Application of Philip Crosby's Methods in Project Management

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This article gives insight into why many organizations fail in implementing corrective measures which require only plain common sense for their solutions.

Most organizations fail to progress on the quality front just because they are unable to prevent problems from happening even when the recurring problems are not alien to them. As a result, they end up with missed deadlines and dissatisfied customers and employees.

An insight into why many organizations fail in implementing corrective measures which require only plain common sense for their solutions.

Most organizations fail to progress on the quality front just because they are unable to prevent problems from happening even when the recurring problems are not alien to them. As a result, they end up with missed deadlines and dissatisfied customers and employees.

An analysis of the causes leading to ineffective corrective actions help us to arrive at the following conclusions:

No Defined Procedures:
Even if we as managers, team members and entrepreneurs wonder why the team is committing the same mistakes again and again, we seldom take proactive steps to improve. We have even tried in vain to introduce a system for rewarding those who commit new mistakes unlike those committed in the past. The process for an effective preventive action should cover the following points:

  • Identification of perceived risks during project management reviews
  • The non-conformities reported in non-conformance reports or audits, defect logs or testing, review reports and customer complaints. Most of the customer complaints are not recorded. If we are willing to listen, these can be heard in client meetings.
  • Experiences from the past—experiences of other teams, locations who were on similar tasks, post-mortem reports of completed projects and lessons learnt from reports.

Another point to be addressed is the onus of the preventive actions. Ideally, it can be the team who is directly involved in the operation where the error has to be prevented. However, in some cases it is better to have one-man teams. If the organizational climate is right it will be a good idea if the non-conformity is published and invite volunteers for preventive actions.

When can the preventive action be called effective? Will it be effective, if non-conformance is prevented in one project? Or when it is prevented in all projects in the same location? Or when it is prevented in all projects at all locations? It is advisable to test the preventive action in one project before implementing it at on a broader scale.

Philip B Crosby's five-step methodology can be effectively deployed for implementing preventive actions. The five steps comprise:

  • Defining the problem
  • Applying a fix to the problem
  • Identifying the root causes
  • Implementing preventive action
  • Evaluating and follow-up activities

Lack Of Monitoring And Measurement:
Even if as part of a methodology, evaluation and follow-up methods are defined, it is advisable to include monitoring of preventive actions during:

  • Review of project plans to ensure that all preventive actions taken in the past and currently in progress are included either in the risk management section or operational processes of the project plans.
  • Review of the quality management system to ensure that the proofed and time-tested preventive actions are institutionalized by incorporating them into the QMS of the organization.
  • Internal and external audits.
  • Project management reviews.

Lack Of Recognition:
This appears to be the simplest as well as the most complicated factor. The challenge lies in bringing in a system to identify the best contributions. In a highly matured organization, selection by peers can be adopted. However, this can lead to negative results if the team is not matured and different factors such as informal groups and formal groups can influence the selection. The other alternatives are to have a panel of external judges or to have an internal panel with credibility.

Not Part Of Handover/Takeover Procedures:
Especially in industries where the rate of employee turnover is high or the frequency of job rotation is high, the onus of preventive action may shift along with the person responsible for the area of operation. This would make it difficult for the person to proceed with the preventive action project. Most quality improvement initiatives fail due to this problem. This can be reduced to a large extent by laying out a careful process which involves the handing over the charge of preventive action to the successor in a formal manner.

No Performance Standardsn:
In a competitive scenario where switching jobs is not an exception, the growth path of employees within the same organization is very narrow. However, there are a lot of exceptions and they are growing within the organization due to lesser competition. Apart from recognition, setting of performance standards like 'at least one preventive action during the appraisal period to become eligible for promotion or exemplary performance' will have a positive impact.

Lack Of Knowledge:
Nobody generally takes initiatives in areas where they lack knowledge. Constant training on methodology and sharing experiences are the only way out. There are no short cuts. These can be part of the induction programs organized for new comers. Periodic refresher courses will help the team keep abreast with the latest developments.

Lack Of Communication:
It is often found in many cases the enthusiasm evaporates before the preventive action reaches some meaningful stage. This results in lack of communication or ineffective communication across the team. The people responsible for communicating lives under the impression that every thing is fine and every body knows what is happening. Reality may be entirely different. Only the people directly involved in defining preventive action will know the facts while those who are supposed to carry out the task may be ignorant about the developments.

While designing the channels for communication, care must be taken to ensure that they are effective. We can’t presume that the message has reached everyone, just by putting the matter on the notice board or by issuing a circular. Seminars and workshops can be better options. Effective communication can generate the awareness required to drive the whole movement forward.

A Case where the application of the Crosby's methods helped

Problem Definition:

  • During the acceptance testing of a module, 65 defects were reported by the client which resulted in customer dissatisfaction, employee dissatisfaction and rework.
  • Average rework time per program unit is one hour.

Root Causes Identified:

  • Lack of experience among team members.
  • No performance standards available for coders and testers.
  • Lack of awareness of zero defects and price of non-conformance.
  • Tight schedule
  • Lack of recognition.
  • Lack of communication.

Preventive Actions:

  • Training on development tool. It could be 16 hours of theory and 25 hours of hands on.
  • Training on software testing for 10 hours.
  • Certification for coders and testers.
  • Performance standards for coders and testers were set and communicated which was zero defect during unit testing for coders and zero undetected errors for testers.
  • Peer reviews and peer testing were introduced.
  • Introduction to zero defects and price of non-conformance were given to the team for two hours.
  • Function point was used for estimation and the schedules were proofed.
  • 'Best performer' award was introduced.
  • 'Lessons learnt' reports were introduced and were made a part of the induction programs.
  • Institutionalizing the process by publishing it in the Process Improvement Procedures Manual (PIPM) and making it mandatory.


  • Reduction of rework time from one hour per unit to 15 minutes per unit.
  • Better exposure to team.
  • Job satisfaction.
  • Savings to the tune of 13% of the projected profit.

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