LinkedIn: Our Top Tips for Purposeful Quality Management

The SUCSESS project team of Sheffield Hallam University wrote about their work as part of the quality management of an Erasmus+ project .
(The story was published 5 January 2022 in LinkedIn by Dr Natalie Haynes, Principal Lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University):

"The SUCSESS Project – Our Top Tips for Purposeful Quality Management

Quality management is a central element of completing a successful ERASMUS+ project. It’s vital for both the smooth running of the project on a day-to-day basis but also helps guarantee that the project delivers on its aims and leaves a lasting, beneficial legacy for the target audience of the project. An ERASMUS+ project will typically require a dedicated team to manage quality and therefore a significant amount of time and financial resources from the project budget is allocated to this function. Given this investment, it is important that project quality management teams understand how to get the most out of their role. Based on evaluating and reflecting on our own personal experiences of managing the quality for an ERASMUS+ project entitled “SUCCESS - Strengthening university-enterprise cooperation in South Africa to support regional development by enhancing lifelong learning skills, social innovation and inclusivity”, here are our top tips!


Quality requires involvement – Quality management should be at the heart of the project and quality must be assessed in all project areas. It is not a tertiary activity that can be left to the last minute. Start early by formulating a project quality plan that is reviewed and agreed by all project partners. Involving people in how quality will be managed gains their buy-in and demonstrates the importance of quality right from the start of the project. Set up a quality board with members from each of the project partners. Encourage work package teams to engage with self-evaluation of their own activities within the project and feed their findings back into the quality review process. Get everybody involved!!


Define your role – This can sometimes be one of the greatest challenges for the quality management team. We often debated whether we would be a neutral observer in project activities or whether we should be active participants. We concluded that there is no set right answer to this question but that making your role clear for each part of the project is important. If you’re observing – tell people! If you are going to take an active part in planning or other activities – tell people! Say, “today I’m taking my quality hat off and making a contribution from a participants viewpoint!” Whatever role you play you must outline your remit in the initial quality plan.


Engage with the right techniques at the right time – Understand and implement the differences between quality assurance and quality control. Your role is to do both, but you may need to change between them at different stages of the project and sometimes you will even find yourself doing quality assurance and control at the same time. You need to exercise the skills of knowing when to zoom in and look at the granular detail and when to take more of a helicopter view of the overall progress of the project. A good rule of thumb for thinking about this is that quality assurance should be focused on improving processes that are targeted at the whole project whereas quality control should be focused on more specific outputs and targeted at production activities. Quality control activities should sit within an overall approach of quality assurance.


Get creative – One of the key activities you will find yourself doing often is gathering feedback on project activities from participants. Often participants are involved with multiple activities through the life of the project and therefore will be asked for their opinions’ multiple times! Therefore, you will need to think of creative ways of keeping them engaged with this process. We recommend thinking like a researcher as well as a quality manager which should lead you to investigating a range of methodological tools that you could use. Consider in-depth interviews, focus groups or even using collaborative tools such as Padlet to gather feedback. Also think about measuring at the right time. Catching participants at the time of their engagement with the project can help. We posted a link to a survey in Zoom rather than following up with a post-activity email and this significantly increased completion of quality surveys on the project by approximately 100%.


Build positive relationships – The quality team should avoid creating an ‘us’ and ‘them’ feeling within the project team by holding regular quality board meetings. Any recommendations being made should be openly shared and discussed making sure that all voices are heard equally. Yes, the quality team is there to assess what is going well and what can be improved but ultimately the recommendations that are formally made at each stage of the project should be reviewed and agreed by all stakeholders of the project. Remember what we said at the beginning – keep everyone involved in the quality management process.


Style your feedback with care – Remember that quality management and even quality control in this context it is not about finding fault. Your feedback should be always constructive, and this means considering how important messages are delivered. Use positive words and ensure feedback can be used as a learning opportunity not seen as mere criticism. Be specific with recommendations so they can be easily acted upon. You also need to recognise that cultural and personal differences mean that even well-meaning feedback can sometimes be misconstrued. Always check with your colleagues their understanding of your feedback – ask “does that make sense to you or is that useful?”. Get colleagues to check quality reports and other key communications before pressing send!


Be flexible and responsive – Your quality plans should be adaptable and be prepared to update them where needed. It is a living document. ERASMUS+ projects can often be several years in duration, so your quality plans need to be adaptable to changes in direction and ways of working during the project’s lifetime. Recognise that the external environment in which the project operates is not static. Our project was heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and our initial planning revolved around face-to-face delivery. Many of the quality measurements tools and plans set out at the beginning were no longer appropriate, for instance, we engaged with online interviews and found new ways of assessing the quality by using online collaborative tools.


Focus on the project’s legacy – And finally this is one of the most important tasks for you as a quality team.  In project planning and delivery, you should ensure that the actions are creating long-lasting and worthwhile impacts for the intended recipients. It is your role to keep the longer-term goals of the project at the forefront. Keep a watching brief on whether each activity carried out in the project address the objectives of the project and is increasing the sustainability of the project."