Pallav Saxena
About Pallav Saxena

As Vice President, Technical Coordination at Lotus Greens. Pallav is a construction management specialist with an in-depth knowledge of capex management for construction projects, development advisory, project planning, management and development. He has more than 12 years of experience spanning through the construction industry, including onsite experience and operations management at country level. Pallav is an IIT Delhi alumnus and an M. Tech in construction technology and management.

Managing Quality in Construction

There are systems & processes, general standards, technical specifications and a range of management tools to be implemented for achieving Quality. In construction business, though these are established & practiced, it is however surprizing to note that the quality is not up to desired standards most times.

It is always vouched for by each member of management team, to say that they will not compromise on quality. However, to implement this, the management team would need to spend about 25% of their workday i.e. min. 2 hours. With so many important aspects of business needing management attention, they may not be able to spare such time. Hence, it becomes important for the organization to design systems & policies in a way that quality can be achieved with minimum time involvement.

Here are a few things that senior management can implement to ensure greater focus on Quality:

An attitude of not compromising: In construction, Quality is not achieved by following not only codes and practices but also by following an attitude. Attitude setting starts with having a Vision & Mission statement about quality. Policy development to focus on quality is the next step. This displays the commitment of Management and reiterates the attitude to the lower levels of organizational pyramid. A simple “plan do check & act” method needs to get integrated in every step till completion.

ISO 9000 System implementation with intent to make quality an integral part of system and not for branding sake, can help in developing the required attitude.

Though these factors cannot be directly interpreted, but these are evaluated to contribute to approximately 5% efficiency in overall costs through better employee & client retention, brand positioning, lesser rework, wastage reduction, labour productivity, better sales values, faster sales / inflows. Higher premium for better quality is not unheard of and has been the key justification behind success of luxury products.

Critical balance of brittle triangle: Cost, Time & Scope leading to Quality. The quality hence depends on how best the constructor has been able to balance between cost, time and scope. Market forces have traditionally defined the scope (the specifications of the project, the product mix) and developers were not prepared of eventualities like inflation of construction cost, labour availability or market slow down which took the real estate sector by surprise in last 5 years. Failure on any one aspect of the triangle has a spiralling effect leading to breakdown.

While some developers were still able to maintain the critical balance, it is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain standards of quality without maintaining the cost & time parameters. The risks affecting the cost needs to be evaluated early and sufficient contingency needs to be planned based on risk profile of project. The use of mathematical models like simulations can be used for quantitatively justifying contingencies. Labour migration pattern, monsoon planning etc. shall be incorporated early in the project planning. While keeping the above in considerations, the intent shall be to be risk aware and not risk averse.

Monitoring & managing the cost of Poor Quality / Rework: This is a great way of keeping tab on quality lapses. The average thickness of plastering shall be 12 + 3 mm, hence any thickness beyond this is cost of poor quality and not cost of plastering. This allows the project managers understand a quantitative impact of poor focus and hence improves the focus towards quality. A random audit of such cost can have even a higher impact.

Procurement Teams to ensure quality: Research indicates that tough negotiation is one of the key reasons of failure in reaching project objective. Value drivers of Procurement shall be to get the best possible quality in budgeted price. Instead, savings over budget has been used traditionally. Given that there is always someone who is ready to do it cheaper, this parameter is not the best to judge.

The success & value system can be driven by giving focus on diverting part of savings generated without compromising on quality. Procurement teams shall be provided with responsibility of diverting 25% of savings generated in procurement over budget, towards quality improvement. This 25 paisa against each Rupee saved will return back to the organization through better brand positioning, better sales and many more indirect benefits.

Value Engineering: Availability, durability, exposure conditions, construction friendliness and other factors play critical role in overall quality. Architects & Organizations shall include Value engineering as a critical step in design and execution.

Value engineering workshops shall be headed or monitored by senior management representatives and every project shall have a Value Engineering target to achieve. This will lead to research, new material considerations, testing situations & probably outcome that will lead to better value. Value Engineering on Product & Procedures entails:

  • Understanding – Determine the performance requirement & Function of the product. Why is the product required? What is the basic property required? What it must have? What it should have? What else is a desired trait? What it should not have?
  • Alternative Research – Brainstorming, Market research & Technical review of meeting the objective through alternatives.
  • Analysis – Quantitative Techniques like Cost Benefit, Time analysis, Life Cycle Analysis to select the product.
  • Finalization – The best top 2 or 3 alternative to be chosen to review the actual benefits with detailed testing and finalization of decision.
  • Implementation – Operationalization of new product along with necessary procurement order conditions like defect rate, acceptability criteria, technology transfer etc. In-fact poor technology transfer is one of the biggest reasons of failure of new technologies & products.
  • Monitoring – Monitoring the performance of the product to ensure that the product has delivered the desired result analyzed during the analysis stage of value engineering and documenting for future usage.

 

Learning from Experience & Statistics: Learning & Improvement is an important part of Quality cycle and it is important to implant statistical systems in quality management system to understand the success & failure rates. A basic matrix of quality review needs to be established by the management. This need not have any subjective data but information like following

  1. Consistency & Skill
    1. Standard deviation of concrete strength produced at site
    2. Ratio of unskilled to skilled labour
  2. Compliance
    1. Dimension Variation % in post concreting check of 10% random sampling
    2. Number of Non Conformance Reports (NCRs) with category of seriousness
    3. Inspection & test plan based finishing compliance %
  3. Cost of Poor quality
    1. Wastage % for tiles benchmarked to theoretical wastage as per drawing
    2. Days of labour deployed to repair/ rework
    3. Cost due to rework / poor quality
  4. Continuous Improvement
    1. Ageing of Non Conformance Reports
    2. Numbers of man hours of quality training conducted
    3. Trends of all statistical data

Such statistics will also make the team down the line aware and sensitive about the information being sought by Management and ensuring higher attention to quality.

Contractually aligned to deliver quality: The construction contracts are formulated to ensure that the project delivers to owner’s expectations. We often notice the statement “Time is essence of the contract”, but what about Quality? There needs to be better and deeper focus on quality to ensure contractual implementation.

Management shall ask the Procurement team to ensure the simple checklist on quality

  1. It is recommended that the Inspection & Test Plans which are reviewed during technical capability reviews are incorporated as part of contract. The same shall also be thoroughly reviewed by the consultants & architects.
  2. The penalties for non–compliance is generally not identified well in the contract, these needs to be incorporated & adhered to strictly.
  3. Submission of statistical data pertaining to quality is of prime importance and shall be in scope of contractor with penalty for non-compliance.
  4. Contract shall also allow the Project Manager to reject / hold the payment till rectifications to the satisfaction.

It takes over 4 years of theoretical study for one to become an engineer or an architect and one cannot appreciate the difference in quality without this knowledge. The senior management should never shy away from asking the engineers “what does the book say?”