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99 Problems, is Quality One of Them?


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The two most common places for quality issues to arise on construction projects are rework and claims. According to a Navigant Construction Forum research project, project rework averages between 7% - 11% of total construction costs. And rework is often the result of poor quality.

Meanwhile, an EC Harris study found that two of the top five causes for construction disputes are directly related to disagreements over quality. 

Therefore, in order to keep rework and claims down, you have to keep your quality in check. 

But how? 

Contract documentation. 

Here are the top 8 most common mistakes made when assessing the impact of contract documents on a project’s quality. 

1. Poorly-defined scope

Is the project well defined? Are there ambiguities in the scope?

2. Fantasy timeline

How realistic is the timeline relative to the scope?

3. Hidden existing site conditions

How thoroughly have the existing site conditions been assessed?

4. Errors or omissions in design 

When doing preliminary estimates, are there many areas where questions arise?

5. Lacking specifications 

Are there many specifications not shown?

6. Inaccurate drawings 

How well do the drawings track with the scope?

7. Vague contract language

Does the contract language lack specifics?

8. Inaccurate bid documents

Did you have a lot of trouble coming up with accurate estimates for bidding based on the documents provided to you?

If people are not committed to completing quality work, then all the planning in the world isn’t going to achieve the quality level you’re looking for.

You’ll only find all these potential issues by doing a thorough review of the contract documents. When you’re ready to move forward with the project, it’s time to set up, or review, your quality program. And when doing so, it’s vital to keep the human factor in mind.

Who determines quality?

Quality is in the eye of the beholder, and that’s what often leads to disputes. People perceive quality differently, and that’s what makes it very important to have well-defined objective quality criteria. If specifications require only a particular activity to have acceptable workmanship standards, the door is wide open for variation in the quality of the completed activity. 

This might not be a very big issue when it comes to how the studs are nailed to the bottom plates, but it could become a very big issue for how crews install wall reinforcements to strengthen the building against adverse weather events. Or, just consider the variations in drywall finishing. Drywall installed in a utility closet is often not finished to the level of drywall that goes in a living room. The differences in the two finishes not only affect the final quality, but also affect how much it costs to finish the installation, and how much time it takes to do it. 

Therefore, in order to make your quality efforts more efficient, try to remove guesswork about what is considered the correct quality.

Failing to plan is just like planning to fail

One of the key aspects of delivering on quality is planning. Planning starts with the design and continues all the way through to the last detail of any activity. Whenever planning is nonexistent, or poorly executed, quality is bound to be affected. Poor planning is first evident within contract documents. Review your plan and ensure nothing is left ambiguous or to interpretation.

Next, look to the schedule to see the detail provided about activities and resources. If activities are not broken down sufficiently, or resources are not specified adequately, quality will be compromised.

Experience counts

There’s always a direct correlation between the skill levels of the craft workers, and the resulting quality. Therefore, it’s important to assess the skills and experiences of the crews who will perform the work. If you find you have crews with minimal skills and experience, and there’s no way to replace them, then training becomes a viable option to ensure you hit the quality mark. Many times, simply training crews on the particular methods and materials used in an activity, is adequate to get the quality results you need.

Compression hurts

If you have a tight schedule, there’s going to be a lot more pressure on the participants to not only deliver on time, but with quality work. What often happens is people default to finishing on time at the expense of quality. Compressed schedules also lead to activities getting crowded with too many crews. More bodies in the workspace, more tools and equipment, and more materials, all lead to compression and poor quality.

Resources to scale

Another major aspect affecting quality is the balance of resources on the project. This goes beyond labor aspects, extending to equipment and tools. While equipment can speed up activities, it can also have the opposite effect. It’s important to find that balance between labor and equipment so the speed is at the appropriate pace, for the quality that’s desired.

Getting on board

People need to be on board with the quality program. If people are not committed to completing quality work, then all the planning in the world isn’t going to achieve the quality level you’re looking for. Help people value their individual roles in the quality picture and they will support the cause. Other tactics to inspire quality mindsets include starting quality circles, and encouraging everyone to assess quality and suggest improvements.

Quality results on construction projects don’t just happen. People must make conscious efforts to understand what’s expected and then deliver. Your quality program is the key to making that happen.