Project Emergency: Handling a Quality Control Failure

Initiatives that include any sort of testing or quality control component—it could be anything from developing a new software platform to the manufacture of airplane parts—run the risk of encountering a project emergency or situation where something fails a QC check or doesn’t pass some other mid-project inspection. An unexpected and large-scale bug may be discovered by a software program’s beta testers, for example, or a structural component for an airframe might fizzle during a routine stress test. Not only do these critical-level issues get the project team’s alarm bells ringing in the short term, they can also set off a wave of ripple effects that extend far down the project’s schedule and activities list.

Project Emergency

Before your team members and stakeholders are overtaken by a frenzy of fear and a scramble to fix the problem, it’s important to keep a few key strategies in mind to ensure you’re able to recover and continue driving your project toward a successful completion.

Begin by stepping back and assessing the facts of the problem. An atmosphere of panic often triggers poor decisions, so refrain from immediately jumping into action. Instead, assemble the necessary team members and evaluate the situation objectively. What happened? What portions of the project does the failure entail? It’s equally important to know which project activities do nothinge on a successful test, so that resources aren’t inadvertently pulled away from those tasks as the team works to resolve the issue.

Then identify the immediate next steps that should be takento ensure everyone is on the same page.With a thorough understanding of the reality of the situation, the project team can determine where to go from here. Is there a deadline for the next round of testing? Are there regulatory documents that must be submitted before activities can proceed? Wasting time at this stage will only add to the group’s anxiety later, so don’t delay in moving forward once you know what needs to be done.

Now it’s time to evaluate the downstream impacts. Looking further down the project tasks list, the team needs to figure out if there are tasks that should be added, postponed, or cancelled entirely. It’s likely a new phase of activities will need to be incorporated, including implementing a solution and then conducting a second round of testing to confirm the problem has been fixed. Other activities that are already on the schedule might need to be delayed until after the failure is addressed and subsequent tests are successful.

As soon as is practical, begin rescheduling these remaining tasks. Resequencing activities can be an intricate endeavor which becomes more complicated when both internal and outside labor must be rescheduled. Look at the rest of the organization’s project portfolio to see how resource demands can be reworked and where other initiatives might also be affected. Because external support is often the most difficult to schedule, consider if the original itinerary for outside vendors can be reworked in a way that maintains the same time windows but applies the labor to different areas of the project or to other efforts in the broader portfolio.

During the project post-mortem, pay close attention to the factors that surrounded the failure. Are there steps the team can take next time to either help avoid a repeat of the problem or to be in a better position to deal with these types of unexpected outcomes? Look for early signs that indicated things were going off track. There may be opportunities in future projects to implement additional quality control and monitoring activities that will help to consistently pass these mid-project inspections.


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