Construction quality control is a process that should be integrated into every project and refined as lessons are learned over time. When done well, the result of this effort is an improvement in first-time quality, which means less rework and higher profits for your company. Delivering first-time quality, zero-defect work also contributes to a higher level of customer satisfaction, which can help you retain clients and increase sales.
Let’s start by defining the term quality, since there are often misconceptions about this in the construction industry. Quality is not exceeding customer expectations or going beyond what was asked for. Instead, it’s meeting the expectations that have been outlined. For example, when reinforcing concrete, if the specs call for #4 rebar, quality is not using #5 because it might be stronger. Quality is installing exactly what was specified and doing it the first time.
How do you get to first-time quality? Think about the construction quality control process as a closed loop system in which deficiencies are found, handled, accepted, and closed following these five steps:
1. Define and Share the Acceptance Criteria
The first step is to define the definition of “done.” It’s important to ensure that superintendents, crews, and subcontractors are on the same page about what does and does not qualify as an acceptable result. When all the project participants understand what the goal is, they are better able to get it right the first time.
Some of the standards that might be incorporated into the acceptance criteria include:
- No visible defects
- Complies with minimum code standards
- Meets all manufacturers’ specifications
- Conforms to the customer’s contract specifications
- Specific organizational preferences
- Project-specific quality standards
- Industry common practices
The more clearly you can articulate the acceptance criteria, the better employees and subs will be able to meet your expectations.
2. Create an Inspection Plan
The inspection process allows you to determine whether a specific task was completed to the specifications. It’s how you know you have met the acceptance criteria that were defined in the first step. The team needs to know what will be inspected, when inspections will happen, and who is responsible for doing them. In some cases, this might be third-party inspectors.
The construction process requires dozens or even hundreds of inspections. Creating a plan in advance allows you determine all the necessary inspections and to confirm that they have been completed through a record of acceptance. Without this plan, you might assume that a lot of inspections were done, but you won’t necessarily know which ones were not completed.
3. Use Checklists to Conduct Inspections
Quality inspection checklists can help you stay organized and ensure that all critical items are verified. However, not all checklists are equally effective and they are not always properly used. One common problem is that checkpoints are often vague such as “The … looks good” or “Check the … is right”. This leaves the inspection open to interpretation and inconsistency. Moreover, many checklists are a simple binary yes/no or complete/incomplete and this is not enough to truly measure quality in a project.
One of the many benefits of using checklists is that they can be shared with the team before the project starts and prior to each work task to communicate critical requirements. They are not the same as the specs, but they outline what needs to be done right. A checklist can essentially be used as an agenda for pre-task conversations so you can communicate what areas warrant heightened awareness. Using checklists as a communication tool enables work crews and subs to better understand how the work they are doing will be defined as acceptable. The inspection process for a task concludes when all acceptance criteria have been met and all elements of a checklist, including high-risk items, have received sign-off.
To make this step a little easier, start with an existing list of quality control inspection checklists and add customized ones for your organization and for each project.
4. Correct Deficiencies and Verify Acceptance Criteria
When deficiencies have been identified through the inspection process, subs and crews must correct them. The process is to:
- Physically mark the issue or area to prevent coverup
- Take a picture to clearly identify the issue and show how it’s marked in the field
- Correct the issue
- Document the correction
If you’re using a software system like FTQ360, you can do all of that, plus:
- Create an open item on the inspection report
- Assign somebody to fix it
- Document that it has been fixed
- Approve and close the item
After all issues have been corrected, you must verify that the completed work meets the acceptance criteria. For example, if the crew installed #5 rebar and the spec called for #4, the process would be to mark it before the concrete is poured, communicate the identified issue, assign someone to correct it (or get approval for the deviation), verify that the correct rebar is placed correctly, approve the overall inspection, and allow the concrete pour.
5. Prevent Future Deficiencies
The final step closes the loop. Learn why the deficiency happened and adjust the quality control process so it doesn’t happen again. Make sure the item is included in the acceptance criteria and communicated to all parties. Add to your checklist system and include it in your inspection plan. Success is when you don’t see the issue again and you are that much closer to achieving first time quality with zero defects.
The process listed above can seem like a lot to juggle, even for the most experienced quality control managers. Executing inspection schedules, organizing checklists, and maintaining the appropriate documentation require a high level of organization and having the right systems in place. Using a construction quality management software program can help you do this work thoroughly and efficiently.