Poor quality control is killing contractor bottom lines. It doesn’t have to be that way, though. Use these five tactics to get the quality both you and the client want.
1. Build Quality Into the Design
You have a lot of influence over design decisions that affect quality when you work on a design-build or other collaborative delivery project. Suggesting proven materials reduces quality concerns considerably. You might also influence quality by suggesting methods that join materials reliably over the long term, and equipment that performs reliably under stress.
Quality over the lifetime of the built environment is an extremely important issue. When projects experience rework after the project’s finished, that’s a quality issue.
On more restrictive delivery methods like design-bid-build, you can find places in the plans to suggest specification changes that boost quality over the longer term. Contractors know these things because they physically work with the materials and methods. It’s not just about hitting the quality standard during construction. Quality over the lifetime of the built environment is an extremely important issue. When projects experience rework after the project’s finished, that’s a quality issue.
Once everyone has worked out the specifications, they dictate the quality. But, if someone doesn’t communicate those specs or make them readily available to the people needing them, substitutions can derail your quality efforts.
2. Set the Quality Requirements
It’s not surprising how many times disputes arise about quality simply because quality requirements can be interpreted differently. Quality, like beauty, is often in the eye of the beholder—it’s quite subjective. The more exact you are when setting quality standards and communicating them, the less likely people will set out to reach a quality standard that doesn’t exist or that falls short.
As you are building, you have quality levels based on specifications and on “generally accepted standards of workmanship.” The latter is a very subjective criterion mainly because everyone who builds anything wants to believe they do it best, and their way is the best way. That’s why it’s really important to show everyone what the end result should look like. When you take the time to demonstrate the way things should be built, and you give people an example to follow, you also take a lot of the guesswork out of what constitutes acceptable quality.
3. Allow Time for Quality
“If you don’t have enough time to do the job right the first time, how will you have enough time to do it right a second time?” The saying is as old as time itself, but it’s true.
When people must perform under unrealistic conditions, creating something with unrealistic quality requirements, in an unrealistic amount of time, you have a recipe for subpar quality. There is a balance you should try to achieve between speed and quality, and that all starts at estimating and scheduling.
Build realistic estimates and schedules by:
- Using current productivity factors
- Relying on current input costs
- Using contingencies for unknowns
- Designing carefully sequenced schedules
4. Quality Demands Skill
It is possible to increase quality by training—the variables are where the problems lie. People won’t usually skip steps simply because they feel like it. It’s more likely they’ll skip them because they don’t know any better. Often, they don’t know any better because of the difference between what they think is adequate, and what the quality standard says is adequate.
“If you don’t have enough time to do the job right the first time, how will you have enough time to do it right a second time?”
You don’t need to look any further than the process of sealing things so they’re weatherproof. The unsure worker will probably spend way too much time sealing around a pipe penetration in a roof. The unknowing worker will probably spend too little time. The difference between the two, and what’s really needed, is training.
Right at the heart of each task, there is a skill level. When you make sure that people have the right skill level, you address one of the biggest problems facing quality today—people who don’t understand the right way to deliver the quality the project calls for.
5. Make Quality an Attitude
There are plenty of tasks on construction projects that fall under the heading of “acceptable workmanship.” And in general, that exists because explaining how many nails should attach a stud to a bottom plate reduces management to meaninglessness. Someone who is building walls should arrive on the job knowing how many nails to use in every instance where they have to drive nails. This is where the attitude comes in. Assuming the carpenter knows how many nails to use, why would they do anything different?
Sure, there’s always sabotage because they didn’t get promoted. There’s the usual bad day, or being too lazy to go to the truck to get more nails. But mostly, when people don’t use the good workmanship practices they learned for their trade, they don’t have a quality attitude. It’s definitely an attitude, but not one of quality.
You can help people develop quality attitudes by practicing quality control all the time. However, it goes beyond that. When you tolerate sloppiness, whether it’s housekeeping or low task quality, you train your workforce to accept “just good enough.” And, that exactly what kills quality.