What does quality management look like in the construction industry?

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When surveying most people in various parts of the construction industry — subcontractors to inspectors, designers to engineers — most will answer “yes” when asked if they “do ” quality management or QA/QC.  

 

When asked the follow-up question of “What does that look like?” most responses are a look of a deer in headlights.  

 

People understand the importance of the term, but lack the depth of knowledge of its practice and value. 

 

The construction industry is one of the greatest underpinnings to the American economy and yet we still have not integrated quality management as part of our regular practice and business conduct.  

 

Let’s consider what quality management is.  

 

Quality management is an all-encompassing way of accomplishing any task and project.  

 

Investopedia provides the following definition: “Quality management is the act of overseeing all activities and tasks that must be accomplished to maintain a desired level of excellence.”  

 

The tricky thing about this definition is that at first read, it can seem as though quality management is done and overseen by a separate group or individual from those carrying out tasks. 

 

This, however, would be an inaccurate interpretation.  The overseeing in this definition is one that must be done internally by each individual. It is a collective effort, achieved by personal accountability, by personal pride in the work one does.  

 

With various competing demands and priorities being the underlying mode of operation within the construction industry, quality management is often the first to be deprioritized, if it even made the list to begin with. 

 

This quick sweep to the side and turning a blind eye to quality management is, I believe, the biggest mistake the industry makes. Doing so is short-sighted. 

 

It is the act of kicking the can down the road, but the can doubles, triples and quadruples in size with each kick.  Details make up the whole, so, as we ignore the details, the whole is exponentially being built incorrectly — be it a building, personal habits, or business practices.  

 

There are several cultural trends embedded in the industry that greatly interfere with adapting quality management.  

 

Here are a few:  

  • – Egos 
  • – The “we’ve done it this way for 30 years” mentality
  • – The “act now, think later” or “just get it done” messaging
  • – A lack of technology education, use and assimilation  

 

These beliefs and attitudes continue to be modeled by upper management and executive staff, perpetuating the culture of doing things as we have for over 30 years. 

 

How is this acceptable and still so prevalent in 2021?

 

What is quality management relative to construction? 

 

There are, dare I say, endless opportunities for quality management to be implemented in the construction industry.  

 

Some of these are: 

  • – Internal standard operating procedures 
  • – Contract language 
  • – Material delivery inspections
  • – Schedule of values to project schedules
  • – Risk mitigation planning 
  • – Inventory management 

 

While some of these may seem like common sense or common practice, it requires lifting the hood and examining the actual practice, intent and follow-through of each.  

 

Why do we do these things? How do we do it? What’s the benefit of doing it right — and well — the first time? Effective quality management in construction management must start from the beginning. 

 

No, I don’t mean the beginning of writing punch lists; that is way too late in the game, my friend. 

 

I mean from the initial construction of the business operations and then contract terms with the developer or owner of the project. These contracts set the tone of the project and affect the project team that builds the job two to three years later.  

 

In construction management, quality management is about doing things with intention, forethought and honesty. True quality management is prioritized above all else, with the exception of safety.

 

 

Benefits of quality management

 

When conducted properly and integrated into company culture and practice, quality management is the guiding framework for completing construction projects on time, on budget and to the desired finish level.  When we learn to start, and continuously pause, consider, plan and then act, we will see these results achieved. 

 

Intentionality is a keystone.  

 

Quality management is the differentiator — to your clients, yes, but also to your employees.  You’ll attract and retain better talent, and see fruitful repeat clients.  

 

Quality management is the long game. It is intentional planning, it is delayed gratification, it is pain now for reward later. Anything else is short-sighted, indulgent and passing the buck.  

 

As an industry, we need to do better. Better for the health of our businesses, better for the benefit of our clients and, most importantly, better for the people we are becoming.  

 

Food for thought:  If you can’t put your name to your work, why do it? If the work you leave for the next person to pick up is a wreck, would you want to work with you?

Author

  • Hannah Franklin has worked in new construction real estate development for over 10 years in New York City on projects with budgets ranging from $100-$550 million. She focuses her work on quality management through business process improvement, cross-functional team management, product value engineering, streamlining operations, quality control and quality assurance, impeccable customer service, contract management, and schedule and budget management. Hannah is passionate about organization, streamlining and efficiency. hannah@loopconsultinggroup.com

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