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    PM Perspectives: That elusive QA/QC plan

    Having it is one thing; using it is another.

    Over the years we’ve received several inquiries for off the shelf QA/QC (quality assurance and quality control) plans and manuals – typically prompted by requirements in a request for proposal. It isn’t something we sell and even though the caller is usually in panic and I’m sorry I can’t help them out, there also isn’t any judgment to be made. Many firms simply don’t have one. Of those that do, I’d wager that fewer than half actually have one that is usable – or used.

    I was with a client a few weeks ago discussing their project management challenges and the topics of QA/QC eventually arose. Here are a few things we established that will also be of interest to you:

    • QA/QC as a “process” shouldn’t be complicated. When we get calls for a plan or manual on the subject, callers expect a hefty document with flowcharts and layers of safety checks. For an RFP, the obvious intention is to impress the client. For the average architecture or engineering firm, the process should never be this cumbersome. If you are thinking about updating your process or giving a refresher to project managers, be simple about it. It may be as plain as, “Have someone else review it.”
    • Manuals are seldom referenced. Even if there is a manual somewhere in the office – stored electronically or on a dusty shelf – when was the last time it was opened and used? For my client, half of the group was aware of its existence. The other half didn’t know there was an official policy. When new employees join the firm, make sure they know where to find the tools and information they need to do their job. Seasoned employees may not reference that material ever again, but a new employee will want to (and should) get acquainted with it.
    • It’s a daily practice. The manuals are not referenced because QA/QC is a daily practice – or should be. When I asked how many project managers followed the firm’s “plan” for QA/QC, I didn’t receive affirmatives or negatives as much as I received reasons for why it wasn’t followed: not enough time, not enough money in the budget, no one to assist. When I asked what they thought their clients would say if they were in the room with us and heard those responses, I saw many worried faces in the crowd.
    • And that’s the reality. Many firms talk about quality drawings, quality solutions, and the quality of their reports as a differentiator – or understand this is the basic condition to be in business today. But reserving time toward the end to do a worthy quality check is sadly omitted in the rush of a deadline. Is this a terrible thing? Fortunately, very few mistakes go out the door because you’re careful every day and you’re good at what you do. You don’t need a manual to instruct that. Even a simple plan isn’t going to be effective if we don’t have anyone else in the firm who can lend that second pair of eyes.

    It’s always good to clean out and update project management folders and files so everyone is using the same approach and at least understands the firm’s philosophy about projects. Trying to write an all encompassing QA/QC policy is one of those things that can rapidly get out of control and miss the original intention. Mistakes can happen with the best policies in place because we’re human.

    Having a written plan is one thing, practicing it is another because, time and budget aside, without available resources to help with quality control, that plan is rendered ineffective.

    Christine Brack, PMP, is a principal with ZweigWhite who specializes in business planning and project management best practices. Contact her at cbrack@zweigwhite.com.

    This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (ISSN 1068-1310), issue #1017, originally published 7/29/2013. Copyright© 2013, ZweigWhite. All rights reserved.

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