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Construction Quality Management: How to Make a Great Plan & Stick to It

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What is quality planning in project management?

In construction, “quality” entails a project meeting its design requirements. When quality is ignored, the ensuing troubles may range from cosmetic defects to structural failures, and everything in between. These, in turn, are likely to cause rifts among the project’s stakeholders.

This is why quality is one of the 3 tenets of construction, along with time and budget.

Typically, the General Contractor’s (GC) site superintendent makes sure that the work is finished per the stated quality standards. This conventional approach lacks efficiency, as many contractors don’t have defined quality management programs. To this end, owners may benefit from a quality plan built into the overall project plan.

This post will examine benefits of quality planning, the key elements of a construction quality plan, and its implementation.

How do I write a construction quality plan?

1. Establish the client’s quality expectations

Most owners expect a certain level of quality from their projects. They convey these expectations to the design team before the latter gets to work.
For a PM drafting their quality plan, it’s equally vital to know what level of quality the owner desires. They may want to formalize a quality control procedure in the specifications. Or, they may let the PM take the lead on quality. Either way, the PM must understand the client’s quality benchmark and write the plan with it in mind.

2. Designate quality management personnel

A quality manager shoulders the weight of the overall project quality, while the superintendent oversees it regularly in all the daily tasks.
When drafting a quality plan, the PM must appoint the quality manager and define their and the superintendent’s roles in quality assurance and control. With this info spelled out, the project team knows who calls the shots when quality is at stake, and the client knows whom to engage when quality issues arise.

3. Create a quality communications plan

Effective communication is central to staying on top of quality and promptly tackling defects when they surface.

A quality control plan should outline communication methods that can keep all relevant parties in the loop. To this end, the PM needs to consider how and when the contractor will convey quality matters, like inspection reports and test results, to the project team and the client.

4. Establish a process for qualifying contractors

Contractors and their trades can have a serious effect on the project’s quality standards. Some GCs may attempt to undercut their competitors by pricing cheaper, lower-quality labor. The owners themselves may be tempted to award their project to a low-bidding GC, possibly jeopardizing their building’s quality.

And while not all clients put costs before quality, it’s the PM’s job to establish prequalification procedures for GCs who wish to bid on the project. To evaluate a prospective bidder thoroughly, the PM should weigh their:
  • health and safety statistics
  • financial stability
  • history of claims or litigation
  • familiarity and experience with projects of similar scope and extent
The prequalification methods may differ by project and vary between delivery methods. That said, all aim to weed out contractors who are not up to doing quality work.

5. Outline your plan for Quality Assurance monitoring

Clients often fret over trades’ skills in the field. And justly so; it’s not enough to establish quality standards and make them known. The contractors’ work needs thorough surveillance to keep defects at bay.

To ensure that the rising structure follows the client’s quality intentions, the PM must figure out how to monitor the ongoing work. In their quality plan, the PM should specify:
  • which scopes of work will be examined
  • how often will the work be reviewed
  • who will be performing the periodic quality assessments
  • what criteria will be used to gauge the quality
6. Establish Quality Control procedures

Quality Control (QC) is similar to Quality Assurance (QA), as it aims to prevent flaws in the completed work. Unlike QA, which monitors quality daily, QC focuses on testing building components and systems.

In their quality plan, the PM needs to detail these QC procedures, specifically:
  • which building elements or materials require testing
  • when these tests should occur
  • which third-party service is hired to perform the testing
  • how to communicate the test results, and who should review them
  • what procedures to follow when the tested components deviate from the design requirements
In addition, for more subjective quality standards such as finishes and complicated assemblies, requiring mockups and samples in advance of approval of shop drawings and award of trades is an excellent practice. This step is more critical for projects with high-end finishes such as custom estates or hospitality projects.

7. Identify nonconformance procedures

When things go wrong, the right response can mean the difference between a minor construction setback and a tragic accident decades later. The examples may sound drastic, but they show the value of correcting defects promptly and discouraging cover-ups. To this end, the quality plan must outline:
  • which corrective measures to take when defects emerge
  • how to report and keep records of quality issues
  • how to discourage and prevent cover-ups by site staff (by encouraging transparency and avoiding finger pointing and blame)

How do I enforce my quality plan during construction?

The plan may sound great on paper, but every construction site suffers from some significant barriers to quality management. They include:
  • adverse site and environmental conditions
  • frequent staff turnovers, and transient labor
  • lack of skilled labor
  • supply chain issues
  • frequent scope changes and delays
The PM should train the staff responsible for quality on surmounting these hazards and executing the quality plan despite them. Should quality lapses occur, these chosen staff must be held liable.

What’s more, every project stakeholder, including the owner, designers, consultants, the construction project management firm, the GC, and their trades, must contribute to the effectiveness of quality management.
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