Quality isn’t About Process, it’s a Cultural, Teamwork and Leadership Issue
If quality was all about process, the sector would have cracked it long ago. All contractors should have compliant quality policies. And yet, poor quality is still an issue that besets projects and lingers on beyond their completion.
Short-term project-to-project thinking isn’t the way to improve the industry’s quality performance. If anything, it’s a recipe for ‘learning’ (or not) the same lessons over and over. Quality has to be part of a long-term vision and cultural change process.
In an environment driven by costs and deadlines, quality has tended to be a side-issue. If anyone thinks that’s an unfair judgement you only need to look at the data about quality performance in construction projects. Or maybe talk to clients and end users who live with the issues the industry leaves behind.
The point that gets overlooked is that these issues are all linked. Failing to plan for high quality outcomes leads to additional costs and delays. Quality is a core requirement. At the extremes, poor quality is also a threat to life.
To an extent, Grenfell is changing priorities. Quality should not be left solely to less senior colleagues. And it’s a responsibility shared by customers, contractors and supply chains. And, yes, it has to be invested in and paid for.
Driving Up Standards
There are four key elements needed to drive up quality standards.
Leadership. Quality has to be driven and emphasised by company leaders. Managers must be more critical of quality standards among their workforce and celebrate high quality work. Without the support of top management nothing will change.
Training. Site workers need training to ensure they know what’s expected and the full impact of poor-quality work. They also need reassurance that if they make a judgement call in favour of quality, even if it takes longer or costs more, this will be supported.
Culture. Creating a quality-first culture is not an instant fix. It calls for behavioural change, which takes time. The right metrics and support must be in place to make sure we continue to move forward.
Technology. We have the technology to help identify potential quality issues early on and to design cost-effective ways to overcome them. We just don’t make enough use of it, or use it collaboratively between customers, designers, contractors and supply chains. This is changing and needs to change faster.
The Quality Chain
There’s no doubt that contractors need to up their game. Alongside this, customers and supply partners also have vital parts to play. Customers can help to drive up quality by setting high expectations and recognising and rewarding the organisations that deliver. Contractors need to adopt a similar approach with their supply chains and be prepared to invest in their partners.
Osborne has implemented a supply chain quality programme to help understand how we can work better together, fix issues that arise and strive collectively to improve. We are also relentlessly pursuing activities to grow and embed a quality culture throughout our organisation.
If we do this across the industry, we really could look back in a few years and see that we’ve travelled a very long way from where we are now.