Project Practitioners > Human Quality Considerations

Human Quality Considerations

By Ann Drinkwater

In our personal lives, we review reports and conduct research to determine product quality, durability and other measures. For professional services, such as medical care, we ensure our providers have the necessary credentials and experience. We also know that quality is important in our professional lives, but seem to be more willing to make substitutions when it comes to acquiring human resources to fulfill our projects. Would you want someone without the necessary credentials and experience performing a high-risk medical procedure?  The same thoroughness and requirements should be applied to our projects and organizations. Quality requirements and outcomes should be planned for up front in the way of human expertise. Planning for and determining your acceptable quality will help to determine the level of resources you should acquire. Quality starts at project initiation and ensures that the goals, scope, roles and responsibilities are clear, accurate, realistic, obtainable and measurable. This early stage planning will provide information into what skills are needed for the project. Quality should not be a solo phase, but integrated into each decision and each action. Quality is near and dear to my heart and the topic encompasses every action we take. However, for the purposes of this column, I am going to focus on quality as it relates to human resources. Here are some considerations:

  1. Analyze the Depth of Scope: What is the intended use of the project or product you are developing?  Will it have a limited life, or is it expected to support your entire enterprise for 5-8 years?  Even with limited current use, this doesn’t mean the functionality will not be expanded and pushed to the limit.  Do not expect the system or project to only be used as you were originally led to believe. If something provides value, others will use it and it will be used in ways not originally planned. This usage will prompt the request to expand.  Answering the length and most probable use questions will help determine the experience levels of the resources needed and the approach that should be employed. This does not mean that you should not employ sound quality assurance on short term, less complex tasks. What is means is the approach and depth of experience may differ depending on the type of task. Developing a short-term product with a budget of $10K versus one that will run your business for years to come with a multi-million dollar budget requires different approaches, skill sets and overall thoroughness.
  2. Assess Your Team’s Capabilities:  You probably have a good idea of where you stand in relation to where you need to be, but if in doubt and if you want to quantify your understanding, you can have your team undergo industry exams. There are testing organizations available where you can test on nearly every topic imaginable. This might be a good benchmark activity, or even as a baseline before you undergo training and development programs.
  3. Create Multi-Faceted Resource Base: Create multiple levels and layers of education and experience. When hiring resources, look for gaps in existing skills and abilities, and plan to train to fill these gaps. Pairing less seasoned resources with more senior resources will help grow and develop your workforce. Do not rely on your team to determine what skills are needed. We often don’t know what we don’t know. Maintain a close working relationship with your team, where your industry is going and what skills are needed to support industry and organizational changes.
  4. Assign Resources Based on Scope: Assign the appropriate level person to the appropriate task. Just because a resource is available, does not mean he/she is the best fit for the task at hand. Carefully review the scope of the task and the expected outcome before assigning a resource. Is this task not only intended to support an immediate business need, but should be built in such a way that it will sustain future growth?  In this case, the architecture, scalability, portability and modularity will drive the level of resources needed.
  5. Align Projects & Resources to Organizational Goals & Strategy:  This is imperative of all projects we perform. By clearly understanding your project portfolio for the next 18-36 months, you can better determine the skills, abilities and resources needed to support these initiatives. You can better plan the steps needed to prepare for these endeavors and to maintain a high performing team.
  6. Remind Yourself; You Get What You Pay For: Be realistic in what you expect from your resources. Building a multi-layered team, takes time to plan and lead. You need to be willing to invest the time necessary to build a team for today’s challenges and one that can support tomorrow’s challenges. This does not happen overnight and requires a sound strategy and commitment to taking the steps to ensure you have the right resources in the right places and have plans in place to retain and grow these resources.

Improperly aligning and assigning skills, experience and background to tasks can result in both short and long-term quality issues. In today’s complex business environment, we are constantly layering technologies and functionality. The steps above are only the high level, initial stages of what you may consider. There are many facets and variables. If you want to do things right the first time, these steps, along with many other details should be carefully planned. Even greater scrutiny should be performed when using external resources and organizations.

When contracting with external organizations for services, carefully review their approach, the credentials and direct experience of those assigned to your project and their delivery record of accomplishment. While past performance does not always determine future success, it can be very telling. Ask tough questions and ensure the solution they are providing will not only support your immediate needs, but will be designed for growth and change. 

Your people are your most valuable asset. Make sure you have the right resources, applied to the right projects for a quality outcome.  Below are some additional articles I have published on Project Connections related to outsourcing and areas to look for when selecting external resources:  

Empowered Outsourcing:
Show Me the Reports:

 ~Ann E. Drinkwater


Related Links
Our guideline on assigning project resources helps you match needed skills against required work. Once you know who's doing what, our Team Roles and Responsibilities List can help make sure everyone else knows, too. If you're considering a skills inventory, our Project Manager Development Profile shows one example of how even "soft skills" can be tracked and understood at a department level.

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