Quality Management: A Look at the Implementation, or Lack Thereof, in Construction Management

by Hannah Franklin

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” 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.

Before we go further, let’s first 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.

Why is Quality Management so hard to achieve in Construction Management? With various competing demands and priorities being the underlying mode of operation within the Construction industry, Quality Management is often 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.

There are serval cultural trends embedded in the industry that greatly interfere with the adaption of Quality Management in the Construction industry.

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, and 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 30 plus years. How this is acceptable and still so prevalent in 2020 is mind-boggling.

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 range from; contract language, to material delivery inspections, from the schedule of values to project schedules, from risk mitigation planning to 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 first 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.

Quality Management is a long game. It is intentional planning, it is delayed gratification, it is pain now for a 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?

Hannah has worked in new construction real estate development for the last 10+ years in New York City, on projects with budgets ranging from approximately $100M to $550M.

Passionate about organization, streamlining, and efficiency Hannah continues to develop broader programs to improve construction processes.

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