How to Ensure Better Quality and Profitability on Construction Sites

What is Quality? Quality is something that is suitable for its intended purpose while satisfying customer expectations.

Put simply; ‘Quality is whatever the client wants’

Why then, do many construction sites fail miserably to achieve quality and profit margins on site? Take a look at the photos below. Great, aren’t they? Not if you are the company trying to make a decent profit:

 

Whether you laughed or cringed at the above photos it was certainly no laughing matter for the client or contractor that produced these beauties. All of the above likely needed costly remedial work that wiped out the profits and damaged the contractor’s reputation at the very least.

How did these happen?

Likely causes are:

Lack of understanding of client requirements

Lack of adequate planning at preconstruction stage

Use of untrained or incompetent workforce

Lack of suitable supervision

Focus on cheapest price in lieu of better value

No management system or quality controls in place

And so on…………….

 

How to achieve ‘Right First Time’ Quality on your sites

The Plan, Do, Check, Act approach achieves a balance between the systems and behavioural aspects of management. This sounds complicated but its not. It’s simple.

Plan

This is the crucial first step. Many jobs fail because of lack of suitable planning. Planning can start right at tender / Estimating stage where the job is assessed and costed properly. Then once the job is won, under the CDM 2015 Regulations you should plan the upcoming works. The focus is on Health & Safety, but this is also the time to consider the programme, subcontractors, supervision, test and inspection plans etc. You will be thinking of how to achieve your project aims and how to measure its success. The time spent on planning at this early stage will pay dividends and help ensure a timely handover to the required quality and budget.

Do

This is where you put your hard work at the planning stage into operation.

It is important to organise the works effectively and ensure that your project goals are communicated. The best way to do this is to involve workers and let them know what is required of them and the quality of works required etc. so that everyone is clear on what is needed and can discuss the project. This helps develop positive attitudes and behaviours. You usually find that the people doing the work may have some ideas that will help deliver quality works, after all, they are the specialists, the experts.

Involving and empowering the team members and giving them responsibility for carrying out the works often results in a better ‘Right First Time’ regime with less costly rework that eats into your already tight profit margins.

It is important to understand that to achieve consistent quality on site there needs to be focus on both the service (workmanship, supervision) and the completed product. As a minimum you should ensure that:

You have the correct resources in place i.e. trained and competent personnel.

You have sufficient resources in place.

You have the correct materials in place

You provide a reasonable timescale for completing the works*1

There is suitable and experienced supervision in place

Regular inspections and records are kept of ongoing works (Inspection and Test Plans)

Timely co-ordination and handover of trades

Protection measures taken to minimise damage to completed works.

This is especially true towards the latter part of the project when there are usually a larger number of finishing trades working on the site. Any delays earlier in the project are often mitigated by squeezing the finishing trades into ever shorter timescales to achieve the planned handover date and risking the quality of the final works. Delays that are outside of your control can often be covered by an extension of time, but delays caused by shoddy workmanship are your own fault and are unlikely to be looked upon favourably. It is important to ensure that you don’t overload and ‘steepen’ the programme too much at this crucial stage. One way of avoiding this is to develop a Target Programme with a targeted completion date maybe a couple of weeks before the contractual handover date. This will allow a little bit of ‘float’ or breathing space if the critical path gets squeezed. However, it is better if the focus is on achieving a ‘Right First Time’ approach.

 

Check

This is where you check that your plans have been implemented correctly. This can range from simple visual checks to carrying out full checks i.e. concrete cube test results.

May companies develop an Inspection and Test Plan. This need not be a complicated document as all it will do is highlight inspections, tests and ‘hold’ points together with what records need to be kept.

‘Hold’ Points are critical stages within construction projects that are often ignored or documented properly. Put simply a ‘hold’ point refers to putting a hold on construction activities until an inspection is passed.

Construction inspection hold points are particularly important when work cannot be inspected later because a problem could be covered up. For example, a hold point before a concrete pour permits verification of steel reinforcing before it is covered with concrete or checking a masonry wall prior to plastering etc.

Hold points should be identified for critical inspections when cost of rework would be high if problems are found later.  For example, don’t start structural steelwork erection until the foundations have been completed and fully checked as any subsequent dimensional errors in addressing structural steelwork errors is going to be a painful and costly exercise.

So, hold points should be listed on inspection and test plans so everyone knows when a hold point is in effect. A hold status indicator should also be used to indicate when the inspection is passed. The other advantage of this is that it prevents claims of shoddy workmanship by previous trades as you will now have documented evidence that works were completed to satisfaction prior to handing over to following trades.

Properly used, inspection and test plans can be an effective tool to control construction processes so that quality and costs can be effectively controlled.

Act

So, you have now handed over your project to a happy and satisfied client and have also managed to make a little money with your new quality management process in place. Job Done!

Well no, not quite.

All that data that you have accumulated is often stuffed in lever arch files or obscure folders on the server and never see the light of day again.

What a waste!

That data is useful stuff! It is worth reviewing this data at the end of your project (or at set periods on longer projects) to assess how you have performed against the plan you developed all that time ago. Remember that plan?

Reviewing your performance will tell you what you did well and what didn’t go so well. Documented information that can be reviewed includes for example:

Site Inspections / Audits

Site Progress Reports

CVR Financial Data

Subcontractor Performance Reviews

Inspection and Test Plans

Customer Satisfaction Reviews

If used properly all this information will help you price and plan more effectively for your next project.

A Structured Management Process

In reality, there is no such thing as a perfect site. Construction sites are rarely like factory environments where there is a much greater consistency in terms of outputs, staff, machinery etc. Every construction project is inherently different, has different challenges, different labour, different subcontractors, different clients etc.

If the management system is informal and varies from site manager to site manager, it makes quality and cost management more difficult to control.

Managing all these variables on job to job can be a considerable task which is why a structured management process or management system can help. Switching to a more structured management process helps improve quality on construction sites and reduce the amount of time and money spent on reworking defective work.

The best way to improve construction quality and cost management is to create and implement a formal system of work. This helps take an element of unpredictability out of managing your projects as you will then be able to determine realistic targets and formally identify roles, responsibilities and authorities that will have clearly defined objectives that are monitored and controlled from start to finish.

This sounds like a lot to deal with but here at Green Hat Consulting, we will be able to help you develop and implement a system that suits the way you work and gives you consistently better results over time.

If you have any queries or would like some more information on the above please do not hesitate to contact us on 01792 293736 or contact us via email on enquiries@greenhat-consulting.co.uk

Written by:

 

 

Ian James

MCIOB BSc (Hons)

Technical Director