Make the Client Happy and Happiness Will Come Back to You

Daily Journal of Commerce
Design & Construction – July 26, 1993
By Dragan Milosevic

Serious quality problems continue to plague the construction industry. These problems include poor planning and scheduling, inadequate training, substandard quality of materials and workmanship, poorly defined work and weak project leadership. There is a solution to these problems: TQM – Total Quality Management, the phrase that is popping up everywhere in the construction industry. TQM is an operational philosophy focusing on customer satisfaction, respect for people and continuous improvement.

The Key Ingredients of TQM

Can you build a construction company where attitudes and operations are oriented toward client satisfaction? Such a company places more emphasis on understanding the client needs and wants, translates those needs and wants into reliable plans and then constructs the project through such a process that the client’s requirements are met. If you can build such a company, you will make the client happy and the happiness will come back to you. That happiness is in the form of repeat business, higher productivity, higher profits and increased satisfaction of your employees.

Continuous improvement is about solving problems. It is about doing things right the first time, every time, and improving constantly. It includes teams involving management, line and project staff and, when appropriate, the client to study and recommend changes to improve processes. A process might be concrete curing or developing a bid, practically any process in your company’s value-adding chain.

You show respect for people by getting them involved. In TQM, everyone is involved in making the company better, not just management. How? By doing jobs in a quality manner, by making quality improvements and by employees making decisions on their own – decisions that do not require management approval. In order for this to happen, management should provide proper environment, training, tools, materials and equipment.

One Size Doesn’t Fit All

Here are some generic steps in implementing TQM. First, start at the top: Educate yourself. If you think that TQM will work for your company, commit yourself to TQM. Then, develop your own TQM strategy and choose parts of the company to implement TQM (we do not suggest companywide implementation all at one time). Next, provide resources for the implementation and train your employees. At this point, you are ready to identify how you are going to measure the impact of TQM on the success of your business and the progress of TQM activities.

The next step is embedding the continuous improvement process. Based on its performance, you will monitor and evaluate results. It is important to recognize success and let employees know how they contributed to the improved operation of the company. Learn from feedback as to how you can improve and adjust the TQM effort to meet the changing needs of the company.

Finally, you must continue to improve. For how long? Forever! TQM is not a quick fix, it is a never-ending activity.

As mentioned earlier, the above steps are generic ones. They do not fit all. You must first assess your relative performance in terms of profitability, productivity and quality. Only then is it time to start tailoring your own approach. Lower-performing and high performing companies wouldn’t take the same road. Each of them would have a different catalogue of TQM activities. For example, low performers should stay focused on the basics of the business. High performers should focus on reaching out to position, scan and anticipate the actions of competitors and the future needs of clients.

Beware: TQM Killers

Whether you are a high- or low-performing construction company, you must be aware of the factors that have proven to be major killers of TQM. Some of those are:

  • Lack of senior management commitment.
  • Lack of a TQM implementation plan.
  • Insufficient or confusing training.
  • Lack of measurement of process improvements.
  • Impatience for quick results.

As with any process, TQM faces hurdles. Understanding the killers of the TQM process may help enhance the probability of success for your own TQM efforts. But that success is impossible without proper construction project quality programs.

Project Quality Program

The construction project is a basic building block of your construction company. All of your dollars come from the projects. It is where you work with your clients; projects are where you make or break the company. That is why your construction projects should become the focus of your TQM efforts. A vehicle for that focus is a Project Quality Program (PQP). To understand what PQP can do for you, let us take a look at some specific project quality problems.

In one example, a weld joint ruptured during the water fill in preparation to hydrotest. Why? Temporary hangers provided inadequate support for water filled pipes. In another case, concrete slump exceeded the 2-inch to 4-inch requirement of specifications. Cause: Ice added in lieu of water to control temperature and a miscalculation of water equivalent.

What do these cases have in common? Lost time, a disrupted schedule and the added cost for rework and reinspections.

How do you keep these problems from happening? PQP.

PQP will produce actions to eliminate problems. With these actions, a project superintendent provides adequate confidence that all those little and big construction activities on the job site will achieve the desired quality and thus lead to a project that will perform its intended function in service.

Role of PQP in a Total Project Management System

Project management always has paid a great deal of attention to costs and schedules on any project. Should it be taken for granted and assumed that quality is going to happen without being planned? What do you think would happen to costs and schedules if left to chance? The consequences of not accomplishing the desired quality can have an enormous impact on costs and schedules. Why? Because of associated rework and repair costs resulting from not doing it right the first time.

During the initial phase of a project, the superintendent should lay down a program for achieving quality as well as the plan for assuring that cost and schedule goals are met.

Why Would You Want a Project Quality Program on Your Job?

PQP provides added protection against claims by clients by having objective evidence in the form of records to prove that the project was built in conformance with the design. It also identifies and documents problems in the initial stages so that they can be corrected before costs and schedules are affected. In addition, PQP reduces field problems and complements safety requirements of the project. Finally, it gives added assurance to the customer that they are getting what Page 32 they are paying for.

The 10 Basic Elements to PQP

1. Define the program by management procedures. Plan what you do, do what you plan and document that you did it. .
2. Organize so there is freedom to identify problems. Have someone direct and administer the program under your supervision (in a smaller project, your project superintendent would administer the program) and organize continuous improvement teams. Give them the tools and leverage to get the job done. But remember, every project member is responsible for the quality of his/her project work.
3. Identify items under the program and continuous improvement tasks. There are a few critical and many trivial items. Select the critical items that are important to the function, reliability and safety of the project. Spend your dollars where it counts and where it will assure a successful project. Note that the critical items can include any process in your project. For example, planning and scheduling, mixing concrete, fabrication of formwork or review of shop drawings.
4. Review design and purchase order documents and assess subcontractors. Make sure design documents contain appropriate quality standards and clearly define acceptance criteria. Make sure requirements are clearly spelled out to the subcontractors so you get what you pay for. Evaluate subcontractors in terms of quality, delivery and price.
5. Perform inspections and tests. Make sure it conforms and that it works before you accept it.
6. Control and calibrate measuring and test equipment. Make sure you and your data are right.
7. Control non-conforming items. Identify and segregate non-conforming items, document decisions on how to fix the problem and correct the cause of the problem so it does not reoccur.
8. Control special processes (e.g. welding) and strive for uniform craftsmanship.
9. Maintain quality records. Be able to prove the job was done correctly and separate the good from the bad.
10. Perform audits of all project activities. Verify implementation of procedures and take nothing for granted. Check the progress of the continuous improvement teams.

Does all this apply to both big and small companies, big and small projects? Yes. TQM and PQP are for everyone. The smaller the company and project, the easier it will be to implement.

TQM and PQP are a solution to the serious problems plaguing the construction industry. They help clients get the quality they demand.

In this decade, TQM and PQP will be the keys to success and profitability of those construction companies that know how to use them – those whose actions can match their words.