Posts Tagged ‘quality control’

Re-Imagining the Contingency Budget

November 9, 2011

*RP - Risk of the Past

In an earlier post I discussed the risk of the past (RP) and the ways in which it impacts the contingency budget of a construction project. The table above presents a “before and after” scenario, where the effects of the RP are reduced through effective use of media to capture and record events and conditions in real time so that they may be examined later.  By effectively leveraging media to lessen the uncertainty over past conditions, the contingency budget can be reduced in many ways as explained below.

Scope Change

Collateral work is the biggest driver of unanticipated scope change costs. Owners can fail to fully comprehend the impact on construction of what may seem to be a minor change request. While inaccurate or incomplete progress reports by the contractor, may lead an owner to believe that sufficient time exists to implement a change without incurring major rework.

Contractors can use media effectively to clearly convey project progress to owners and then build on that knowledge to illustrate the impact of design change costs. In doing so, both parties know what they are in for when approving a design change.


Work that is completed out of sequence harms productivity and can lead to unnecessary charges. Often a single instance of out-of-sequence-work can lead to a pattern that spirals out of control. Contractors can use media to capture and share lessons learned immediately to correct these issues and prevent further loss, rather than waiting until the end of the project when the damage is done.

Design Deficiencies

Let’s face it, the RFI is overkill for many contractor inquiries. How many times does the response to an RFI read something like “See detail D-1”? For example when it comes to process related questions such as window installation, Architects can utilize photos and video to clearly convey to prescribed process for proper installation providing for an easily repeatable process throughout a project.  In the case of a valid RFI request, media provide an effective tool for contractor and architect alike for confirmation of compliance.

Delay Claims

This is an area where the answer is almost never as clear as black and white. Clear evidence of jobsite conditions can allow for a thorough examination of factors contributing to delay claims and often bring to light details that do not survive through recollection and typical documentation alone. For example, even severe weather events are often not the “show stopper” that they might appear to be in hindsight. A jobsite bogged down in mud, might still be quite productive when it comes to interior work, for example. Photos and video can also conclusively settle issues of materiel delivery schedules or access by subcontractors.

Post Construction Legal Expenses

Well, the lawyers are going to get theirs anyway. Aren’t they?

You’ve Landed a Stimulus Project, Now What?

May 11, 2009

You and your team sharpened your pencils and beat back the most ravenous pack of competitors that you’ve ever seen in your career to win a coveted stimulus project. Congratulations.

Now it’s the morning after and you realize that things will be different with this project. Scrutiny from the government, the media and even the general public will be higher than you’ve ever experienced. Also, the razor thin margins that you have left for yourself mean that you have less wiggle room than ever to get this one right.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What changes did you make in your approach to bidding that led to your winning the contract?
  • Have you made appropriate accommodations to your operations practices in anticipation of the increased scrutiny? Timely, complete reports help a lot. Get out there and snap plenty of pictures.
  • Have you worked with your suppliers (and your subs with theirs) to improve the accuracy of their delivery schedules? Successful Just-In-Time deliveries can add precious days of cash flow while minimizing costly idle time.
  • Pre-Construction Quality meetings with your trades are helpful. In-project Quality meetings are even better. Track exceptions from inception to closure and don’t let schedule pressure affect your expectations for closure. Shortcuts only cost more in the end.

Times have changed. Have you?

Yeah, Right.

February 24, 2009

Imagine that you are an assembly line worker in the days of Henry Ford. You work in an environment where throughput is king. In other words, keep the production line moving at any cost. If you cause the line to stop for any reason, you get fired.


Fast forward to 1995. Ford, having learned a thing or two from Toyota, which ironically, had previously gotten their start by copying from Henry Ford, institutes Lean Manufacturing in order to instill a culture of continuous improvement through employee empowerment. For the first time ANYONE is empowered to stop the production line if they see something wrong.

Imagine for a moment what that was like for the newly empowered workers. Not having been there personally, I can only assume that the collective response to this new initiative can be summed up in two words “Yeah, right.”  One day, you can lose your job for gumming up the works. The next day, you’ve got full braking rights.

Construction personnel have the same quality rights as the Henry Ford-era workers.  In construction, the schedule has the same “Golden Calf” status as Ford’s assembly line. Impede it at your own peril.

One day, the age of enlightenment will reach construction. Hopefully, I’ll get a front row seat to hear the very first empowered construction workers say those historic words: “Yeah, right.”

Billy’s Journey

February 16, 2009

A recent conversation with a quality manager from a major general contractor brought this cartoon immediately to mind.  You see, this poor chap was under the delusion that he could simply walk from his desk to a condo unit to check the fit of the refrigerator and then walk back.  The time required to complete his journey: 2 hours!

family-circus-billy-pathAt every turn, the quality manager was beckoned by a information-starved  sub contractor with a question.  Each question began innocently enough.  “Got a minute?” they would ask.  But after a dozen or so of these, his 10 minute walk turned into a 2 hour journey.

My take on Billy’s journey:

  1. Ground-level direction leaves a lot to be desired.
  2. Tradespeople want to do a good job for their clients, but don’t always have sufficient information to do so.
  3. If chance encounters with roaming managers are how trade questions get answered, then I bet a fair number of trade questions go un-answered.

Project quality suffers in all cases.

Catching Construction Defects Early

February 10, 2009

One of the lessons I’ve learned during the development of Geedra is that software construction and building construction have a lot in common. The graphic below was lifted from a white paper on software development, but it could easily have appeared in a construction management textbook. In reading this I’m reminded of an old college professor of mine, who hammer into us the importance of planning the logic behind a software program before writing a single line of code.  “Make the mistakes on the blackboard” (I told you he was old) “because they’re a lot cheaper to fix there than they are once you turn them into zeros and ones.”


February 7, 2009

We launched the new Geedra website today.  If construction touches your life in any way, please pay us a visit.


New Job Offer for Construction QC Manager? Run Away!!!

January 7, 2009

The modern day Construction QC Manager is a fraud. Not the person, but the position. The position is a creation of the general contractor’s principles in a effort to portray themselves as a quality driven organization. Meanwhile, it’s not uncommon for a big project to burn through two or more QC Managers during  a project. Why? Because it’s impossible to do the job well.

If you’re competent and conscientious, then you’re the bad cop. You are the one that every operative on a job site avoids like the plague, because if you have something to say it’s going to cost time. You’re either going to slow them down with your petty “compliance” issues or make “extra” work to correct something you don’t like?

Finicky QC managers are death to a tight schedule.

If you’re compliant and a “good guy”, then you’re setting yourself up for a fall. Compliant QC managers let defects pile up. Before you know it, a rain storm blows in and leaves an inch of standing water in every room on the north side of the building because the penetrations weren’t properly caulked. Now the project is looking at a week’s worth of water remediation.

Compliant QC managers are death to a tight schedule.

Here’s a thought. What if Quality Control was given higher profile in the general contractor’s organization? * At that level, executives can plan and implement effective Quality Systems that can not only catch defects and assure compliance, but save time and money during construction by bringing structure and efficiency to preconstruction planning. An empowered VP of Quality can also champion process improvement and hold subcontractors to standards for training and process correction during construction.

While my recommendations may seem drastic and completely impractical, they have already been implemented with great success in the manufacturing sector.  By moving quality up the management chain to the “corner office” starting in the late 70’s, American manufacturers learned the lessons of their Japanese counterparts; improved quality pays off in lower defect rates, lower rework and better schedule performance.


*A Google search for “Construction Vice President Quality” produced one person with the title “Vice President of Quality Control” (Bravo Colony Paving!) in the first five pages of search results. The only directors of Quality Control were from the nuclear industry (thank God.)  Any other construction vice presidents involved with quality, listed it as their third or fourth area of responsibility.

Discovering Construction Defects is Only Half the Battle

January 5, 2009

Phew! You found the missing caulk in the soffit in ten different units of that $20 million dollar condo project. And just in time too, since the dry wall installers are due to begin work in the morning.  So, you saved yourself a bunch of headaches down the road.

But now what? Are you confident that this was an isolated incident, what about the first 10 units that have already been completed? What about the next 25 units? The framer promised that they wouldn’t forget to caulk again, but can he deliver on his promise? After all, he’s got a different crew every day.

Are you going to inspect 100% of your sub’s work? Not likely. That’s why inspection alone is never the answer. In order to make the most of your inspection effort, you’ll also need the following:

  • A transparent inspection plan. Know in advance what you will be inspecting and when you will be conducting your inspections. Share this information with your subs.
  • A reporting system that can identify trouble spots. For small jobs, periodic reviews of inspection reports should suffice. Bigger projects will require more sophisticated tools such as trend analysis software.
  • Process improvement procedures. GC’s need lead all of their major subs in process improvement by including a provision for process correction in their bid package. I’ll write more extensively about this in a future post, but essentially you are asking your subs to acknowledge process problems, correct the process and then train their crews in order to implement the corrections.
  • A defect management system that tracks selected defects from detection through resolution.

Incorporating these features into your quality plan will lower your defect-related costs and provide for improved efficiency over the life of a project.

Building Airplanes vs. Building Buildings – Part 3 (The Missing Link)

July 3, 2008

So far in this series of posts I’ve discussed the well-orchestrated construction of airplanes as compared with the improvisational construction of buildings in Part 1. In Part 2 I explored the differences in inspection and monitoring for the two processes. In Part 3 I’ll discuss Construction Verification‘s role in providing project partners with the means to drive their defect rates down significantly, perhaps to levels that compare favorably with those of aircraft manufacturers.

When it comes to the development of process systems, the biggest advantage that Boeing or Airbus have over a general contractor are volume and duration. When you are planning on building thousands of aircraft over a period of ten or more years, you can justify a sizable effort in developing a sophisticated process instructions that describe the installation of every wire, nut and rivet. The payoff for this intensive process development comes in the form of reduced defects, lower rework costs and of course, safer aircraft.

In construction neither owners nor general contractors can benefit from high volume or long duration as aircraft manufacturers can. While construction partners can invest in their own individual management systems, there is no economic payoff for them if they invest in systems that govern the movement and monitoring of individual contributors on a construction site. Why pay to develop specialized process instructions for every construction operation on a building when you can’t apply that information to your next building? That is, of course, if there even is a next building? Expenditures in systems development, testing, training and implementation cannot generate a positive return on investment during the time line of a single project.

Construction Verification, however, can make up for lack of process control available to the building constructor. By monitoring all significant building systems with images and data, CV offers a contractor the means to evaluate critical operations in near real time. Thus, afford him the ability to make corrections early before work is covered, averting costly rework in the process. Early detection can also reduce the quantity of errors as timely process or design changes can reduce multiple instances of the same problem.

By recording the Construction Verification data in a database, the contractor has the power to investigate quality defects like never before. If the contractor suspects that any particular error might be “the tip of the iceberg,” he can confirm or refute his fears without leaving his desk by searching the data base for multiple instances of the same defect. For example, if there concerns about quality of the roofer’s work the contractor can zero in on all work performed under division code 075000 to view every significant membrane roofing operation without leaving his desk.

With this type of information at his fingertips, the contractor can take advantage of his improvisational environment to enact process revisions on the fly.  With a few barks into a radio, process corrections can be conveyed to the superintendent and on down the line within minutes. Try that in an airplane plant.

Construction Verification Doesn’t Replace Your Experts – Part II

January 9, 2008

If you haven’t heard, it rains here in Seattle. A lot.

So, if you were going to become a construction consultant in the Seattle-area, water proofing would be the way to go. I mean, some developers could give a rip about acoustic isolation, but absolutely nobody wants to build a leaky building. A good water proofing consultant is, therefore, worth his or her weight in gold (and at $125 an hour, that usually works out to be true – literally.)

If you’re a developer, you want your water proofing expert to be on hand whenever an important penetration or exterior wall is sealed. But you can’t afford to have this expert standing around with the meter running if(when) your schedule slips. Inevitably, there will be instances where your construction crew wishes the water proofing guy were around to make a call on the right way to splice two ends of a sodium bentonite seal. But guess what? The water proofing guy has been visiting the site every 5 or 6 weeks and won’t be back for at least a couple of weeks. The superintendent isn’t around and the supervisor has been pushing hard to finish that wall because the concrete is on its way. But don’t worry, one of the crewmen on the job remembers that consultant from two projects ago told him about this bentonite stuff and he’s absolutely sure that you can’t go wrong if you lap splice the joint with a 6″ overlap (wrong.)

This very real scenario, is just one of hundreds of ways that bad decisions get made on job sites everyday because the right people don’t have access to the right information. If that site were being verified, the CVT on hand would have reviewed the upcoming sealing operation with the water proofing consultant beforehand in order to convey the approved methods for splicing to the crew. If there was a question that had not been covered earlier, then a quick photo by the CVT transferred via wireless communication to the consultant would give him the information he needed to make an informed decision in a timely manner. The crew would receive proper instructions allowing the wall seal to be completed correctly and on time.