project stakeholder management

Article - How to Explain Quality to Your Project Stakeholders?


There comes a time in a life of a project manager when he (or she) has to sit down with his stakeholders – who are not necessarily well-versed in the art of project management – and discuss the touchy subject of the future product’s quality.


Correct me if I am wrong, but usually they happen in the following fashion:

PM: (sighing heavily) OK, we have discussed the budget and the duration of the project. Let us now talk about your expectations about the quality …

S: Oh, only the best of the best would work for us!

PM: (sighing even more heavily) But you see, we have a fairly moderate budget and an aggressive timeline. Some flexibility with quality would most definitely be welcome …

S: You don’t understand! At this company we don’t just settle for mediocre products or services. Look! It is in our mission statement!

In my humble opinion the root cause of this problem is that in the untrained minds of the stakeholders there are only two options for quality: good and bad (e.g. fixed or broken, working or not working, etc.). In reality, however quality can be described as:

  • Basic - Something simple and cheap that will do the job required
  • Premium - Something a bit more sophisticated that will do the job, but will also provide additional attributes.
  • Luxury - Something very sophisticated that will not only do the job required, but will also provide a multitude of additional options.

If this description seems vague or ambiguous, let us use another example:

  • Honda Civic – Basic, but very reliable car that is guaranteed to get you from point A to point B. Cheaper and requires only basic maintenance.
  • Lexus – Also a very reliable car. Also will get you from point A to point B. Has some cool gadgets and widgets that will make any owner happy.
  • Ferrari – Very expensive vehicle. Looks amazing and costs a lot of money. Has a plethora of cool features. Maintenance will cost you an arm and a leg.

What is the conclusion of this story? When talking to customers, don’t ask them whether Feature A should be of “low” or “high” quality. Instead ask them:

If this feature was a car, what model would you pick: a Honda Civic, a Lexus or a Ferrari?