Construction Quality – Success Factors
Poor Quality within Construction Projects is not a new concept to the world, nor to the South African demographic. Even though the effects of poor quality have been extensively catalogued and debated there seems to be a lingering culture of poor workmanship within the South African industry. And as a result the requirement to manage construction quality has been legislated by the Council for the Built Environment of South Africa (CBE) and the implementation of ISO9001 certification as a minimum requirement for large tenders, but the problem still persists.
If we thus look at the persisting poor quality product coming out we are faced with the question: What factors influences the success of the project quality management lifecycle to the point that it becomes uncontrollable and leads to substandard quality?
It is believed and agreed upon that the intention of the construction industry is to perform projects on schedule, not exceeding the planned budget, not hampering the safety of employees or the public and with the highest possible quality as end product. Unfortunately poor quality, over budget and exceeding allotted timeframes are more often than not what is delivered at the end of the project.
According to thought leaders the success of a project in the construction industry may only be evaluated when the specific dimensions are pre-defined. In essence the dimensions of evaluation directly correlates to the primary project constraints of cost, time and scope, with quality of work forming the core within these constraints.
Within an extended timeframe several scholars have researched the factors relating to the successful completion of a project, with minimal effect on cost output. In particular, focus was put on factors that had a greater effect on total project quality output.
When we define project success we are thus generally indicating that a project which does not meet the expected time, cost, quality and safety requirements, leads to decreased headline profit and a slowdown of order book, and vice versa.
If this is used as barometer for successful projects it would be clear that a project having financial deficits, sub-standard quality and reduced safety statistics would be deemed unsuccessful.
Taking the aforementioned into account it becomes paramount that the factors affecting project success be analysed and corrections implemented to ensure effective and successful project delivery. These factors need to be identified early enough so that the changes to be implemented may affect the outcome of that specific project.
As we strive for excellence we find that one of the most effective strategic tools in ensuring total project success, is that of proper Quality Management. This has been embraced by numerous countries and organizations alike, and utilized as a strategic part of the construction and industrial output process to deliver high value projects, with continuing success being recorded across several industries.
The objective of any Quality Management System, in any industry, focusses on creating clarity as to how the operation should be performed and controlled to provide optimum results, whilst taking company resources and employee input into account as part of a strive for continual improvement. This invariably leads to an increased bottom line, and subsequent increased value for money to clients, increased profit margins for contractors and the allocation of further work based on historical performance.
The focus should thus be to create a Quality “Management System”, in other words, a high yield management system for operations, which promotes effectiveness across production trades, whilst ensuring that specifications are adhered to, to provide a lasting, high quality structure.
There are several factors, which if correctly addressed will reduce non-conformances and poor quality work, thus ensuring project success within construction projects. However, for this article I will focus only on one issue, education. For the purpose of this article I will only look at vocational and quality related training, as this is where the criticality lies.
The diverse issues facing the South African construction industry are in essence very deeply rooted in inexperience and incompetence within the labour market. This shortcoming results in an increased defect severity and complexity to the industry.
This coupled with the socioeconomic challenges faced by the South African industry, as a result of non-inclusive development infrastructure created by the previous dispensation, created a whirlpool of polarization within the industry, as certain ethnic groups were not allowed to grow professionally above a certain level, before being suppressed by oppressive legislation and business practice. This resulted in friction between management and labour, which can be seen even to this day.
This friction is further amplified through the Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE) requirements set forth in new legislation, in essence, to alleviate the disparity between different racial groups to better represent the South African demographic; with the inadvertent effect of exclusion on one side and inclusion on the other side based on race.
Unfortunately the new legislation did not provide for vehicles to assist previously disadvantaged employees to achieve the necessary skills and education to perform the tasks within the position he/she now fulfils, resulting in inadvertent failures due to a shear lack of education. I wish to state categorically that this is a very broad generalisation for the purpose of this article. There are many appointees that have managed to beat the odds and claw themselves through the pitfalls to perform the work competently without the necessary education, but should we really subject employees to this kind of hardship, rather than providing them with the tools to further their careers?
Unfortunately this situation adds friction to an already tense working climate, especially within the technical vocations. If this is added to the frustrations felt during daily site operations we are faced with a severe ignition point, waiting to spark a flame at all times.
Whilst the construction industry globally has been put under severe pressure, the South African construction industry has felt the crunch to a higher degree due to a dwindling tax base, poor economic growth and high inflation, thus pulling focus to cost saving. This is all to the detriment of initiatives to maintain proper quality of work and the development of employees to improve their skills base.
It therefore becomes pertinent that introspection be done to determine the actual gaps within the job market, and subsequently implement measures to unilaterally improve the skillset of the greater workforce to promote quality of work as well as increased production.
It is however notable that the construction industry poses several unique challenges that have not been extensively covered in the modern approach to Quality Management. The primary constraint being the fact that statistical process control does not provide the expected level of output in the construction industry.
The reasoning behind this is very simple. There are too many variables at play during the execution of each task, with a severely high human input factor, which makes it nearly impossible to accurately determine the fault factors statistically.
The statistical techniques only become a viability at such a time where processes are competently managed to a degree where a form of certainty over workmanship can be assumed.
It then becomes important for the quality management industry to re-evaluate how to ensure that training and education systems are suited to the objectives of the construction industry in order to stabilise the end result of projects.
The approach to construction quality should be engrained into the education of not just quality personnel, but the entire workforce to create a behavioural shift to the benefit of project objectives.
If you couple this with the lack of construction oriented education within the South African context it becomes clear that the industry has a very bleak outlook if serious effort is not put forth to close the skills gap and empowering employees to attain personal success.
The objective here is not to have companies being the primary providers of skills upliftment, but rather to align external training and education entities to the needs of the construction industry. In addressing the educational shortfall the industry will ensure that employees add value to the industry, and more specifically, to their employers.
It is thus with great pride that the I am liaising with the South African Quality Institute, in a drive to align specialised quality management training programs within the South African demographic, to better include the construction industry, and provide certifications that actually furnishes delegates the skills necessary to operate within the construction sphere.
The aim with this initiative is to optimize project output, to provide superior quality workmanship, whilst supporting the underlying profit margins to elevate profitability, sustainability and the overall compatibility of construction companies within the South African context through cross-pollination from skilled quality professionals to their vocational counterparts.
It is my personal goal to re-promote the principle of responsibility for your own work within the industry, but this can only truly bear fruit if the employee performing the actual task has the skillset to perform the task, not only to the correct standards, but also has the responsibility of performing tasks to a high standard as part and parcel of each individual employee’s daily objectives.
This objective is shared by many professionals in the industry, and hopefully will one day result in the necessity for formally trained quality professionals on site to become less critical.
The aforementioned may sound absurd, but if we take the time to truly analyse the reason why the professions within the quality sphere exists we are faced with the realisation that it only exists as a factor of poor workmanship by a workforce that was employed to deliver a product against a set standard that they did not achieve.
I close this article off with a quote from one of my superiors (non-verbatim) as food for thought: “Our goal as SHEQ Professionals are to be effective to such an extent as to make our positions obsolete.”