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Plan Projects the Right Way: Create a Detailed Spec List

written by: Amanda Dcosta • edited by: Jean Scheid • updated: 6/30/2011

With every product that is created and launched, a quality planning checklist has to be outlined. This list will be based on an organization's understanding of quality. Here, we highlight the main points necessary for your spec list and its impact upon customer satisfaction.

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    What is Quality?


    Quality is the condition of a product or service to have a status of zero defects. While quality was not a variable in the management processes prior to the twentieth century, more businesses have come to realize the lack of defects can create quality. With quality, a business can have a standing in the corporate world, generate more returns and also cut down drastically on rework, repair or replacement of a product.

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    Two Main Concepts

    In order to create a quality planning checklist, one needs a basic understanding of what is needed for the checklist and why it has to be established. This will depend largely on the Quality Assurance Plan. With the advancement of management principles to control business operations and projects, two concepts in the field of quality management emerged. They are:

    • Zero Defects
    • Continuous Improvement Process

    Zero Defects - With zero defects, there can be no room for mistakes. In other words, defects will not be tolerated. During the planning phase of the project or operation, quality standards and parameters are laid down. Detailed specifications as per customer requirements are planned out in advance. Based on these specifications, continuous inspections are carried out until a level of zero defects is reached. Inspections are carried out during the Implementation and control phases of a project.

    Continuous Improvement Process - Products and services required today may not be in demand tomorrow. Based on this fact, a quality concept of improving a product or service continually as per the demand of the day came into existence. It follows the pattern of the PDCA Cycle (Plan - Do - Check - Act). Here, the quality specifications are planned in advance, the operation or project is implemented, inspections are carried out for quality assessment and accordingly, the necessary changes are made until zero defects per customer requirements are met.

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    Checklist for Success

    Now that an understanding of the quality philosophy is established, it is necessary to outline a checklist that will help in following the continuous improvement process to ensure zero defects.

    (Please note that the reference to 'customer' is one or many individuals with a specific demand)

    1. Customer requirements: When it comes to quality planning, the customer and customer requirements tops the list. Therefore, it is inevitable that a business knows exactly who the customers are and what they want. How long will this product / service be in demand? How useful will it be to the customer? Is the business able to reach customer required specifications? Once answers to these questions are met, they can be marked as completed on the checklist. This should be in compliance with the scope of the project or business operations. Only then can you proceed to the next step.

    2. Customer positioning: The specifications for a product or service are understood by the time this phase is reached. The next point will be to determine whether the customer is to be retained or relieved from a business deal. If the customer is retained, will the customer base expand or decrease? What is the volume of customers you will be catering to?

    3. Forecasting: Forecasting the durability, efficiency and life of a product is very important. Based on what the requirement is, financial feedback and advice will play an important part. This part of the checklist is to assess the scope and the customer base to determine how much it will cost the company. This will encompass features such as demographic distribution, current economy rating, existing technology, etc. The time factor too plays a part in forecasting the cost to company.

    4. Gap Analysis: The current state and the future state of the organization will have to be understood in relation to quality expectations. Will the quality expectations be too high so more time is needed? Will resources and funds slow down the operations of other business objectives? Identifying gaps between project quality demands and business operations is part of the checklist.

    5. Gap Closure: Once the gaps are identified, it is necessary to close these gaps so there is a balance in the business operations which includes all projects as well. These gaps can be closed only by setting goals and responsibilities. Goals and responsibilities are outlined by all stakeholders together, as stakeholders have a vested interest in the project. This will form the area of Quality Management. There are many processes that fall under this step as sub-sections in the checklist. Some of the processes are to evaluate:

    • Software tools
    • Software product review
    • Requirements analysis
    • Design process
    • Integration testing
    • Acceptance testing
    • Corrective actions
    • Storage and handling
    • Configuration management
    • Risk management
    • Configuration audits

    A main part of the checklist under this step will involve strategic human resource intervention to aid in:

    • On the job training
    • Hire individuals who are trained and experienced, and have strong leadership skills
    • Create an atmosphere of harmony between team members and top-level management
    • Create proper channels for communication

    6. Alignment: All the above steps are part of the planning phase. These steps, once they are ready to be implemented have to be in alignment with the scope and mission of the project. While the steps are meant to be from A to B at the start, they may ultimately divert as A to C. Therefore, it is important to double check all specifications, goals and responsibilities are in alignment with the scope of the project, for this is what the customer requires.

    7. Implementation & Control: While implementation and control are not technically part of planning, planning and assessing of quality standards are ongoing processes. With the concept of the PDCA Cycle and process of continuous audits, the quality planning checklist is almost complete. The checklist ends once specifications are met and a status of zero defects is attained. Until then it will be a cycle of planning and actions.

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    Image Credit: Author, Amanda Dcosta