class coast-to-coast non-stop service – flying the world’s fastest airliners between New York and California. In response, Convair offered to refashion its struggling 880 passenger jet into one capable of flying at 635mph. The Convair 990 project committed to high speed, a keen price and prompt entry into service. But with all the problems its 880 venture was enduring, could Convair keep its quality promises to American Airlines?
In a project sense, quality is the evidence that what is produced, and the manner in which it is produced, meets the explicit and implied requirements of the customer and complies with relevant laws, regulations and standards. That includes meeting the time and budget constraints that have been agreed. Quality is what the customer says it is. In practice, measuring quality is about continually checking whether the output is on target to meet the customer’s stated requirements, and also produce the benefits they have said they are after. If the project supplier meets the quality criteria which the customer had stipulated, then the customer has no excuse for not accepting the output.
There are three essential ingredients to quality management on a project. First there is quality assurance. This is what is done to ensure that the processes and methods that govern the way work is done (including all the administration as well as the practical work), and the techniques and equipment that actually produce the output, should create output that is right first time. Next there is quality control. This is about confirming that the output being produced, and the work going on to do that, does actually meet the customer’s stated expectations. Last is the attitude of everyone involved in the project, which has to be to make the quality of their work their principal concern.
There are two types of quality that can be measured. Conformance measures look at whether the output is as promised. Performance measures look at whether the output can do what it is promised to do. Certain conformance and performance criteria can be measured quantitatively. Equipment can be used, and sometimes observation. Conformance measures like weight, size, whether certain features or system functionality are present or not, can all be judged directly. Performance measures like take-off distance, maximum speed, fuel consumption and so on, can also be measured quantitatively using specialised equipment. Some performance measures may not be available when the output is delivered. Some quality criteria (like pilots’ attitudes or passengers’ reactions) must be measured qualitatively. This will require techniques like surveys and observation.
Total quality management makes pursuit of quality the absolute core of the project effort, where everyone has to put the customer first and the emphasis is on continuous improvement of everything that affects quality.
Good quality management practice can be embedded through methodologies. A methodology is a collection of tools and techniques an organisation has that guides the way it plans and does projects. Methodologies are the product of the Progression phase of projects, where an organisation should be extracting the learning from its latest venture and incorporating successful innovations and improved methods into how it does future projects.
Gilbert, J. (1975). The world’s worst aircraft. Walton-on-Thames, UK: M & J Hobbs. Proctor, J. (1996). Convair 880 & 990. Miami, FL: World Transport Press.
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