What it is, how it’s measured, why it matters, and how to improve it—everything you need to know about construction quality.
Quality is what separates the good from the bad. Both in our lives and in our work, quality is the defining factor in how we evaluate and are evaluated by others. In short, it determines how we feel about our efforts at the end of each day.
Construction is no different, and the secret to achieving the highest level of quality for any job starts with having standards and systems in place to ensure those standards are met. We’ll dive deep into how you can ensure your next construction project excels in quality. We’ll examine what quality management is, how construction quality is evaluated, what can stand in the way of quality programs, and processes you can implement to ensure the highest quality for any job. Read on for a look at how to achieve the best possible outcomes regarding construction quality.
What we cover:
At its core, quality in construction means that a project is completed within the defined guidelines set out in the Scope of Work. This document serves as a set of guardrails for the project based on the owner’s expectations and sheds light on how to execute the project in a way that meets these standards.
While quality may seem straightforward – work is completed on time, without damage, and within spec – there are several factors to consider when evaluating the quality of a construction project. Among these are certainly whether you have completed the project on schedule and have met the owners’ requirements within the agreed-upon budget.
Additionally, whether you have fulfilled the specifications in the job’s contract—and avoided disputes in the process—is vital in determining quality. Finally, one of the most significant factors in construction quality is ensuring that your final build performs its intended purpose once you’ve wrapped up a job and turned a site over to its owner.
Perhaps most critically, construction quality affects your bottom line. Completing projects with a high level of quality can protect you from costly mistakes requiring rework on a job while helping you win repeat business. Conversely, construction projects with material, installation, scheduling problems can damage your reputation and lose business in the future, both from potential repeat clients and other owners or contractors who have heard of the poor quality of your work.
During a project, problems that arise and remain unresolved can hurt your ability to complete closeout. This problem is widespread in the industry, with 68% of general contractors reporting that they experience issues “getting off the job” on at least 25% of their projects, according to an Autodesk and Dodge Data & Analytics report. Moreover, nearly 60% say this has a “high” to “very high” negative impact on their profitability.
Beyond the financial repercussions of quality issues, poor quality can also waste time, resources, and materials. Higher quality construction improves project efficiency, meaning that the better your processes and workflows, like [issue resolution, RFIs, etc.], the easier it is for a job to move forward on schedule without rework requirements.
There is also the primary concern of project safety, which poor quality project execution can hurt as well. Put another way, high-quality construction projects improve safety and produce safer finished products. Additionally, these project outcomes are often more efficient and last longer.
The first step to improving the quality of your construction projects is to identify the factors affecting quality management and how to address them. Among the most common of these factors are the use of damaged and low-quality materials, supplier and vendor failures, subcontractor mishandling, failure to document changes and practices, last-minute changes, scope creep, miscommunication between teams, the complexity of designs, lack of a project management system, and ignored audits and testing.
These factors span the entirety of the project lifecycle and can be avoided by doing stringent due diligence against clearly defined standards for every aspect of a project. You must implement several construction quality processes to create and stick to these standards.
Setting up quality processes for your next construction project involves establishing two tracks: quality assurance and quality control.
Quality Assurance, or QA, doesn’t just examine the end result of a project; it takes a process-oriented approach. QA regards the planned and systematic activities executed during a job to fulfill the project’s quality requirements.
On the other hand, Quality Control, or QC, is more product than process-oriented, concerned with the outcome of a project. QC examines whether a job has been completed correctly and seeks to determine whether a project was finished in compliance with the stated requirements. The QC process measures the quality characteristics of a completed job and compares them to the agreed-upon project standards, then analyzes any differences between obtained and desired results to determine if corrections are needed.
Measuring QA and QC requires two distinct approaches and involves varying project stakeholders.
For QA, project audits and testing are carried out primarily by owners or their representatives. Different owners are more stringent about measuring QA, and the financial implications of doing so can sometimes prevent a QA examination from taking place on a project.
In contrast, QC is a mandatory process due to contract requirements. Contractors use it to ensure their finished work meets the quality standards and specifications of the designers and other stakeholders involved. The QC process can include subcontractor qualification, bid, and submittals reviews, and providing jobsite supervision.
Now that we’ve explored what quality is, why it matters, and how it’s measured, here are a few tools for improving construction quality to set your next job up for success.
Work towards closeout earlier
Create a work list and use it as you go. The closeout process doesn’t have to wait until the end of a project—in fact, it shouldn’t. Consider using a standardized punch list format right from the start of a job to ensure everyone is on the same page and set expectations for each project stage. Certain software provides flexible, useful tools like custom punch list templates to streamline the quality processes of any project. Remember, project closeout affects everything from your client to your team to your bottom line and can even impact your future work opportunities, so it’s well worth investing the time to do it early and do it right.
Over the course of a job, you should frequently meet with the owner and other project stakeholders to get ahead of what needs to be completed before handoff and ensure all specifications and requirements are met. The punch-list-as-you-go method is a strategic way to end the closeout process faster. It allows you to provide incremental updates to key project stakeholders consistently and reliably.
Hone in on quality workflows
Another thing you can do to improve construction quality is to establish your quality workflows early on. Ownership and accountability are vital to effective construction quality management, and punch lists alone won’t dictate your success outcomes, especially if your team’s roles and responsibilities aren’t clearly defined. That’s why assigning quality management responsibilities to specific people or teams early in a project’s life cycle is crucial, with clear due dates and deliverables to build accountability into your closeout and construction quality management processes. With the right cloud-based software, assigning and alerting stakeholders, and tracking their progress, is easy. This is a strategic way to streamline the implementation of your quality workflows and ensure teams stay on track and effective throughout a job.
Conduct frequent risk assessments
More than at any single point during a construction project, conducting an ongoing risk assessment is vital to moving a job forward. Now more than ever, constant risk monitoring is critical when closing out a project on schedule. Carrying out an ongoing risk assessment involves identifying any threats or concerns you may have about a job, routinely reviewing the project for potential liabilities, and creating strategies for mitigating all issues you identify. These challenges include legal risks, zoning issues, cash flow concerns, worker training, deliverable transfer, and other problems that could derail a project’s progress or the final handoff.
Learning from prior jobs is also a strategic method for improving quality and should be widely adopted throughout the industry. Only 47% of contractors and trade professionals have a standard process to compare findings from past projects to improve future work. Improving standards around data collection and documentation on all projects will help reduce risk and enhance the quality of construction in the future. Moreover, firms already using or are open to using advanced intelligence technology, especially solutions incorporating machine learning, know that these tools can change the game regarding proactive risk assessment and mitigation. Consider adopting tools that can help predict, prevent, and manage risk to optimize project closeout and improve the quality of every job.
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Construction quality involves a number of moving parts, but employing the right strategies for managing, assuring, controlling, and improving the quality of your projects can set you up for success now and in the future. There are several solutions to help you optimize your quality processes, like these resources, to ensure that all of your jobs meet the highest possible quality standards for construction.