What's the Cost of Quality in IT Projects? (Hint: High, But Worth It)

Quality management cannot guarantee project success, but it certainly is a force against failure. In the project context, quality management goes straight to the heart of the project deliverable, helping you to deliver "on plan" results designed to meet customer needs and expectations.  But, it's not without downsides - namely the costs and overhead it adds to the project schedule.  Is it worth it?  Read on for the answer.

Quality management is used to set realistic quality objectives, define actionable quality expectations, ensure minimal product defects and eliminate re-work.  In short, quality management is designed to help you deliver the best possible project results within known constraints and boundaries. These are impressive goals, but, as with any other management process, quality comes at a price. Quality management adds to the cost and timeline of any project through "overhead". Overhead can be simply defined as the direct and indirect costs attached to a project as part of the overall execution process ... i.e. the time, resources, tools and equipment needed to manage and deliver a project apart from the costs of the actual project deliverables.

It's Unavoidable: Quality Needs Add Overhead Costs

Since quality management creates “overhead”, which adds to the costs and delivery timeline of any project, related quality “actions” can be considered a potential point of failure. Left uncontrolled, quality management overhead can impede an otherwise successful project by extending the schedule or growing the budget. It's a matter of balance - to find the point at which quality objectives are achieved and defect risks are avoided, without exceeding acceptable budgets and schedules.

As with any other process, quality management must be applied appropriately considering project needs and characteristics.

Finding the Right Balance of Quality vs. Overhead

Can quality be compromised? No. But quality must be practical, aligned with project needs, capabilities and constraints. The question is the extent to which expenditures should be made in the attempt to "guarantee" quality, and the extent to which quality management efforts may put an otherwise do-able project out of reach. It's all about making the process fit the project (the premise of fast tracked project management). The first step in this balancing act is to find the sweet spot at which quality controls will deliver required results without adding excessive overhead.

These are the questions to be considered….

  • What are the established goals and objectives for process and project quality (considering the practices used to manage the project and the actual project results)?
  • How is quality to be defined and measured for this project?
  • How important is “quality” to this project?
  • If quality requirements and expectations are not achieved, what are the likely costs and consequences?
  • What types of quality management tasks and activities can be used to minimize or eliminate these "low quality" consequences?
  • How will these quality management tasks and activities add to the project budget and timeline?
  • Are these "overhead" additions acceptable to the project sponsor and customers, or, are these stakeholders willing to absorb certain "quality defect" risks for the sake of a shorter timeline and lower budget?

Some closing thoughts….

Once quality management overhead costs are calculated, all project stakeholders must be kept fully informed of all the results and consequences. In order to strike the appropriate balance between process and acceptable overhead, the project sponsor and customer must accept the risks of any "quality compromises" made in an attempt to shorten project timelines, minimize process complexity, or lower project costs. To make sense, quality management procedures must be appropriate to project needs, and designed to deliver quality goals and expectations. And, since quality is subjective, sponsor and customer buy-in is essential to project success.

Continue reading more about maintaining quality in IT projects in our featured articles Practical Concepts for Managing Project Quality, Taking Positive Action to Control Project Change, and Easy Steps and Practices to Manage Project Risk.

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