If you are a construction contractor, subcontractor, or supplier, then you have no doubt seen and heard a lot about the need for quality assurance and quality control in your work. The importance of quality management can vary, depending on how direct the link is between the applicable quality requirements and the utility and safety of the finished product or service. For example, a company that hires a quality manager to write a quality manual to comply with a quality management standard like ISO 9001 is improving its quality. But that does not always translate into higher-quality outcomes.
For construction companies, however, quality control has a strong relationship with the construction quality that project owners, occupiers of the project property, and the public experience for themselves. A zero defects policy on a construction site can have a direct connection to the finished quality of the improvement. It can make the difference between a low-quality job and one that exceeds client expectations.
The immediate reason for having sound construction quality management policies and practices is to reduce the risk of failures on the construction site. The broader goals are to improve profitability by helping with cost control and to promote repeat business through consistent high-quality construction outcomes.
Good quality management in construction is at least in part a case of “Virtue being its own reward.” Quality deliverables do not call attention to themselves because they meet expectations. They work as intended, and nobody gets hurt. Unfortunately for the construction industry, when the public sees examples of construction quality control everything done right gets overshadowed by what happens when things go wrong. Equally unfortunately, the evidence of bad quality management in construction is all too easy to find. Consider just these safety statistics:
The cost of poor construction quality management is more than having to go back and make good work and materials that did not get done properly the first time. Poor quality means that you can face additional direct and indirect costs and risks to your profitability and your business reputation. You might also face legal consequences if physical injury or property damage happens because of bad quality practices.
Profitability: An unspoken quality policy of, “There is never time to do it right, but there is always time to do it over again” is poisonous to profits. Yet having to go back and make changes or corrections during construction remains a common drag on the ability to get work done on time and within budget. Globally, for example, 90 percent of infrastructure projects experience delays, cost overruns, or both. The more corrective action a project requires, the longer it takes to complete and the less people and resources you have available to take on new projects.
Reputational harm: A construction company atmosphere that tolerates low quality undermines it from within and without. On the inside, a low-quality environment leads to difficulty recruiting good workers, teaches bad habits to current employees, and contributes to employee discontent.
Outside the company, poor quality work on a project sours existing business relationships and makes it harder to earn new business. This affects your bottom line over time and, if the reputational harm is bad enough, can eventually lead to business failure.
Legal consequences: In terms of injury risks to workers and to the public from accidents, the construction industry is the most dangerous civilian occupation there is. Only the transportation sector approaches the construction industry in workplace accidents, work-related injuries, and work-related deaths, and it places a distant second. Especially if the cause of harm is negligence by the contractor in carrying out its work or in supervising subcontractors, the resulting civil and criminal fines and financial penalties, restitution amounts, attorney fees, and court costs can be ruinous. Business insurance and hold harmless agreements with subcontractors may not be enough to keep you from experiencing potentially business-closing losses that can follow legal liability.
The most elemental test of quality management in the building and construction industry is whether, during construction and thereafter, the deliverable –be it a house, a factory, a bridge, or a tunnel – remains standing and safe to use as intended. In short, whether it avoids structural failure. Yet you may be surprised to discover that structural failures, including total collapses, are still a significant cause of construction project failures in the United States.
Structural failure results when one structural segment collapse leads to others, leading to the eventual collapse of part the building or even all of it. Poor engineering, load calculation errors, design problems, poor quality materials and workmanship, inadequate inspection processes, and breakdowns in communication are common causes and contributors to structural failures.
There is a direct relationship between poor quality control during construction and heightened risk of structural failures. In its analysis of about 600 structural failures, the American Society of Civil Engineers concluded that about one-third happened because of flawed designs in the pre-construction stage, and four of every 10 occurred in the construction stage. This means that quality management mistakes in the lead-up to construction or during construction account for about three-quarters of all structural failures.
Although construction methods and materials have improved over centuries and decades, and governments, insurers, project owners and contractors have created regulatory and procedural environments to reduce structural failures, they still occur today. Here are a couple of recent examples that made the news:
Another notable example of structural failure during construction is the failure of a 23-story apartment building that resulted from the contractor failing to comply with building codes and the site engineer failing to properly inspect the work. In another case, after two-thirds of a 16-story residential building collapsed during construction, killing four workers, investigation found no evidence that an architect or engineer had ever signed off on the construction drawings, that most of the project subcontractors were bypassing the general contractor to work with the project owner instead, that some specialist inspections never happened, and that quality inspections were inadequate.
Structural failure from bad construction quality control also happens after project completion but can still result in legal liability, such as the Hyatt Regency walkway collapse in Kansas City in 1981, which resulted from an ill-considered last-minute design change during construction but happened a year after completion, or a faulty stadium roof drainage design in the same city that allowed too much rainwater to build up, eventually causing the roof to collapse only a few years after construction.
Now that we understand the potential seriousness of what can happen when construction quality management is inadequate, we will show how having a robust quality management system can reduce the risk of problems arising during construction. In addition, we will show how you can easily build your own custom quality control management application to help you stay on top of quality control through all construction stages, on-site and in the office.
No uniform definition of construction quality management exists. Generally, it describes a system to ensure that the project deliverables meet client specifications under standards and guidelines the project owner establishes, based on the concepts of quality assurance and quality control.
Taken together, quality assurance and quality control set the framework to build the quality management plan.
Quality control plans in construction cover three bases: the people involved, how they communicate and coordinate with each other, and how they identify and correct non-conformances.
The quality control manager is the person who directs the day-to-day quality control efforts throughout the project duration. The construction quality management plan must clearly state the duties and responsibilities of the quality control manager. Other people to consider when creating the plan include subcontractors and vendors with an eye toward their record of quality performance and coordinating their activities with those of the quality control manager.
Communications includes quality monitoring and reports. The quality management plan should make reporting channels clear among project ownership, the prime contractor, the quality manager, subcontractors, vendors, and construction workers. It should encourage workers to report quality issues to their immediate supervisors and direct those supervisors to coordinate with the quality manager on corrective actions.
Correcting problems found during construction starts with ongoing inspections and testing against project quality specifications. The quality control plan must provide for corrective actions when non-conformances are found, identify who is responsible to take those actions, and follow-up to make sure that they are performed and that the results conform to acceptable quality standards before the project completion inspection occurs.
When you are building your quality control plan for a construction project, it is helpful to know what kinds of problems to look out for and anticipate. Here are some areas to consider:
You can create a construction quality control plan in different ways. Possibly the easiest way, if you have the working capital for it, is to hire a third party as part of your construction team to do it for you. These firms often roll quality control management into a comprehensive system that includes lean management approaches like Six Sigma or Kaizen. They have developed a high degree of construction proficiency, often use their own experienced project managers, and have their own quality control management protocols.
For smaller construction companies and project owners, though, this third-party option may be more than what they need or can afford. If you are in this category, you might be considering more hands-on options. For example, you can buy project planning software that includes quality control features, and then learn to adapt to its interface. Or you can cobble together a paper-based quality control plan from one or more generic online templates of varying quality themselves.
One thing to consider is maximizing the use of web-based online applications in your quality control plan. Today, more than half of construction companies have new technology testing and implementation processes in place, and most contractors are currently using mobile devices to do daily field reports. The good news is that by using modern low-code or no-code software development tools like Blaze, you can have the benefits of building your own custom quality control application that you can share with everyone on your project team. It’s inexpensive and easy to do: you can build and deploy your application in hours or even minutes, using plain language with no development experience needed.
Using no-code software, you can create a custom quality control plan without needing to hire software developers. Build a system that reflects your needs and your way of doing business. Create a dashboard-based application to set up and coordinate project workflows, coordinate activities with project partners, keep track of project materials, schedule site activities and inspections with subcontractors using a centralized and shared project calendar. Document meetings and create reports. Build compliance checklists and track punch list item completions.
What makes Blaze so easy to use is its automation. To use it, all you need is the idea for your quality control plan, in your own words. Our simple interface lets you translate your ideas into applications using a simple drag-and-drop builder. All the coding and automatic data processing needed to make it work happens in the background. You do not need to know any source code at all. Better still, you do not have to go it alone with Blaze. We have an extensive, growing library of templates to help you get started, and expert assistance is always available through our customer support.
To learn more about how you can build your own, customized construction quality control plan application with Blaze, including real world examples of how businesses quickly and affordably create their own productivity-enhancing applications with our no-code platform, you can request a demonstration or, if you prefer, contact us and we will answer your questions about how Blaze can work for you.
In today’s construction environment being without a systematic approach and method to quality assurance and quality control is not something you can afford to risk. Hiring an outside professional to manage your quality management program as part of your overall project management effort might improve construction project proficiency but may not be affordable. Hiring a programmer to build your construction quality management planning application may not be much more affordable. Relying on one-size-fits-all project management software packages might not give you the tools or the flexibility to match your needs or to guarantee adequate quality control.
By using a no-code approach to creating your own web-based quality management system, including customized quality control planning capabilities, you solve all the problems inherent with the other options above while enhancing your quality control management. Take advantage of Blaze today to see immediate impact on your projects' quality control.