Six Sigma
Last Word


Performance Improvement
H. James Harrington

Project Management

It's a more important tool than Six Sigma.

As I bounced along on a plane from Rochester to Chicago, I jotted down a baker's dozen of the top performance improvement items. They are listed in order of importance in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Top 13 Performance Improvement Items


1. Top management involvement

2. Balanced scorecard

3. Supplier qualification

4. Strategic planning

5. Customer needs analysis

6. Employee involvement

7. Project management

8. Business process improvement

9. Knowledge management

10. Concurrent engineering

11. Employee training

12. Empowerment

13. SPC (Six Sigma)

 A: The different elements in project management technology are project integration management, project scope management, project time management, project cost management, project quality management, project human resources management, project communications management, project risk management and project procurement management.

 In reviewing the list, I was surprised to see that I'd listed "project management" as only the seventh most important item. Based upon this, I made a quick review of the American Society for Quality's Quality Press books and quality training classes. I was amazed at the lack of quality focus on this critical tool. The one bright spot is that the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has recognized the importance of project management and has issued the publication ISO/SC-10006, titled "Guidelines to Quality in Project Management." This document was prepared by a subcommittee of technical committee 176, of which I was once a member. This little-known and little-used document provides the quality practitioner with most of the basic elements that should be used to manage a project, but it falls far short of providing the type of direction that's required to successfully implement a major quality improvement project. Take a minute to see if you can list the nine major headings that are needed to manage a project. The answers are printed at the end of this column.

 Total quality management has fallen out of favor, and Six Sigma is slowly dying. It's my firm belief that the high failure rate of quality initiatives is largely due to the following three problems:

 They have resulted in little overall performance improvement as measured by the bottom line (return on investment, value added per employee, customer satisfaction and profit).

 They have been implemented without an effective project management system to ensure their success, causing gross overruns in cost and schedule as well as a failure to meet promised performance levels.

  They haven't used an effective organizational change management methodology to bring about the desired behavioral changes in the people who have to live with the new processes.


 In most cases, we've treated the quality improvement initiative very poorly. Few quality initiatives have truly looked at all of the potential design combinations to select the right improvement initiatives, and even fewer have established the discipline to ensure that the quality improvement initiatives were managed as official projects by trained certified project managers. In most cases the basic requirements of a good project plan were never developed. The following key elements are typical of those missing from the project plan:

 Work breakdown structure

  Work packages

 Time-scheduled network diagrams

 Responsibility-assignment matrix

 Risk analysis and quantification

 Earned value analysis

 Project integration management plans

 Resource costing

  Project change management


 In most companies, little effort is invested in the company's quality initiatives. We've often missed the very basics (e.g., project charter documents and scope statements). The project charter communicates that the project is formally recognized by top management. It should include business needs and a description of the required results and be issued by a manager external to the project at a level that can approve the use of the required resources.

 A scope statement should include project justification, project description, project deliverables and project objectives.

 All too often quality professionals are so glad to get a quality initiative started that they settle for management's approval without the supporting budget. We expect other departments to participate, train their people and attend meetings without giving them a number to charge their time to. If this is the case in your organization, your management team is not committed to quality, which is obvious because they're not willing to invest in it. Can you imagine your organization implementing a new SAP software package without approving an additional budget?

 It's time that we start managing our quality projects in a professional manner. Our quality champions need to be trained in project management.


About the author

 H. James Harrington is CEO of Systemcorp, an Internet-software development company. He was formerly a principal at Ernst & Young, where he served as an international quality adviser. E-mail him at jharrington@qualitydigest.com .

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