PRINCE2® Quality Assurance vs. Project Assurance
By Nader K. Rad
It’s usually difficult to really understand the difference between the two seemingly similar roles of Project Assurance and Quality Assurance in PRINCE2. So, let’s take a complete look at these two.
Who Manages Quality?
The Project Manager is responsible to make sure that adequate quality planning and quality control are done. These should follow sound processes and if there are guidelines defined in the organizational level, we should also follow them.
So, the project team set the quality processes and following that, plans the quality. This mean defining the quality criteria and targets. Then they control the quality, which means comparing the quality of the actual outputs with that of plans. If there are deviations, they should design preventive and corrective actions.
PRINCE2 explains its own path to quality, which helps understand what general quality activities should be done in the project. However, you always need to get help from specialist quality resources to make it completely practical.
Quality of What?
When PRINCE2 mentions “products”, it’s about both of the following product types:
Specialist products: parts of the final product of the project that will be used in operations after the project.
Management products: these products are not part of the final product, but are required to ensure that we will be able to create that final product. Plans and reports are examples of management products.
Quality management is what we do to ensure that the products are fit for purpose, and it includes both the specialist products and the management products. The second part might make it confusing for you, because in this sense, our project management is also the subject of quality management. To make it even more interesting, imagine that even the quality management itself is the subject of quality management!
Let’s take a look at an example: the PRINCE2 suggested Product Description for Project Brief (pages 253 and 254 of the official manual). There are six suggested quality criteria, such as: The project objectives are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound (SMART). This is one of the suggested criteria for examining the quality of the objectives mentioned in the Project Brief.
So, using criteria such as one above, we should also control the quality of the Project Brief, as we do for the building parts of the final product of the project (specialist products). The Purpose of PRINCE2 Quality Assurance
So, the Project Manager is responsible for planning and controlling quality, and also responsible for following the related organizational processes and guidelines. The Quality Assurance double checks from outside the project to make sure that everything is going OK, because quality is important for us.
There should be a department or person in the corporate or program level to take care of Quality Assurance responsibility from outside the project.
The PRINCE2 manual doesn’t explain the Quality Assurance activities, because they are outside the scope of the project, but mentions the general responsibilities as follows:
Checking that the project management team are planning and controlling the quality properly and adequately for the nature of the project.
Checking that relevant organizational standards and policies are followed in the project.
Remember that both the specialist products and the management products are the subject of quality management and Quality Assurance.
The Purpose of PRINCE2 Project Assurance
Manage by Exception is one of the PRINCE2 principles, where each management level delegates some authority to the lower level and the lower level is responsible to escalate issues if they pass a certain tolerance level. The Project Board, which is the highest authority level inside the project, delegates some authority to the project manager and expects her/him to escalate important issues. However, the board still needs some assurance that everything is going OK in the management level. If, for example, the project manager is using wrong measurement methods, s/he won’t be able to understand which issues are important to escalate them to the board. The role responsible for this, is called Project Assurance, which “monitors all aspects of the project’s performance and products independently of the Project Manager.”
Note that Project Assurance is the responsibility of the Project Board members. However, they can assign this responsibility to other individuals or groups, if they do not have enough time or expertise, as long as those people are independent of the Project Manager.
Here are some of the responsibilities of Project Assurance:
Checking the performance and products independent of the Project Manager
Ensuring that organizational standards and policies are followed in the project
Project Assurance should be involved in all the PRINCE processes.
The Similarities and Differences
To put it simple, both Quality Assurance and Project Assurance are about checking and auditing the project, and the main difference is that they are done in different levels.
The subject of Project Assurance is every aspect of the project, which is quite straightforward. We can put different Project Assurance activities in three main categories:
Business Assurance: which is mainly focused on the benefits and value, and consequently, risk, progress, and so on, and is the main concern of the Project Executive.
User Assurance: which is mainly focused on the usability and quality of the final product, and is the main concern of the Senior User(s).
Supplier Assurance or Specialist Assurance: which is mainly focused on achievability and quality of the final product and its technical processes, and is the main concern of the Senior Supplier(s).
The subject of Quality Assurance is quality. However, when the quality is considered for both specialist products and management products, and consequently, includes the management processes, it turns out an audit for almost the whole project management system. Therefore, the scopes of Quality Assurance and Project Assurance are almost the same.
The Project Managers also conduct their own assurance for the delivery of the products. It doesn’t have a specific name, but is included in many PRINCE2 processes. Therefore, we can see the following three levels of audit in a PRINCE2 project:
The difference between these types of audit, as shown in the above figure, is the level that conducts them. The Project Assurance is done in the “directing” level, by the Project Board, which will be inside the project. The Quality Assurance on the other hand, is conducted by the corporate or program level, which is outside the project organization.
The last difference is in the level of details. The audits done by the Project Manager are obviously very detailed, while the Project Assurance is high-level, and the Quality Assurance can be even more high-level.
PRINCE2 is based on Management by Exception principle, which encourages managers to delegate authority to their underlying organization. However, they still need to have their own audits to prevent negative surprises. The audit done by the corporate/program level is called Quality Assurance, and the audit done by the Project Board is called Project Assurance.