How to effectively manage the quality of projects without an independent QA department

Quality is not an act, it is a habit. – Aristotle


uality has become a great topic of interest within the project management community and is considered one of the most important objectives set by senior managers.
In large organizations, the Quality Assurance (QA) department is often established to conduct quality assurance activities for projects.
QA activities are designed to guarantee the consistence of process implementation and thus, eliminate defects caused by the personal skills and capability limitation.
However, in fact, to small companies with the size from 20 to 100 staffs, it is considered a cost ineffectiveness to establish and operate an independent QA department. So how could they guarantee for the quality?
Additionally, the ineffectiveness of QA operation has been seen at many large organizations due to the resistance of the project teams. Could QA function be embedded in the project management function?
The answer is yes, it could.
Actually, the non-QA model has been deployed for years and successful to some extent. In the Agile Scrum environment, there is no QA role. It is not to say that QA function is taken away from projects or QA is no longer helpful.
Instead, there is a shift of QA tasks from QA specialists to the project team itself. In this structure, everyone is accountable and quality is everyone’s responsibility.
Process audit may not be conducted formally as it is in traditional model, it is expected to be done daily by observation method.
For example, a member could log non-conformity (NC) if he/she observes that someone does not update timesheet or work status as planned. In terms of product quality assurance, this part could be done through peer review to verify work products as project progresses while the whole team will conduct the testing for the final product. When an incident is detected, everyone gathers together to analyze the root causes and how it can be avoided in the future. The analysis will be done even better by project team than by QA team.
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As a result, the capability and quality-oriented mindset of staffs will be gradually improved, leading the permanent improvement in the organization’s maturity.
It is proven to deliver much higher quality in Agile Scrum environment. This practice has resolved many problems faced by an external QA team.
For example, a QA is often challenged when auditing and verifying processes and work products of the project as they do not understand the system enough to test its functions as well as its specification documents. No one could better understand the product than the project team itself.
The second is that when the team conducts QA activities, there will be no more resistance for auditing. Because it is an internal audit, the audit result would only be used to eliminate the potential defects and then help them save effort for corrective action.
In traditional software development environments like Waterfall, this model is more difficult to implement but it is still possible.
Team members are still responsible for the quality but it often requires to have a role to manage quality activities as all project requirements are expected to be implemented and verified concurrently.
In the project structure, project manager is the best for that role with a good understanding of the system and qualified management skill as well.

Quality assurance is considered a part of project work and will be planned, assigned for team members and monitored against the project management plan as other activities. Practically, this work should be done by senior members of the project, along with the project manager, to track for the conformity and verify the project output.
This practice leads to better result of QA activities thanks to qualified human resource. It also contributes to building a quality-oriented culture throughout the organization, not just limit within QA department.
However, there are some critical factors of this practice that need to be taken into consideration to work effectively.
Firstly, it is clear that this model will add more work and stress to project managers’ work. Thus, in order to successfully implement non-QA project structure, it is recommended for the organization to adjust and balance workload for project managers.
Secondly, the project manager or any member who assigned to plays the role of QA should also get sufficient training on the quality aspect to ensure they fully understand QA concepts, methods, procedures and techniques as well.
Last but not least, a clear expectation of quality management responsibilities with reward and punishment discipline for the team to follow will surely play an important role in assuring the quality without establishing an independent QA department.


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