FIRST PROJECT QUALITY PILLAR: CUSTOMER SATISFACTION
The first project quality pillar is the strategic priority accorded customer satisfaction, which is achieved by customer-focused work systems supported by committed leadership. Meeting both external and internal customer expectations drives strategic efforts in a quality firm.
For purposes of clarification, a number of conceptual distinctions must be made at the outset. The first clarification is between project stakeholders and project customers. Project stakeholders can be defined as those directly or indirectly associated with the project, those affected in the long/short term by the project and its activities, and those interested in the outcome of the project. Often project stakeholders are divided into internal and external stakeholders. Internal stakeholders typically include members of the home organization: the project sponsor, the project manager, the project team, top management, functional managers, staff personnel, service and support, other project managers, and internal subcontractors. External stakeholders typically include: customers/clients, suppliers, distributors, regulatory agencies, social and cultural environment, economic and financial environment, political and legal environment, external contractors and competitors, media and public interest groups, and the natural ecological environment.
Project customers are the direct purchasers, end users, and providers of products and services. Project customers are also both internal and external. The external customer is usually accorded highest priority in quality organizations; nevertheless, internal home organization customers must also be satisfied.
We will adopt the conventional phrase key project stakeholders to refer to that mix of internal and external direct purchasers, consumers, and providers referred to as customers. It is, therefore, customers or key project stakeholders who must be satisfied for the first project quality pillar to be established. It is advisable to satisfy as many additional stakeholders as possible to prevent any unwarranted project disruption.
Distinctions about the nature of satisfaction also need to be addressed. Distinctions have been made among product characteristics as being dissatisfiers, satisfiers, and exciters/delighters. Dissatisfiers are unstated customer expectations for the product or service that are taken for granted and, if absent, result in customer dissatisfaction with products. Satisfiers are stated customer expectations about the product or service, which, if fulfilled, lead to product satisfaction. Exciters/delighters are unstated and unexpected consumer desires for products or services which, if met, lead to high perceptions of quality and likely purchase or repurchase of products.
Over time, exciters/delighters become satisfiers as customers become used to them, and eventually satisfiers become dissatisfiers. This means that systemic strategic planning and leadership are required to ensure that ongoing customer satisfaction is delivered as customer expectations increase.
A work system can be defined as a set of functions or activities within an organization that interact to achieve organizational goals. To engage in systemic strategic planning requires that leaders understand the interrelationships among all subsystem parts and the people who work in them. Deming specifically emphasizes that the leader's primary responsibility is to optimize the quality system so that customer satisfaction will result. By supporting projects that are best for one manager's career or for a highly vocal group, the leader suboptimizes. Suboptimization results in a net loss for the organization by diverting resources from system-aligned projects to marginal projects.
For example, a project manager and his/her team in the purchasing department may recommend the purchase of new materials at the lowest bid to cut costs. Inexpensive materials may be inferior in quality. This might cause excessive costs in later corrections during manufacturing. Although the purchasing project leader and team may look good on paper, the entire system will suffer. Therefore, an important responsibility of the committed quality leader is to ensure that only system-aligned projects are sponsored and completed in order to prevent suboptimization.
Quality strategic planning is the organizational design and structure that produces total customer satisfaction. Strategic planning results in both customer satisfaction goals (non-quantified aspirations) and customer satisfaction objectives (which determine what is to be accomplished by when in quantified terms).
Now that we understand who the various project customers are, what delights and satisfies them, and how to use strategic planning to best satisfy our mix of customers, we turn to our next project quality pillar.
SECOND PROJECT QUALITY PILLAR: PROCESS IMPROVEMENT
The second project quality pillar is the continual (includes both continuous and discontinuous) improvement of work processes to efficiently and effectively achieve the strategic goal of customer satisfaction. A work process can be defined as any set of linked activities that takes an input, adds value to it, and provides an output to an internal or external customer. Thus, a set of processes may together form a quality system. The quality system in turn provides the organizational operational context for team projects and individual task performances.
Ongoing process improvement results in three types of quality improvement: incremental cost reduction, competitive parity, and breakthrough dominance. All three types of improvement are important and each is appropriate in certain circumstances. Any given project is likely to use one or more of these types of improvement.
The first type, incremental cost reduction (sometimes referred to as kaizen), is the process improvement approach that constantly and gradually cuts costs and involves every organizational member in order to maintain the existing system more efficiently. An example is to reduce the number of steps in a process without sacrificing quality.
The second type, competitive parity, is the process improvement approach that abruptly and dramatically matches the performance of the best-in-class of external competitors. Strategic planners and key process champions usually drive this type of improvement; it may entail scrapping the existing system and rebuilding to catch up with the best-of-class. An example is Microsoft rebuilding its processes to match Internet competitors.
The third type, breakthrough dominance, is the process improvement approach that involves quantum leaps to outdistance the competition and revolutionarily restructure or reengineer new processes. Usually, strategic leadership, R&D management, and process change champions drive this type of improvement. It may entail starting over and creating a new system from scratch. An example is the radical redesign of jet engines to surpass propeller-driven aircraft.
Furthermore, process improvement entails process qualification determinations. The goal is to move from:
- The spontaneous level in which little or no process standards are used; through
- The initialized level in which non-standard approaches are widely used; also through
- The formalized level in which standards are institutionalized; and finally to
- The optimized level in which improvement and integration are a way of life.
Figure 1-4: Process Qualification Levels
The four levels of process qualification provide both a multi-level classification scheme for existing processes and a "to-do" list for fact-based project management teams.