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Construction Quality Management 101

construction quality management

What it is, how it’s measured, why it matters, and how to improve it. Everything you need to know about construction quality and how to manage it.

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. We’ll take a deep dive into all the ways you can ensure your next construction project excels in quality. We’ll examine what is construction quality management, how construction quality is determined, what can stand in the way of quality programs, and what processes you can put in place to ensure the highest quality for any job. Read on for a look at how to achieve the best possible outcomes when it comes to construction quality.

What Is Construction Quality?

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. The Scope of Work for any job is your roadmap to achieving the best construction quality outcomes, and is one of the first tools you can use to ensure your project is on the road to success.

How Is Construction Quality Determined?

When it comes to determining the quality of a construction project, there are typically a number of factors to consider. Among these are whether you have completed the project on schedule, meeting the owners’ requirements within the agreed upon budget. Additionally, whether you have fulfilled the specifications laid out in the job’s contract—and avoided disputes in the process—is key to determining construction quality. Finally, ensuring that your final product performs its intended purpose is a major factor in construction quality, once you’ve wrapped up a job and turned a site over to its owner.

Why Is Quality Important in Construction?

Perhaps most critically, construction quality affects your bottom line. Completing projects with a high level of quality can win you repeat business and protect you from costly mistakes requiring rework on a job. Conversely, low quality construction projects can damage your reputation and lose you business in the future, both from potential repeat clients, as well as anyone else that has heard of the poor quality of your work.

During the course of a project, quality can have a negative impact on your ability to complete closeout and ensure that all quality issues are addressed. This problem is widespread in the industry, with 68% of general contractors reporting that they experience problems “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 construction 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, the easier it is for a job to move forward on schedule and without rework requirements.

There is also the major 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 as a result. Additionally, these project outcomes are often more efficient and last longer.

What Creates Quality Issues?

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, 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. To create and stick to these standards, you must implement a number of construction quality processes.

What are Quality Processes in Construction?

Setting up quality processes for your next construction project comes down to 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 in the course of 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 final 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, and is used by contractors to ensure their finished work meets the standards and specifications of the designers and other stakeholders involved in a job. The QC process can include subcontractor qualification, bid and submittals reviews, and providing job site supervision.

How to Improve Quality in Construction

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 punch list format right from the start of a job to ensure that everyone is on the same page and set expectations for each stage of the project. 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 have an impact on 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 prior to handoff and make sure all specifications and requirements are met. The punch-list-as-you-go method is a strategic way to complete the closeout process faster, and allows you to provide incremental updates to key project stakeholders on a consistent and reliable basis.

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 it’s crucial to assign quality management responsibilities to specific people or teams early in a project’s life cycle, with clear due dates and deliverables to build accountability into your closeout and 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 are staying on track and effective throughout the course of a job.

Conduct frequent risk assessments

More than at any single point in the course of a construction project, conducting on-going risk assessment is vital moving a job forward. Now more than ever, constant monitoring of risk is especially important when it comes to closing out a project on schedule. Carrying out on-going risk assessment involves identifying any threats or concerns you may have about a job, routinely reviewing the project for any potential liabilities, and creating strategies for mitigating all issues you identify in the process. These challenges can include anything from 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.

Standardize 

Learning from prior jobs is also a strategic method for improving construction quality, and should be more widely adopted throughout the industry. Only 47% of contractors and trade professionals have a standard process in place 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 improve construction quality in the future. Moreover, firms that are already using or are open to using advanced intelligence technology, especially solutions that incorporate machine learning, know that these tools can change the game when it comes to 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, every time.

A Toolkit to Improve Quality Management

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 a number of solutions to help you optimize your construction quality processes, like this toolkit for ensuring all of your jobs meet the highest possible quality standards for construction.

Grace Ellis

Grace Ellis

Editor in Chief, Autodesk Construction Cloud Blog

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