Passing the #PMP Exam: Tools & Techniques—Quality Knowledge Area


1. Introduction

In this next series of posts, we move onto step 5, which is memorizing the TOOLS & TECHNIQUES associated with each process. In order to breakdown the memorizing into more bite-size chunks, I am going to break down this topic into at least 9 posts, one for each knowledge area. (There may be some knowledge areas that require more than one post.)

This post covers chapter 8 of the PMBOK® Guide, which covers the Quality Knowledge Area. This knowledge area contains 3 processes, the first and last of which contain many tools & techniques.

2.  Tools & Techniques of Quality Knowledge Area

Here’s a description of the three processes that are included in the Quality Knowledge Area, together with a listing of the Tools & Techniques used in those processes.

Process

Name

Process Description Tools & Techniques
8.1 Plan

Quality

Identifying quality requirements and/or standards for the project and product; documenting how project will demonstrate compliance. 1.  Cost-benefit analysis

2.  Cost of quality

3.  Control charts

4.  Benchmarking

5.  Design of experiments

6.  Statistical sampling

7.  Flowcharting

8.  Proprietary quality management methodologies

9.  Additional quality planning tools

 

8.2 Perform

Quality

Assurance

Auditing quality requirements and results from quality control measurements to ensure appropriate quality standards are used. 1.  Plan Quality and Perform Quality Control tools and techniques

2.  Quality audits

3.  Process analysis

 

8.3 Perform

Quality Control

Monitors and records results of quality activities to assess performance and recommend necessary changes. 1.  Cause and effect diagrams

2.  Control charts

3.  Flowcharting

4.  Histogram

5.  Pareto chart

6.  Run chart

7.  Scatter diagram

8.  Statistical sampling

9.  Inspection

10.  Approved change requests review

 

 

Let’s take a look at the tools & techniques for the 3 processes 8.1 through 8.3 in the Quality Knowledge Area.

8.1 PLAN QUALITY (part of Planning Process Group)

8.1.1. Cost-benefit analysis

The cost-benefit analysis related to planning quality is a comparison of the costs of quality (determined in the next tool & technique 8.1.2 Cost of Quality) with the benefits of quality. For details, see the next paragraph.

8.1.2. Cost of quality (see diagram below)

There are costs of improving quality, either in prevention costs, such as improvement of the design or of the production process, or in appraisal costs, such as the assessing or measurement of quality through testing and/or inspections. These costs are collectively referred to as the cost of conformance.

However, an increase in these costs should create cost savings by the decrease in what are collectively referred to as the cost of nonconformance. These include costs of reworking or scrapping products that do not meet the company’s quality standards, and the costs associated with allowing poor quality products to get into the marketplace (warranty costs, product liability costs, and reduced customer satisfaction).

8.1.3. Control charts

Control charts are used to determine whether a process is stable and has predictable performance.

A control chart takes the planned or value of a certain process and graphs the actual value as measured by inspection of a randomly chosen sample of the product. There are certain upper and lower specification limits that are specified which, if the product goes above them or below them, means that the product is defective or out of specification.

In order to prevent the process from creating such out of specification products, you establish an upper and lower control limit which shows the maximum and minimum acceptable values the product can have without taking correct action.

Think of creating a stable process being analogous to driving your car down a lane of the highway. You want to go straight ahead. If you go off the road entirely and hit the guardrail, that is equivalent to being out of specification. So the edge of the road is the equivalent of the upper or lower specification limit.  To prevent your car from going off the road, you pay attention to the edge of the lane and try to stay in the middle. The edges of the lane act as a steering guide so that, if you remain within those edges, you are then in no danger of going off the road. These edges of the lane are equivalent in this analogy to the upper or lower control limits.

Let’s show an example of an actual control chart from a website http://www.pavementinteractive.org/article/control-charts/.

The planned value is 5.5% AC Content. The lower specification and upper specification limits are 5.0% and 6.0%, respectively. However, to prevent any of the lots measured from going over or under these limits, it might be useful to add an upper and lower control limit, let’s say at 5.2% for the lower and 5.8% for the higher. These limits are not shown above, but you can see where they would be on the graph above.

8.1.4. Benchmarking

If the new project you are working on is similar to projects your company or other companies have done in the past, you can utilize the best practices regarding quality from those projects and apply them analogously to your new project.

8.1.5. Design of experiments

This is a statistical process which identifies the various factors which influence the quality of a product. The point is that you not only show how each factor influences the quality, but you show how various combinations of these factors influences the quality.

The example that the PMBOK® Guide gives is automotive designers, who use the Design of Experiments or DOE technique to determine which combination of the factors of a) suspension and b) tires produces the most desirable ride characteristics at a reasonable cost.

8.1.6. Statistical sampling

This is planning for the inspection of the product as part of quality control. This technique helps answer the following practical question: How many samples need to be taken how frequently in order to give useful data about the quality of the product?

8.1.7. Flowcharting

This takes the various steps in the production process and diagrams them out using a flowchart. This helps plan which steps in the production process are likely to cause quality problems, so you know what to pay attention to when you do quality control.

8.1.8. Proprietary quality management methodologies

Especially for the application area of manufacturing, methodologies such as Six Sigma, Lean Six Sigma, etc., are used to improve quality on a project.

8.1.9. Additional quality planning tools

Many of these tools are used to help teams work together to help plan both the quality requirements and the management of quality activities. These tools & techniques are related as follows

No.

Name

Description

1. Brainstorming Coming up with a comprehensive set of ideas with respect to quality requirements as a group.
2. Nominal group

technique= Brainstorming + voting; after ideas are generated in the brainstorming session, the group then ranks or prioritizes the most useful ideas for further brainstorming. 3.Affinity diagrams= Brainstorming + mapping; large numbers of ideas are sorted to reveal logical groupings among them4.Force field analysisDiagrams of the forces for and against change within the organization.5.Matrix diagramsAffinity diagrams + matrix; logical groupings between large numbers of factors or causes are specified in a matrix which shows relationships between them 6.Prioritization

matricesMatrix diagram + priorization = factors and causes which are related as indicated in a matrix are prioritized as to importance

8.2 PERFORM QUALITY ASSURANCE (part of Executing Process Group)

8.2.1. Plan Quality and Perform Quality Control tools and techniques

The tools & techniques that are developed in 8.1 Plan Quality and 8.3 Perform Quality Control are gathered and reviewed to see that they conform to the quality standards set forth by the company. The emphasis here is not on the quality of the deliverables, but the quality processes themselves. These are reviewed through the next tool & technique 8.2.2 Quality audits.

8.2.2. Quality audits

A quality audit needs to identify the processes that are planned to be implemented, and see if they conform to the best practices of the organization and/or the industry and large.

The results of the audit can encompass suggestions for improvement to these processes, called a process improvement plan.

8.2.3. Process analysis

This tool & technique basically uses the analysis of processes (done through Flowcharting, tool & technique 8.1.7) to get to the root cause of any problems with the processes. This can be essential in creating a process improvement plan as part of the Quality audits mentioned in the previous paragraph.

8.3 PERFORM QUALITY CONTROL (part of Monitoring & Controlling Process Group)

8.3.1. Cause and effect diagrams

A cause and effect diagram, often called a Ishikawa diagram or fishbone diagram because of its shape, tries to graphically picture how various factors could be linked to potential problems or effects. (To remember the name Ishikawa, think of the fishbone diagram and then remember the nonsense name Fishikawa, and then take off the first letter.)

Here’s an example of a generic version of the Ishikawa diagram:

8.3.2. Control charts

The control charts mentioned as tool 8.1.3 under Plan Quality are used in actually showing whether the process is creating a product that is within specification. It is used as part of the Plan Quality process to set the a) planned value, b) upper and lower specification limit, and c) the upper and lower control limit. Here in the Perform Quality Control process, you compare the actual values obtained by inspection of random samples of the product to show whether action needs to be performed to analyze and improve quality. This would be triggered if the actual values are greater than or lower than the upper and lower control limit, respectively.

8.3.3. Flowcharting

The flowcharting mentioned as tool 8.1.7 in the Plan Quality Process analyzed the various processes by breaking them down in a sequential and logical fashion. If there are quality problems that are detected in the Monitor & Control phase of the project, then this flowchart can be used as a reference to pinpoint which particular process needs to nr improved.

8.3.4. Histogram

A histogram is the same as a bar chart which shows the various problems which occur on the horizontal axis and how frequently they occur on the vertical axis. This gives you over the lifetime of the project an historical analysis of what is the root cause of the most frequently occurring problems.

8.3.5. Pareto chart

The Pareto chart is the same as the histogram (tool & technique 8.3.4), but that histogram is now redone so that the various problems which are denoted on the horizontal axis are now depicted from the most-frequently occurring to the least-frequently occurring.

8.3.6. Run chart

This is the same as a control chart (tool & technique 8.3.2) but without the control limits listed. The purpose is to analyze trends and variations over time. Trend analysis takes the data points listed and tries to extrapolate the future outcomes based on them. Is the trend leading away from the planned value towards one of the control limits? The run chart and the trend analysis based on it will answer this important question.

8.3.7. Scatter diagram

If two factors or variables can occur during a process, one way to tell whether these factors are connected in any way is to do a scatter diagram, where the sequence of values of one factor is labeled on the horizontal axis, and the sequence of values of the other factor is labeled on the vertical axis. A mathematical technique called regression analysis can show whether these two factors or variables are linked. If the scatter diagram show that the points cluster around a diagonal line, then it is highly likely the variables are linked.

8.3.8. Statistical sampling

In the Plan Quality process, this tool & technique 8.1.6 is used to define how many samples need to be inspected and how often they need to be inspected in order to satisfy the quality standards. In this Perform Quality Control process, the samples are actually selected according to that plan. Then they are inspected, which is the next tool & technique listed below.

8.3.9. Inspection

Based on the statistical sampling indicated in the last tool & technique above, inspection is done. If there are samples which are beyond the control limits, or an analysis of previous inspections shows that there is a trend that leads away from the planned value towards one of the control limits, then this may lead to a change request to get the production process back on track towards the planned value.

8.3.10. Approved change requests review

If as a result of inspection changes are recommended, then this tool & technique is basically that of following through to verify that these changes were implemented as approved.

The next post will be on the Tools & Techniques associated with chapter 9 of the PMBOK® Guide dealing with the Human Resources Knowledge Area.

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