Time to drop quality from project management


OK! Now I’ve got your attention, I’m not really saying we should drop the idea of quality in project management, I’m just saying we should look at it in a different way.

Take the ‘triple constraint’ for example. Its creation is usually attributed to Dr. Martin Barnes and the basic idea is that you can’t have everything you want. An idea that can be traced back at least another 150 years to John Ruskin when he said “The common law of business balance prohibits paying a little and getting a lot – it can’t be done.”

The fact is that any project is a compromise between what you get, when you get it and how much you have to pay for it. Personally, I prefer the terms time, cost and scope because quality should be inherent in all aspects of a project – not something to be traded off against time and cost.

But this blog is not just about the third corner of a triangle, it’s something more fundamental than that.

Any P3M guide you pick up has a chapter on quality. Whether it be PRINCE2®, PMBoK® or any other ‘standard’, quality is dealt with as a function alongside time, cost, risk etc.

The one exception is ISO10006 which, ironically, is titled “Quality management systems – Guidelines for quality in project management” (two exceptions if you include www.praxisframework.org – but that owes its approach to the path set out by ISO10006).

So, the one standard that focuses primarily on quality is the one standard that does not have a chapter on quality. When you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Project management is about defining and producing outputs that are fit for purpose, i.e. it’s all about quality. Quality is not a separate function of project management – it is implicit in all functions.

‘Does this really matter?’ I hear you ask. I think it does because it influences the way we think. By making quality a separate function we mentally put it in a box, detached from managing time, cost, risk etc.

What we should really do is to put quality, in the forms of planning, control and assurance, at the heart of every function. That is the real route to achieving quality in project management.


  1. This topic is close to my heart given my career in quality management and risk management as well as project management. Here’s a blog I posted last month that is relevant.

    Risk, Quality, Value – surely it’s all about management?

    Back in 1998 I started working with a project management consultancy (PMProfessional) where I learned lots and made firm friends and colleagues – Peter Simon, David Hillson, Michel Thiry, Julia Johnson, Paul Naybour… to name just a few of from that era.

    One of the things that used to really bemuse (and sometimes frustrate) me was the rush for a specialism. I was introduced to risk specialists, and value specialists, and I was hailed to be a quality specialist. I never quite got it because for me managing risk and quality and value is just part of management (and doing this in a project context is just part of project management). But – I bowed to the trend and joined in with the intention of becoming a specialist in a few of the boxes that had been defined.

    I was reminded of this today as I was sitting on the train catching up with magazine from professional bodies of which I’m a member. I’m a Chartered Quality Professional and Member of the Institute of Risk Management.

    In Quality World (April 2014) there is much anticipation of ISO9001: 2015 which is going to have a much greater focus on risk-based quality, i.e. balancing risk and reward. Of course, for me, preventive action in ISO9001: 2008 is all about risk analysis and management (what risks to quality exists and how will we managed them), but a yet greater integration of risk with quality is good.

    In RMProfessional (Spring 2014), there is a great article that continues a theme I’ve pursued for some time about integrating risk thinking with normal managerial decision-making, but this article goes further to suggest better integration of risk with management systems, such as ISO9001: 2015.

    Hurray! I’ve decided that I’ll never beat the separation of these disciplines – the market to ‘professionalise’ them is too great – and there is much good done by these professional bodies. But I’ll keep on pushing that for me, it’s about management and sensible integration of a few basis ideas about achieving objectives and keeping variation in achieving them inside tolerable limits.

  2. Ruth

    Thanks for spending the time to stop and post..you list of names made me smile. I must have missed the specialism bit unless it was the infrastructure projects label. We must catch up soon.



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