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Assuring the Quality (QA) of a Black Hole Project

Posted: October 18, 2016 at 11:51 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

G U E S T  A R T I C L E

normously large application system development projects, i.e. temporary endeavours undertaken to create a unique product, service or result being developed today fail more often than they succeed. These projects cost hundreds of millions of dollars to develop and years to deploy, have a very large number of stakeholders, many different and changing requirements and expected outputs, and unmanageably large development teams comprised of people with different skills. They impact the organization in such fundamental way that many executives have to refocus their attention to them and most operational people openly or covertly resist them. We will call these totally overwhelming, all consuming, centers of the organization’s focus that are analogous to the most exciting concept in the universe Black Hole Projects (BHP).

Currently used QA methodology is ineffective in assuring the success of BHPs. This is because it does not eliminate problems due to: inadequate problem definition; requirements change management; the (enormously large) size and resulting complexity of BHPs; the use of a standard development methodology; current project governance; and the organizational capacity and capability. In short, we do not know how to assure the quality of enormously large systems being developed and so we fail BHPs by design (think Phoenix, e-Manifest).

If Quality Assurance (QA) is to live up to its potential and prevent defects and projects that deliver an incomplete solution, system, service or product, then the methodology cannot be a one -time endeavour focused on verifying that the output is as per stated requirements. To achieve the potential benefits that QA can and must be expected to enable, it will have to be done differently, especially when assuring the quality of a BHP.

QA is much more important than its usual role today, and looking at it as overhead, is being myopic. QA can change the world that allows some $6.2 trillion [Sessions, 2009] to be squandered on failed projects. Conducting QA on extremely enormous projects or BHPs, must be continuous and on-going. It has to be a decisive voice in the project’s governance and be focused on attaining the expected outcome.

To become what it is designed to be, QA has to validate the problem that the system and/or solution will solve. It has to replace today’s requirements change management processes to one that is customer centric; has to limit the ‘bigly’ size and length of projects to be within the organization’s capacity and capability; and derail the trend from complicated to complex projects; by questioning the standard methodology and project governance.

QA may be but must not be carried out with the intelligence that texting while driving exhibits. To achieve this change, we will need leadership.

Organizations that have not reengineered their governance, will not be able to harvest the potential benefit of QA, as those who have.

We must make the change if QA will be part of the change needed to enable projects to attain their outcome (not output).

There is much literature that argues the above. The more challenging question is how can SMEs convince executives to make QA a vital, sine qua non part of project development. How can executives be incentivized to ask QA to be responsible for identifying the project’s performance in areas of known weakness? Finally, how can executives be incentivized to empower QA to carrying out its recommendations to assure that the project attains the stated outcomes.

About the author:


Charles Villanyi Bokor is an independent Strategic Management Consultant, author, speaker. He is past professor, IT Director, CMC and PMI Board Member, past Governor for ICCC, ITIL Certified, and Member of ICANN, ISP, ASM. You can contact Charles at

Charles Villanyi also presented his talk on “Assuring the Quality of a Black Hole Project (BHP)” during a professional development event organized by ASQ Ottawa on June 22, 2016.


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