Quality in Construction

Construction projects are a balance between cost, time and quality. It is possible to have high quality and low cost, but at the expense of time, and conversely to have high quality and a fast project, but at a cost. If both time and money are compromised, then quality is likely to suffer. High quality is not always the primary objective for the client; time or cost may be more important. It is only realistic to specify a very high standard of quality if the budget and time is available to achieve that standard.

Quality in construction projects encompasses not only the quality of products and equipment used in the construction, but the total management approach to completing the facility per the scope of works to customer/owner satisfaction within the budget and in accordance with the specified schedule to meet the owner’s defined purpose. The nature of the contracts between the parties plays a dominant part in the quality system required from the project, and the responsibility for fulfilling them must therefore be specified in the project documents. The documents include plans, specifications, schedules, bill of quantities, and so on.

Quality control in construction typically involves ensuring compliance with minimum standards of material and workmanship in order to ensure the performance of the facility according to the design. These minimum standards are contained in the specification documents. For the purpose of ensuring compliance, random samples and statistical methods are commonly used as the basis for accepting or rejecting work completed and batches of materials.

The contractor’s obligation is to carry out and complete the works in a proper and workmanlike manner as described by the contract documents. This means the contractor must carry out the works with reasonable skill and care, to the reasonable satisfaction of the owner.

The survey of Quality of Construction by FIDIC (Federation Internationale des Ingenieurs-Conseils, the International Association of Consulting Engineers) confirmed that failure to achieve appropriate quality of construction is a problem worldwide. Lack of quality in construction is manifested in poor or nonsustainable workmanship, unsafe structure, delays, cost overruns, and disputes in construction contracts.

Defects or failure in construction facilities can result in very large costs. Even with minor defects, reconstruction may be required and facility operation impaired.

Chung (1999) has described the quality of construction as follows:

The quality of building work is difficult, and often impossible, to quantify since a lot of construction practices cannot be assessed in numerical terms. The framework of reference is commonly the appearance of final product. “How good is good enough?” is often a matter of personal judgment and consequently a subject of contention. In fact, a building is of good quality if it will function as intended for its design life. As the true quality of the building will not be revealed until many years after completion, the notion of quality can only be interpreted in terms of the design attributes. So far as the builder is concerned, it is fair to judge the quality of his work by the degree of compliance with the stipulations in the contract, not only the technical specifications but also the contract sum and the contract period. His client cannot but be satisfied if the contract is executed as specified, within budget and on time. Therefore, a quality product of building construction is one that meets all contractual requirements (including statutory regulations) at optimum cost and time. (p. 4)

An implicit assumption in the traditional quality control practices is the notion of an acceptable quality level, which is an allowable fraction of defective items. Materials obtained from suppliers or work performed percentage should be within the acceptable quality level. Problems with materials or goods are corrected after delivery of the product. In contrast to this traditional approach of quality control is the goal of total quality control. In this system, no defective items are allowed anywhere in the construction process. While the zero defects goal can never be permanently obtained, it provides a goal so that an organization is never satisfied with its quality control program even if defects are reduced by substantial amounts year after year. This concept and approach to quality control was first developed in manufacturing firms in Japan and Europe, but has since spread to many construction companies. Total quality control is a commitment to quality expressed in all parts of an organization and typically involves many elements. Design reviews to ensure safe and effective construction procedures are a major element. Other elements include extensive training for personnel, shifting the responsibility for detecting defects from quality control inspectors to workers, and continually maintaining equipment. Worker involvement in improved quality control is often formalized in quality circles in which groups of workers meet regularly to make suggestions for quality improvement. Material suppliers are also required to ensure zero defects in delivered goods. Initially, all materials from a supplier are inspected and batches of goods with any defective items are returned. Suppliers with good records can be certified, and such suppliers will not be subject to complete inspection subsequently.

Total quality management is an organization wide effort centered on quality to improve performance that involves everyone and permeates every aspect of an organization to make quality a primary strategic objective. It is a way of managing an organization to ensure the satisfaction at every stage of the needs and expectations of both internal and external customers.

In case of construction projects, an organizational framework is established and implemented mainly by three parties: owner, designer/consultant, and contractor. Project quality is the result of aggressive and systematic application of quality control and quality assurance.

Construction projects being unique and non-repetitive in nature need specified attention to maintain the quality. Each project has to be designed and built to serve a specific need. TQM in construction projects typically involves ensuring compliance with minimum standards of material and workmanship in order to ensure the performance of the facility according to the design. TQM in a construction project is a cooperative form of doing the business that relies on the talents and capabilities of both labor and management to continually improve quality. The important factor in construction projects is to complete the facility per the scope of works to customer/owner satisfaction within the budget and to complete the work within the specified schedule to meet the owner’s defined purpose.

Oberlender (2000) has observed:

Quality in construction is achieved by the people who take pride in their work and have the necessary skills and experience to do the work. The actual quality of construction depends largely upon the control of construction itself, which is the principle responsibility of the contractor. … What is referred to today as “quality control,” which is a part of a quality assurance program, is a function that has for years been recognized as the inspection and testing of materials and workmanship to see that the work meets the requirements of the drawings and specifications. (p. 278)

Crosby’s quality definition is “conformance to requirements” and that of Oakland is “meeting the requirements.”

Crosby’s philosophy is seen by many to be encapsulated in his five “Absolute Truths of Quality Management.” These are

  1. Quality is defined as conformance to requirement, not as “goodness” or “elegance.”
  2. There is no such thing as a quality problem.
  3. It is always cheaper to do it right the first time.
  4. The only performance measurement is the cost of quality.
  5. The only performance standard is zero defects.

Deming was perhaps the best-known figure associated with the quality field and is considered its founding father. His philosophy is based on four principal methods:

  1. The Plan–Do–Check–Act (PDCA) Cycle
  2. Statistical process control
  3. The 14 principles of transformation
  4. The seven-point action plan

Juran’s philosophy is perhaps best summed as “Quality does not happen by accident; it has to be planned.” Juran’s philosophy of quality is “fitness for use or purpose.”

Chung (1999) states, “Quality may mean different things to different people. Some take it to represent customer satisfaction, others interpret it as compliance with contractual requirements, yet others equate it to attainment of prescribed standards” (p. 3). As regards quality of construction, he further states, “Quality of construction is even more difficult to define.  First of all, the product is usually not a repetitive unit but a unique piece of work with specific characteristics.  Secondly, the needs to be satisfied include not only those of the client but also the expectations of the community into which the completed building will integrate. The construction cost and time of delivery are also important characteristics of quality” (p. 3).

Based on the philosophies of quality gurus, quality of construction projects can be evolved as follows:

  1. Properly defined scope of work
  2. Owner, project manager, design team leader, consultant, and constructor’s manager are responsible to implement quality
  3. Continuous improvement can be achieved at different levels as follows:
    • Owner—Specify the latest needs
    • Designer—Specification should include the latest quality materials, products, and equipment
    • Constructor—Use the latest construction equipment to build the facility
  4. Establishment of performance measures
    • Owner
      • To review and ensure that designer has prepared the contract documents that satisfy his needs
      • To check the progress of work to ensure compliance with the contract documents
    • Consultant
      • As a consultant designer, to include the owner’s requirements explicitly and clearly define them in the contract documents
      • As a supervision consultant, supervise contractor’s work per contract documents and the specified standards
    • Contractor—To construct the facility as specified and use the materials, products, and equipment that satisfy the specified requirements
  5. Team approach—Every member of the project team should know that TQM is a collaborative effort, and everybody should participate in all the functional areas to improve the quality of the project work. They should know that it is a collective effort by all the participants.
  6. Training and education—Both consultant and contractor should have customized training plans for their management, engineers, supervisors, office staff, technicians, and laborers.
  7. Establish leadership—Organizational leadership should be established to achieve the specified quality. Encourage and help the staff and laborers to understand the quality to be achieved for the project.