Having a Quality Assurance program with clear and well established procedures goes a long way in constructing a building that will stand the test of time. No matter how great the superintendent or professional workforce may be at their jobs, errors can happen. Without a strong framework of Quality Control and Quality Assurance processes, these mistakes and oversights can lead to expensive repairs or even more costly litigation. Insurance companies know this and have been requiring QA/QC programs for some time.
These programs are not one-size-fits-all, because all contractors and homebuilders have their own unique strengths, needs and insurance requirements. It is important to periodically evaluate whether your current Quality Assurance program meets both your firm’s quality standards as well as your clients’ expectations.
From our experience in performing peer reviews, inspections, design-assist and construction forensic investigations, we have identified a set of core principles that all successful construction Quality Assurance programs have:
- Qualified and experienced inspectors
- Team-wide commitment to quality
- Unbiased evaluation through peer review
- Completeness of peer review
- Timeliness of inspections and reporting
- Tracking issues to resolution
We have found that successful QA programs always have highly qualified and experienced personnel performing the inspections. We must emphasize that both factors are critical. Personnel that meet these criteria can be hard to come by, but the value they bring to the table cannot be understated. Settling for inspectors who lack either the proper qualifications or necessary real-world experience will leave builders with blind spots in their QA program, which could become problematic down the road.
Team-Wide Commitment to Quality
A deep commitment from the entire team is critical to achieving your quality goals. There are many reason why management training programs harp on clearly communicated goals. One reason is it prevents the team from making false assumptions or taking something for granted. Making an explicit commitment to quality also sets expectations across all job functions and helps mitigate disagreements during construction.
Unbiased Evaluation Through Peer Review
The field of psychology has consistently shown that most of us have a favorable bias when we evaluate a work product that we or a close colleague performed. Not only do we consciously give latitude in these situations, but our subconscious mind can sometimes make mistakes invisible to us despite our best intentions or efforts.
This bias is why peer-reviewed journals are utilized in scientific fields. Any flaws in their models or tests are rigorously challenged before—and even after—publication to ensure the integrity of their findings.
To truly get an unbiased evaluation during the construction, the best-performing QA programs utilize third-party peer review, which provides an extra pair of eyes from outside the organization. This counters a builders’ tendency to overlook certain things and ensures the program is effective at catching mistakes.
Completeness of Peer Review
The strength of a peer review, whether third-party or internal, really depends on where the inspectors are and aren’t looking. By closely analyzing the scope of the peer review, you can judge if the current program is sufficient for your construction quality goals.
One of the key items to look for when evaluating a QA program is how many plan types are involved during the plan review process (architectural, mechanical, electrical, structural, etc.). Also, be sure to check which issues the review will report on, such as verifying adequate design, catching common issues, waterproofing, construction material interfacing and more.
When evaluating third-party QA, a copy of their sample scopes should answer questions such as how complete their program is, as well as what gaps will need to be supplemented or monitored by the project superintendent. Most successful programs in achieving quality start as early as the planning process and continue through the construction process to completion.
If not using third-party peer review, the internal QA/QC program should be at least the same or more rigorous in scope than what would be done by a third-party. Meeting or exceeding their scopes will at least limit bias by omission.
Timeliness of Inspections & Reporting
Time has a high cost during construction. In every project, decision-makers must consider the trade-offs between time, quality and cost. It is therefore not only beneficial, but critical, to have inspections and reports completed efficiently. The faster the right information gets to the right people, the lower the cost to address the issues.
A strong factor to achieving QA program efficiency is having an inspector that is flexible and able to respond promptly to a project’s schedule. The other major factor is how quickly the reports can be turned around. The shelf life of actionable information during construction can be very short. In an ideal world, the reporting process is in real-time, and with today’s technology, it is now doable. Some of the best QA programs have reports go out as soon as inspectors complete their site visits.
Tracking Issues to Resolution
Preventing and catching construction issues early and efficiently is key to a Quality Assurance program’s success, as is developing and following an effective approach to resolving known issues. Having a well-defined and understood process to track issues greatly reduces the risk of anything being overlooked in the flurry of activity.
The most cutting-edge QA programs today utilize specialized software systems that track issues to resolution. The benefits of using these systems are numerous, and with a team’s commitment to quality, the effectiveness of a program can easily be enhanced.
Assessing a QA/QC Program
With Xpera’s experience handling hundreds of construction defect cases, we are stalwart supporters of every contractor or homebuilder having a robust quality management program. The progress in construction technology and changing building codes brings us many new challenges and opportunities, making it increasingly important to routinely review construction quality practices. Oftentimes, a better approach to quality assurance can be found.
Improving the built environment is our mission at Xpera Group and helping our builder clients do the same through third-party QA services is just one of the many ways we do this.
Steve Grimes is director of construction services at Xpera Group. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org