Many contracting firms have implemented some form of a quality management system (QMS) to address quality issues on their projects. The larger firms, which tend to be more sophisticated and have more resources, generally have more comprehensive systems. Research shows that organizations that implement QMSs tend to have increased overall productivity and better project performance outcomes. To ensure the organization meets its quality requirements and obligations, it must ensure that quality receives high priority along the supply chain.
It is generally accepted that time, cost, and quality are the major factors in the project performance outcomes that are of interest to the designer team, the general contractor or construction management company, and the project owner. These have been noted as the "iron triangle," according to researchers. Both time and cost are measured and managed, while quality often does not have any form of a formal measurement process in place, except by virtue of the final delivered results.
Ensuring superior quality in the work product is rapidly becoming the way for companies to differentiate themselves from their competitors. Achieving good quality in completed projects enhances their reputation and invariably leads to the securing of more projects. The increased volume allows them to bid for work at a somewhat lower cost while increasing overall revenue. To ensure high quality, improve, and properly evaluate the effectiveness of the QMS, some form of measurement system must be devised, implemented, and rigorously managed.
The Quality Management Process
To achieve superior results in the project's quality, the organization must conduct an analysis of its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT). This will identify what is working well and also indicate areas where there are opportunities for improvement. The quality management process of the general contractor (GC) or the construction manager (CM) on the project has two key elements: quality assurance (QA) and quality control (QC). These are used to assess four distinct functions: quality planning, quality checking, quality action, and quality analysis.
Table 1. Quality Management Program (QMP)
Quality Assurance (QA Process)
Quality Control (QA Standard)
Monitors and verifies means and methods are functioning as planned
Monitors and verifies deliverables meet defined standards
Policies, processes, and practices are implemented correctly
Policies, processes, and practices are followed correctly delivering results
QA has to complete to achieve QC
QC is achieved after QA is done
Outcome (product) focused
Detects process weakness
QC sets goals
QA manages quality
QC verifies quality
Generally, the project creates a project-specific quality management program (QMP) modeled after the organizational QMS. The QMP must ensure that all partners (subcontractors, vendors, and suppliers) are aligned and able to conform to and deliver the project quality standards. The program will include planning for achieving the project's expected quality. The work must be inspected, data collected, and quality evaluated to accomplish this. Subpar work or defects will be identified, corrected, and rechecked to ensure compliance.
Quality Management Basics
A construction project's quality is established by the design documents. It is the responsibility of the GC or CM to ensure that the specified level of quality is achieved as required by the contract. Each company goes about meeting this obligation differently. Most large construction companies have some form of written quality assurance and quality control program, with defined processes, procedures, and practices. Some may even have a dedicated person or department responsible for overseeing and managing their QMS process.
Some QMS managers may also be required to oversee and inspect all active projects on a regular basis, discuss the inspection results with project staff, and follow up to ensure that the suggested corrections were, in fact, implemented. The QMS manager must also maintain files of all inspections, written reports, and communications, as well as meet with senior management and report on the status of QMS activities on all active projects. This may be required at some defined frequency to various levels of management.
Since much of the work may be performed by subcontractors, the GC or CM must ensure that the partners they select also have a robust quality assurance program and designate people responsible to ensure that the work is going in place in accordance with the project's quality requirements. Therefore, it is imperative that the GC or CM have a partner prequalification process in place to ensure that every selected organization will perform in accordance with the project's quality expectations.
Another key factor is the competence of the key staff the partner assigns to the project. These folks must be interviewed by the GC/CM to determine their competence and must function at an acceptable level, or the partner must replace them when requested. It is also imperative that project staff diligently take an active role in ensuring that all of the subcontractor's tradespeople put work in place in accordance with project quality requirements as well as expectations.
The GC or CM must determine if the project owner's expectation of the quality of the completed project is in line with their understanding of the design and specification established standards. This must be clarified and agreed upon in a meeting between the designer, builder, and owner before work starts or very early in the construction process. This may require a careful discussion, possibly looking at other existing work, samples, or mock-ups, as well as confirming the joint understanding and agreement in writing. This is important in managing the owner's expectations and garnering the owner's ultimate satisfaction.
Implementation of an effective QMS process can benefit or improve communication among project partners, minimize errors and rework, reduce waste, improve cooperation, and support interactions among subcontractors, vendors, and suppliers. There is believed to be a positive impact on the contractor's relationship with the project designers, consultants, and the owner. It was also found that a robust QMS function had a positive impact on the contractor's field operations and their bottom line.
Measurement is essential to effectively and efficiently manage any aspect of the organization's performance. The system must be able to determine how well the organization is meeting its goals and objectives in any of its endeavors. The system should be able to identify problem areas and trends and devise possible improvements or gains achieved through the implementation of change initiatives. The system should also be able to determine the rate at which the improvement process is progressing. This information can then be used to modify and/or enhance the implemented initiative so as to garner quicker and higher quality outcomes.
To some extent, the challenge more readily occurs in the midsize and smaller contractor groups that do not have a robust, dedicated QMS function. Many of these companies expect their project staff—usually the superintendent or foremen—to oversee the quality of the work as it is being put in place. There usually is no formal written program, specifically required inspection, and/or reporting process. Often, there is little to no formal training provided to the staff. As a result, oversight occurs haphazardly, and the level of quality is varied and happens at some random, unplanned, and/or fortuitous extent. If improvement is deemed necessary, the interventions devised have to be based on an in-depth analysis of collected data reflecting what is really occurring, its causes identified, and targeted interventions developed and implemented.
Tracking and Measurement
There must be some form of measurement to manage properly. Tracking and measurement is essential to effectively manage all aspects of the organization's performance. The system must be able to determine how well the organization is meeting its goals and objectives. The system should be able to identify problem areas (discrepancies), how quickly and effectively the correction was made, and the overall impact the problem may have had on both the project schedule and costs. The system should also be able to determine the rate at which the improvement process progresses and the impact on the project outcomes.
Every organization must determine how best to address and manage their performance where quality is concerned. There are a number of means where the quality outcomes may be brought to the attention of various parties in order to track discrepancies and the improvement process. This involves collecting the appropriate data, analyzing it, and comparing the findings to some established standard or objective to effectively manage the process. If the project requires the superintendent to generate a daily construction report, then the superintendent should have a heading in the report specifically dealing with quality issues. Here, the superintendent may identify any subcontractor who had a problem associated with quality with a description of the problem and how it is being addressed.
Quality issues should be a permanent topic in all weekly subcontractor meetings and must be carried forward until each is properly addressed and resolved. The level of detail regarding each issue must be set by management so as to have some means of evaluating the severity, extent, and impact with the assignment of the time and cost of each adverse event. This provides management a means of comparatively evaluating each and every adverse event. All quality issues must be tracked by which subcontractor was responsible for the problem. There needs to be sufficient detail so that management may determine how to address such issues going forward.
If management formally reviews all project progress on a monthly or another regular basis, then quality performance must be addressed in this meeting as well. For management along with project staff to be able to effectively deal with quality discrepancies as well as the improvement of the project quality outcomes, there needs to be some common metrics with which to manage this. The quality discrepancies may impact the time required to make the correction. For example, the poor work of an individual worker may delay just that worker's work, or it may delay the completion of that trade's work and possibly the start of the following trade, or it may cause the delay of the project as a whole.
Another means of identifying the impact of a quality discrepancy on the project may be measured in terms of cost if removal and replacement of the work are required. Then the cost involved in material and labor to make the correction would be another method of evaluating the seriousness of the discrepancy.
Cost of material involved
Cost of labor involved
Cost of any other associated activity
Management must define the means and methods for making such assessments to ensure that every evaluation follows a universal approach. This will more or less create a common standard for assigning time or cost, making the system as accurate as possible. Another metric that may be useful in managing project quality is to track the amount of time it took from the discovery of the discrepancy to the time it was resolved. This will measure the efficiency of the improvement process. The sooner discrepancies are resolved, the less time and money will be expended.
Superior project quality is achieved by defining requirements, driven by the organization's vision, values, and management's and staff's understanding of its obligations, selection of capable and compatible partners (subcontractors, vendors, and suppliers), careful management of owner and designer expectations, and effective oversight and execution. Obviously, the quality objectives of the project vary due to unique factors, including owner expectations, design elements, project phases, jurisdiction criteria, construction means, methods, etc.
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.