We talk to a lot of quality managers who have taken all the right steps to implement a construction quality program—creating a strategy, getting buy-in from all the stakeholders, and selecting the right software vendor—only to get frustrated that the program isn’t working because people aren’t using it. Another challenge we frequently hear about is that even when people are using the system, nobody is monitoring the process and taking steps to improve it. This means that although you’re using the system you put in place, quality is not improving.
Both of these common challenges can be overcome by approaching construction quality management with the mind-set that you must “define, assign, and require.”
Define the Process and Roles
You have gone to a lot of effort to create a quality management process, but that doesn’t mean everyone else in the organization understands it. Define your process and clearly describe all of the roles that are required to make it work.
- Managers maintain a commitment to first-time quality.
- The quality manager is the steward of the process.
- Superintendents implement the process across all projects.
Make sure all superintendents are properly trained in the quality management program. If they don’t understand the process and the benefits of following it, they will continue to do things the way they have always done them. When people understand their individual roles within the quality program, they are more likely to embrace the associated responsibilities.
Each role comes with a set of responsibilities that must be fulfilled for the quality management process to work. When those expectations are not met, the process starts to break down, quality stagnates, and people go back to business as usual.
- Managers must make quality a priority, require compliance, and incorporate quality into larger organizational strategies.
- The quality manager must monitor the health of the quality management program and make adjustments as necessary.
- Superintendents must complete inspections, integrate subcontractors into the process, and participate in all the quality management steps.
You can formalize the assignment of responsibilities by having each assignee sign a letter that clearly defines his or her role in the process. These documents also give you handy reference points when enforcing compliance.
Rolling out a quality management plan doesn’t stop at explaining the process and assigning roles and responsibilities. You have to make sure the system is working. Quality management should be a requirement of the job, just like completing a time card or performing other necessary tasks. When individuals recognize that quality management is not optional, the process becomes integrated into the daily workflow.
We have seen that the most successful companies take a hard line on requiring inspections and reporting. When the quality management program is working, management will see a change in key performance indicators such as on-time completion, job profitability, and percentage of tasks achieving first-time quality.
Stay on Track
As the quality manager, it’s your role to keep the process on track. Even though you don’t supervise the people in the field, when management fulfills its role of requiring participation from field personnel, the pieces will fall into place. Give management what they need to do their job. Provide them with a monthly report on compliance by monitoring metrics such as:
- Number of inspections required versus number of inspections completed
- Changes in heightened-awareness issues over time
- Usage of notes, images, and dynamic checklist items
It’s important to remember that construction quality management is a dynamic process that evolves over time as improvements are made. Every time a new process is introduced, make sure all three of these elements—define, assign, and require—are accounted for.
When it comes to quality management, hope is not a strategy. You can’t create a system and simply hope that people will use it. You must clearly define the process and roles, assign responsibilities, and require people to participate. When all of these elements are in place, the construction quality management strategy you have worked so hard to develop will start to function. The result will be ongoing improvement in first-time quality.