Quality Management in Project Work - A Proposal for Method Selection

Published on May 31, 2017
Author: Per Olav Istad PMP, Supervisor and teacher at Prosjektlederskolen.no

Project Management Institute (PMI) sets standards for e.g. correct definitions of key concepts within project management. According to their definition, Project Quality Management includes the processes and activities of the performing organization that determine quality policies, objectives, and responsibilities so that the project will satisfy the needs for which it was undertaken…”

In today's article, I will mention a project method that I find especially beneficial in regard to preventing known quality problems. This method is known as Goal-Directed Project Management (GDPM). It is now possible, for those who master this method, to have their competence certified. GDPM has been taught and practiced for almost 40 years, in a number of countries. The main characters behind the method are Kristoffer V Grude, Erling S Andersen and Tor Haug.

GDPM was frequently the method of choice in the first “wave” of digitalization of the Norwegian public sector. Since then it has remained in vogue, particularly in Scandinavian countries. It is being taught Europe-wide, at a number of business schools. The method authors have now developed moss growth, but still keep on refining the method and publish new revisions. Recently, a certification scheme has become available. From my perspective, GDPM represents a shift in focus in project work, compared to "early" project methods.

Early project methods were especially focused on operational analytics, where the underlying assumption was maximization of productivity. Productivity is expressed as the most product per Unit effort. The operational analytics approach is reflected in several project management tools, such as Microsoft Project, and in methods such as Critical Path Method (CPM). The core of these methods is to balance costs, progress and scope. The focus is on "output", in terms of products, and "input", in terms of labour and materials. A challenge associated with the operational analytics approach that the value of the products (outputs) is not emphasized. The "value" is the expression of the consumers (those who are going to use the products) appreciation of the products (project outputs).

Some pointed examples can illustrate the distinction between productivity and value: An ICT system is delivered and works as specified. The system is delivered at the agreed time and price. However, it is not taken into use - the intended users continue to use the "old" system. There are dozens of examples of this. A business moves into new premises, which are designed and decorated according to the company's specifications. Nevertheless, it takes a long time before the business reaches the same level of efficiency that they had before moving, despite the fact that the move was undertaken to increase efficiency. This has negative financial consequences for the business, and employee satisfaction and productivity is falling. This despite the fact that the actual moving process itself (the project) had been very efficient.

These examples indicate that one or both of the following has occurred: Either the specifications of the solution (ICT system, premises) have not been logically linked to the goals of the project (value for consumers. In terms of appreciation of the product / delivery), or the circumstances have changed during the execution of the project, so that the original specifications are no longer valid when the delivery is made.

In both cases, this weakness in the quality management of the project comes into evidence. The project may have performed as expected on scope, time and costs, but it has failed in quality.

GDPM offers a consistent set of techniques and tools that address this kind of quality issues. From my perspective, the main approach of this method is to focus strongly on the ongoing "management dialogue" between the project and the future consumers of the products from the project. The focus of this dialogue remains on the desired future state of the business. The road through the project goes through a number of defined intermediate states to the "final" state of project completion.

The intermediate states are expressed as milestones, and the state at the end of the project is identical to the project's goals. The techniques and tools used in GDPM are primarily geared to ensuring that the ongoing management dialogue between project and consumers is done in a systematic and structured manner, with the lowest possible risk of nonconformity. A key point in this way of working is that the content of the management dialogue, between project and consumers, is mainly about conditions and states. It's not about products / deliveries, nor is the main focus on the specific tasks / activities to be performed to achieve the project's goals.

Products / deliveries and tasks / activities fall within the domain of the project itself, and it is the project manager's responsibility to ensure that the output from the project matches the principals’ preferred outcomes. If one breaks down GDPM in the individual techniques used, there are commonalities with a number of other project management methods. Key common terms include milestones, responsibility chart and activity plans. In addition, GDPM reflects a project model that identifies three logically distinct "areas" (result paths) in a project implementation; People, System, Organization (PSO).

The term "System" corresponds to the tangible deliveries from the project, "People" are the consumers of the deliveries, and "Organization" the business processes of the organization. The message in this model is - as I see it, and somewhat simplified - that these three elements; People, System and Organization need to be kept in alignment throughout the project process. No matter how high-performing the project might be, in terms of time, costs and scope; it will not provide value unless P-S-O are aligned, so that the organization and its people have been prepared to exploit the potential value of the project deliveries.

"Classical", operational analytics-based project management balances cost, time and scope, but does not contain an explicit quality concept. GDPM introduces quality - as its own dimension, focusing on the value added to the organization by the project. It is indeed possible to support GDPM using techniques of operational analytics to optimize time, scope and costs, but it would hardly be consistent with the GDPM approach to simultaneously involve operational analytical concepts in the project's management dialogue.

In other words, it would not be promoting quality to discuss Gantt charts with the client. We at Projectlederskolen.no are currently considering the potential of supplementing the tools in GDPM with techniques associated with the new-era UX (User Experience) Design.

Finally, PMI Certified Project Managers notice that the Project Management Institute (PMI) has evaluated GDPM and found the method to be compliant with PMBOK Guide 5th edition. Classroom-based training in GDPM thus provides Professional Development Units (PDUs) to be used for the maintenance of PMI professional certificates.