Who minds the quality of research?
All too often research projects are falling short on quality, writes Terry Pilcher of BCS Management Services. Here he explains how project quality management by independent reviewers can provide a solution.
Research is vital to the future of UK construction, driving innovation and business success and growth, both in UK and overseas markets. But in today’s cost-conscious business environment it is more important than ever that precious investment produces the best quality research. If all project tasks are undertaken well and defined during the early stages of the project then there would be no reason to have an outside focus on quality. Sadly, however, this is all too often not the case.
Experience shows that projects need considerable resources devoted to continually monitor their progress. However, nearly all sectors exist in a changing environment with new challenges, staff changes, loss and change of partners as well as unrealistic project specifications and estimates.
Independent, external project quality management (PQM) teams can design and execute a thorough project quality plan through involvement at the early project design stage. This enables interaction with all stakeholders in order to achieve a successful project outcome through constructive and objective recommendations during every phase of the project.
What types of project are most suitable?
Although most projects would benefit from this approach it is particularly relevant to ‘development’ projects, where the exploration of the unknown is the order of the day. It also lends itself to transnational projects involving different partners with a variety of cultural and technical backgrounds.
A good example of how this was a successful European funded Leonardo project aimed at benchmarking ‘corporate universities’. Interviews needed to be undertaken in all of the five member states involved. The project covered specific pre-defined areas and needed to keep to a strict timescale in order to populate a central database. The PQM team was part of the initial project meetings, which included training on the database itself. The team then set up a quality control system for the interviews and monitored this throughout the project, keeping participants on target both in terms of time and areas covered. This lateral vision against defined targets helped the project keep to commitment and satisfy the European Commission’s auditors when they came to review the project.
How to choose an independent PQM team
- Transparency: The quality team should be willing to be exposed to all phases of the project, to enable it to fully understand the project’s dynamics and objectives.
- Ownership: External people able to understand the issues should be engaged as members of the quality team, but the team should certainly not include people who could compete with the work package leaders as subject matter experts. It is advisable to select members who are able to take enough distance and have enough diplomacy to convince the work package leaders to build their own quality plan and own it.
- Confidentiality: It might be advisable to draw up a confidentiality agreement with the quality team.
- Sharing: There should be a preliminary briefing of the partners or work package leaders to ensure that the same definitions and same visions are shared.
- Standards: For good communications, templates and/or agreed standard formats are absolutely essential. Make sure that the quality team provides the right balance between imposing formats and welcoming a variety of inputs.
- Experience: The quality team should be able to show broad experience in this type of work with case studies showing where the method has been applied.
Suggested benefits of independent PQM are:
- Questioning initial specifications and estimates at the outset
- Enhancing the focus and ensuring a constant outside presence, whatever the circumstances
- Providing an independent look by a neutral party
- Giving an opportunity to consult with an outside party on areas of confidentiality
- Providing a reminder to review progress in a systematic way
- Delivering a record of progress against key performance indicators and targets
- Providing material on the quality of a project for the funding authority, both internal and external
- Adding high value due to its leverage for a small share of the project cost.
Terry Pilcher is a partner at BCS Management Services and a specialist in management best practice, benchmarking, customer service, knowledge management, etc. Log on to http://www.mindnew.com/pqm.html to find out more about external project quality management