01 July 2003
Quality management: The project begins
Editor's note: This is the second of a two-part series based on a technical paper, "Using a Quality Management System for the Engineering Phase of a Project," delivered by William K. Pollock at the ISA 2002 Technical Conference. The first part appeared in the June issue.
By William K. Pollock
Last month, we addressed the fundamentals of project management—important concepts necessary for the successful execution of engineering projects. In this segment, we will put these concepts to the test, answering the real-world question of what to do once you have presented the proposal and the user has approved it.
The design phase begins immediately after receiving the purchase order. If the appropriate planning occurs during proposal development, then this part of the project should begin well. The project manager's organizational skills will affect the quality of the project. Project managers, who in an effort to save time, neglect to keep files and organization current, put themselves at a disadvantage.
The following are steps to take right after getting the purchase order:
- First, set up the project files and start a project notebook.
- Next do the project plan. You should show all deliverables, targeted dates, and activities.
- Now is also the time when the project manager should review the entire scope of the project, identify all the tasks and deliverables involved, and assign resources. He or she should compare the budget with the task list, assemble the project design team, and make sure they understand their roles and responsibilities.
- Next do the resource plan. Resource planning is the only effective way to guarantee that the resources assigned to the project will be available.
- A project kick-off meeting with the team should happen as soon as practical after the project begins. It is the project manager's responsibility to build team spirit, start things off on a good foot, and establish enthusiasm.
- Every project needs one or more design reviews. These design reviews should already be on the project quality plan.
- Next do the project schedule. The level of detail needed in a project schedule is a function of the size and sophistication of the project. For many projects the design firm will need the client to transfer computer-aided design files or other software files to get the project started. A delay in this transfer may delay the entire project schedule.
Once the project is underway there are many records the project manager needs to maintain.
The guides for where the project is going are the project quality plan and the project schedule. The project manager should refer to and update both of these documents on a regular basis. He or she should also periodically review the task list, checking off completed tasks and comparing the remaining budget with the remaining tasks to determine earned value.
Effective quality management systems audit the project manager on a regular basis to make sure that records are current and accurate. It is a poor policy to "nickel and dime" a client. On the other hand, an important part of project management is maintaining the scope of services included with the project. If client-initiated changes occur, project change notices should go out in a very timely fashion.
The project manager is responsible for scheduling and leading meetings. You can classify project meetings into three basic types.
1. There are team meetings that include the entire team and cover budgets, costs, and schedules.
2. There are design meetings that most often consist of subsets of the design.
3. There are design reviews where team members, as well as outsiders, are invited to review the design for fitness of use.
There are, of course, rules for holding effective meetings. Project managers should learn these rules. Good communication is a critical part, if not the most critical part, of successful project management. Meetings are only a small part of communication.
The bottom line of the entire quality management system is project quality, and there must be procedures in place to ensure that outcome. There are a number of basic steps you cannot take for granted. For example: (a) design reviews are essential to product quality, (b) there should also be mini–design reviews, (c) there should be appropriate acceptance tests in place before the project begins, (d) if the client has standards they should be followed completely, and (e) a portion of the project budget should be set aside to allow for the test, inspection, and design review process.
You can define quality, in part, as delivering on promises. But quality only happens if the deliverable meets the exact standards defined by a specific client. IT
William K. Pollock, P.E., is president of Optimation Technology, Inc., a Rush, N.Y.–based control and information system integrator. He is a founding member of Control and Information System Integrators Association and presently serves on the association's executive board. His e-mail is email@example.com.
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