Expert Commentary

Construction Quality Management

One of the pillars of the project delivery process is the management of the quality of the product or service a construction company provides. The project specifications generally spell out the quality standards for the project and by reference become a part of the contract between the project owner and the contractor.


Construction Quality
October 2015

The specifications usually reference some standard, such as ASTM, ANSI, ACI, AWS, or other organizations which spell out quality or workmanship standards. In many cases, the specifications may use such terms as “Normal and Customary” or “Function for its Intended Use (purpose)” to define quality.

Workmanship is not defined in Division 01—General Requirements or the American Institute of Architects  form A201—General Conditions of the Contract for Construction. The American Heritage Dictionary defines workmanship as "1. The skill of a craftsperson or artisan. 2. The quality of something made, as by an artisan. 3. Something made or produced by workman. 4. The product of an effort or endeavor." Such terms are not specific and are subject to some interpretation, which could result in misunderstandings or disputes.

Testing/Inspections

Certain elements of the project, such as soil compaction, strength of concrete, welding, etc., are traditionally checked or tested by a third party (testing and inspection organizations). These tests are conducted during the execution of the work and the quality of the product is determined and reported shortly after the tests or inspections are made. The quality of other elements of the project is checked by the architect or one of the consultants at some point in time, during an occasional site visit.

The ultimate quality of the product (project) is reviewed close to final completion, or the startup process. The architect and/or a consultant issues a punch list of items that need to be corrected for the project to be certified that it in fact meets the quality expectation set forth by the project documents. One indication of the effectiveness of the contractor’s quality management process is reflected in the extent of the punch list.

Barriers to Success

There are a large number of factors that may influence the effectiveness of a project quality management program. Some barriers to successful management system implementation at construction organizations involve the very nature of the construction process. The projects are unique, locations vary, work volume fluctuates, staff changes, the work is labor intensive, the workforce tends to be transient, projects are subject to change and delays, the key team members routinely change, the supply chain is extensive, multiple organizations are involved that have differing visions, values, processes, and practices, weather can vary, some partners fail to deliver on their promises, the industry is generally confrontational rather than cooperative in relationships are driven by general self interest.

In addition, the industry is conservative and slow to embrace change. Most contactors are small and lack sophistication and resources. Effectively managing quality becomes challenging due to these and a multitude of other factors.  

Contractor Quality Management Process

All contractors make an effort to control quality, but generally most of them do not have a robust quality management process in place. In many cases, they do not have a written program either. Traditionally, the project superintendent is responsible for the quality of the work. And the superintendent depends of the different craft workers to follow normal and customary industry practice when it comes to the quality of the work. Such a process depends a lot on to the ability, knowledge, discretion, and diligence of workers, and the supervisor’s persistent and careful oversight.

Under such a ”loose” management system, as mentioned above, there are many factors that come into play which must be managed well to ensure that the resulting quality of the work will meet expectations. The workforce must be qualified, so keeping qualified workers on the payroll and managing the worker workloads, as well as the hiring practices, come into play. Ensuring that the supervisor has the time to oversee work quality and manage it effectively becomes important. Having management oversight of the quality process will ensure that standards are met. To some extent, this is how many of the construction firms try to ensure the achievement of contact quality requirements.

A more structured approach is to draft a quality management program, devise a quality management process, train supervision on the process, implement a control system, hold people specifically accountable, and review performance and results. Continuously improve the process where possible. Following is a framework for a sample quality management process that may become the basis for managing quality of the project delivery process at a construction company.

Failure to meet project quality requirement can have a number of negative connotations on the project delivery process. It creates extra work for the parties involved, but has the greatest impact on the contractor, though it may negatively influence the designer and the owner to some extent. It can damage business relationships and possibly lead to time-consuming and costly litigation for contractors. In a. research study conducted a few years ago, the findings revealed that costs associates with rework (having to redo a step or portion of construction due to poor craftsmanship or change in plan) were as high as 12 percent of the total project cost and required as much as 11 percent of the total project working hours.

Quality Assurance and Quality Control

The construction project quality is managed by a program which has two different elements. One is the quality control (QC) program and the other is the quality assurance (QA) process. These two elements have somewhat different functions. Whether you are the project owner, the designer, or the contractor, each has a stake in the effectiveness of the QA/QC management process. If the quality of the product comes into question, and rework is required, it can become a costly proposition and may become an issue for the contractor. Some unacceptable quality issues can lead to costly litigation and damage reputations and relationships. Therefore, managing quality is an important aspect of a successful project delivery process.

The quality control element defines how the contractor expects to manage the quality requirements of the project as defined by the specifications. And the quality assurance element define the steps the contactors will take to ensure it. The first thing contractors need to reassure themselves of is that there is a clear understanding of any vague specified quality standard and that workmanship is linked to specific and measurable standards. If there is no way to clarify them or there is complexity involved in the work, then a mockup or sample of the work should be made and approved so that it may be used as a standard to which subsequent work may be compared. This can also prove cery useful in managing quality with subcontractors.

Elements of a Quality Management Process

Following are the elements involved in the development of a quality management process

Quality Standards

Review of the specifications for any quality requirement is an important first step in understanding and managing the resulting project quality. Documentation of clarifications of any of the quality requirements, and understandings arrived at with the designer and/or project owner becomes part of the quality standards. This sets the basis for the contractor’s quality management program (CQMP). This information must be provided to the project staff.

Contractor Quality Management Program

The contractor’s quality management program is a written document defining the contractor’s processes, practices, and procedures, which are to ensure the project’s quality requirement are met or exceeded. The program has two elements which are the quality control plan and the quality assurance procedures.

QC Plan: Quality control (QC) is the contractor’s definition of how the project quality will be managed during construction of the project. Any unique project quality requirement must be defined in a project specific document. It defines who is responsible for achieving the quality standards and how this is to be accomplished. It establishes a framework with defined procedures and practices to ensure that the completed product meets or exceeds the project specified quality requirements. 

QA Process: Quality assurance (QA) is defined as the process or procedure the contractor will engage in to ensure that the required quality of the project is achieved. This process defines the inspection requirements, the timing of the inspections, written report, and who is to receive and review them, and in the event that any need for correction who and how it will be done, with the appropriate defined follow up.

Managing Quality

Quality Assurance Personnel: The role of the quality assurance personnel is to ensure that the quality control program is functioning properly and its intent is carried out diligently.

QA Procedures: Review adequacy of the quality assurance plan:

  • Determine if the work practices are such that the expected quality standard will be met.
  • Examine the quality of the ongoing and completed work to determine that it meets or exceeds the project requirements.
  • Ensure that the material used meets project quality standards.
  • The finished work is sufficiently protected from harm or damage.
  • Issue a report of acceptable work as well as any substandard work.
  • Track the corrective work and issue status report until satisfactory completion.
  • Examine the quality control methods being used to determine if the supervisor is properly controlling construction activities.
  • Review processes, practices and procedures. and identify possible areas for change so as to improve the quality of the resulting work
  • Recommend any changes to project staff and/or management.
  • Review QC documentation to ensure adequacy of systems.

Quality Management Process Outline:

Introductory Statement

  1. Program Elements
    • Policy and Procedures
    • Goals and Objectives
    • General Quality Management
    • Roles and Responsibilities
    • Approvals and Reviews
    • Document Control
    • Process Improvement
    • Project-Specific Quality Management Plan
  2. Preconstruction (some activities may not apply)
    • Review of Plans and Specifications
    • Quality standards
      • Review Requirements
      • Clarify Any Ambiguity
      • Samples or Mockups
    • Constructability Reviews
    • Documenting Existing Conditions
    • Material Management
      • Transportation Factors
      • Receiving at the Jobsite
      • Storage and Protection
    • Subcontractor factors
      • QA/QC Program
      • Field Procedures
      • Fabrication Shop Inspections
    • Testing
      • Requirements
      • Procedures
      • Documentation
  3. Construction Operations
    • Zero Defect Program
    • Quality Assurance Administration
    • Roles and Responsibilities
    • Inspection and Testing Plan
    • Inspection Checklists
    • Quality Assurance(QA) Process
      • Specified Quality Requirements
      • QA Process
        • Pre-Installation Meeting and Inspection
        • First Work-in-Place Meeting and Inspection
        • Follow-Up or Daily Inspections
    • Inspections
      • Inspection schedule
      • Pre-Cover-Up and Pre-Closure Inspections
      • Documentation
        • Written Report
        • Digital Pictures
    • Nonconformance Procedures
      • Report
      • Tracking
      • Correction
    • Material Verification
    • Water Intrusion Prevention
      • Preconstruction
      • Inspections During Construction
    • Protection of the Work
  4. Closeout
    • Closeout Procedures
      • As Builts
      • Punch List Work Management
    • Systems Turnover Practices
      • Startup
      • Testing of Systems
      • Training of Personnel
      • Documentation
      • O&M Manuals
    • Final Acceptance
  5. Postconstruction
    • Warranties
    • Warranty Management During the Warranty Period
    • Warranty Callbacks after the Warranty Period
    • Resulting Damage
    • Postconstruction Documentation
  6. Abbreviations
  7. Glossary of Terms
  8. References
  9. Attachments
    • Meeting Documentation
      • Preconstruction Meeting Agenda
      • Pre-installation Meeting Minutes
      • First Work-in-Place Meeting Minutes
    • Reports
      • Daily Quality Control Inspection Report
      • Subcontractor's Daily Quality Control Inspection Report
      • Nonconformance Report
    • Checklists
      • Construction Site Inspection Checklist
      • Preclosure Inspection Form
    • Logs
      • Inspection and Testing Log
      • Nonconformance Report Log
      • Digital Photo Log
      • Warranty Work Log
    • Sample Plans
      • Subcontractor's Site Specific Quality Control Plan
      • Inspection and Testing Plan
      • Water Intrusion Management Plan
    • Sample Punch List

Conclusion

A contractor must have a robust quality management program as it is critical to the overall success of a construction project. An effective program creates a process for clarifying standards and requirements, established means and methods for managing the process, defines responsibilities and accountabilities, and adds another avenue to more effectively manage the supply chain, while it reduces misunderstanding and potential conflict. It effectively facilitates and manages the collection of data, identifies performance discrepancies and nonconforming work, and substantially increases efficiency by reducing defects and punch list work, which aids in. improving the working relationship with the design team and the project owner. It systematically manages quality and enhances the contractor’s project delivery, increases productivity, eliminates or reduces waste, and ultimately improves profitability.


Opinions expressed in Expert Commentary articles are those of the author and are not necessarily held by the author's employer or IRMI. Expert Commentary articles and other IRMI Online content do not purport to provide legal, accounting, or other professional advice or opinion. If such advice is needed, consult with your attorney, accountant, or other qualified adviser.

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