Project quality and product quality are different things, but they are inextricably linked—or they should be. It is possible for a project to seem successful and deliver the anticipated result, only to find out later the product is not what was expected.

Projects are measured on how well they meet the objectives envisioned by the project sponsor. In other words, did the project deliver the expected results? Sometimes, those results are not achievable within other constraints, such as available money, talent and time.

A variety project metrics can inform us of the quality and veracity of the project management function. This collection of metrics is known as earned value management. They include:

Schedule performance index—the ratio of actual schedule performance to planned schedule performance.

Schedule variance—the difference between the amount of work accomplished to date and the amount of work that has yet to be accomplished.

Cost performance index—the ratio of the actual cost to date to the planned cost at that date.

Cost variance—the difference between the planned cost and the actual cost.

A fifth metric is scope, which is simply the list of those things the project is expected to achieve.

Project management activities can have a significant effect on product quality. During the planning stage, the project manager, working within the team, will evoke all activities required to meet the project objectives. This decomposition is known as the work breakdown structure for the project. It identifies all the steps required to deliver the product, including the quality activities to be undertaken.

This will, in turn, help derive key quality metrics for the project, such as cost and schedule, and for the product, such as cost and performance. This is part of project planning and will form the core from which the project manager and team will report and exert some measure of control to adapt either the work or the plan to the situation as presented. Poor project planning in this regard can result in overlooking quality assurance activities and poor measurement of key product areas, both of which lead to poor product quality.

There are many things we can do to ensure product quality, and they start well before the product is designed, prototypes are assembled, and full-scale production begins. For manufacturing, we will undertake reviews of design documentation, assembly line setup, control plans, material handling, work instructions, process failure mode effects analysis, and testing regimens. We may perform a run-at-rate test for the product. That is, we may run the assembly line at the projected rate of production for a short period of time to stress the line. The product that comes from this small production run won’t be wasted. It can be used as test specimens for process validation testing. All these activities should tell us a lot about the product, especially its potential quality.

Both project management and product development activities are required to deliver a quality product. It is possible for a well-run project to produce a failed product. So, too, is the converse. Even a blind squirrel finds a nut now and then. For the best chance of success, both project management and product development must be well done.