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Why Isn’t Your Quality Program Working?

Dec. 26, 2018
In our experience, there is one major factor that influences whether a quality program is fully adopted: getting buy-in.

By Ed Caldeira

You are doing all the right things to set up a solid quality management program, but it just hasn’t taken off. You do the work to set up checklists and project quality plans that can reduce deficiencies by half on any project that uses it, but the processes don’t get adopted by the rest of the team. I recently spoke on this topic at the first national Advancing Construction Quality conference and I was a bit surprised to learn how universal this challenge is for Quality Managers in our industry.

So what’s holding everybody back? The software is readily available, time-tested systems are easily taught, and first-time quality should be a universal goal. In our experience, there is one major factor that influences whether a quality program is fully adopted: getting buy-in. You need buy-in from both senior managers and field personnel. Senior management in order to introduce new systems, and buy-in from field personnel to ensure they get implemented. The good news is that overcoming this universal challenge is possible with systematic solutions.

Buy-In from Senior Management

Senior Managers know the company needs to do better on quality and hire a quality manager to get the job done. We hear something like this from frustrated quality managers all the time: “I know what we need to do for a great quality program, but I just can’t get senior management to provide the support I need to get it done.”

Senior Managers see the need to up the game on quality. According to KPMG’s Global Construction Survey, more than 80 percent of respondents were confident in their organization’s ability to deliver on-time, on-budget projects, yet 60 percent of contractors admit that project performance has significantly impacted their company. And just a quarter believe that the industry as a whole has reached an acceptable level of performance!

No offense to the senior managers out there, but we believe that while they see the need for quality, they fail to understand what a good quality program is or how it helps meet the company objectives. Unfortunately, without this they cannot buy-in with confidence and fully support the quality initiative.

Senior managers should think of quality management as a business process, and as such, it deserves the appropriate investment of time and resources. We recommend a seven-step approach to getting buy-in from senior managers:

  • Create the Vision - Paint a picture of company that has achieved first-time quality—higher profits, more satisfied customers, expansion into new markets, and scalable growth.
  • Describe the Status Quo - Focus on the challenges the business faces—a tight labor market, high turnover in the industry, subcontractor performance, and the most common defects and quality issues.
  • Cite Specific Examples - Reference recent situations that could have been avoided with a better quality program. These might include a job lost to a competitor, extensive warranty work, a delayed project, or a dip in profitability.
  • Describe the Options - Management has the choice to change nothing, stick with the current approach and do it better, or try something new. If you have done a good job with the first three steps, it should be clear that it’s time to try a new approach to quality management.
  • Present Your Proposal - Describe what your quality program looks like, including the best practices, systems, processes, and software tools.
  • Discuss Implementation - Let management know what you need to successfully roll out the new program. This includes any time and resource investments such as software and training.
  • Get Consensus - You don’t want to keep selling the quality program, you want to make it happen. Make sure you have approval to move forward so you can start the implementation process.   

When senior managers see the link between the quality program and company goals, it will be easier to get support and approval of your quality program.

Buy-In from Field Personnel

Successful quality management programs depend on field personnel. All the inspection checklists and forms in the world don’t mean anything unless people are using them. Even if you think your quality management plan is fully baked, if you didn’t get input from the people working in the field, chances are they’re not going to be invested in the process.

In our experience, the best way to get buy-in from field personnel is to collaborate with them in  developing a quality program focused on preventing quality issues that concern them. They know what tends to go wrong on-site. These are the items that should be emphasized on your checklists. These are also the areas they are most motivated to improve.

Work together with field personnel to develop your checklists, and buy-in will be a natural result. We suggest this five-step approach to getting buy-in from field personnel:

  • Ask Questions - Set up one-on-one or small group discussions to learn more about the most common challenges to delivering defect-free projects. This step is critical even if you think you already have the answers.
  • Share the Vision - Let your team know that defects are avoidable, and that focusing on first-time quality work with zero defects will bring projects in on time and on budget.
  • Describe Your Approach - Explain that the company is adopting a proven quality management system to prevent and eventually eliminate the problems about which they are most concerned. You know what these are because of the work you did in step one.
  • Answer Questions - At this point, your team probably has some questions for you about this new approach. Be prepared with responses to objections from any angle.
  • Commit to Training - Help ease the transition by providing ongoing training to field personnel so they can learn the new processes and systems that will enable them to achieve first-time quality.

Keeping the Buy-in Alive

Even after you get buy-in from senior managers and field personnel, it’s important to remember that this is not a permanent state. Keeping buy-in is an ongoing process that requires you to bring attention to achievements of the quality program. When quality program supporters see results they will want more. Now, that’s a great quality program really working!

As founder and CEO of FTQ360, Ed Caldeira helps lead quality improvement in the construction industry. He has implemented quality management programs in hundreds of construction companies and authored two books (Quality Management Best Practices for Builders and First Time Quality and Safety).

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