When I first got the word ‘quality’ in my job title, I was one of very few across the industry. Health and safety managers are seen as a necessary part of the sector, but quality didn’t come with the same level of respect and understanding on the site. But the role I, and thankfully now many others, have is a crucial part of the construction sector.
Providing a safe building is separate from a high quality one. It can be safe but rough round the edges. It can be safe but require high levels of maintenance. It can be safe but cause complaints from the end user.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been in quality roles as a tick box exercise. A way for a company to say they’re doing their bit but without any support or forethought for what that looks like. Its been a frustrating career journey for a topic I’m passionate about. Quality isn’t, and shouldn’t ever be, a tick box exercise. It’s a crucial part of our industry that should spread to every corner of a site and organisation.
I’ve thankfully also been in quality roles where the topic is an ingrained priority for the organisation, like Durkan. Here, I feel like I am a vital part of the team where my role is understood and welcomed, not as a critical, negative eye but as a supportive member of the team. On an average day, I take a walk around our sites and use my knowledge and experience to look for inconsistencies, errors, and risks that will reduce the quality and security of our buildings. Often these arise not because of the team neglecting their role but because they are trying to work as quickly as possible to not slow down the trade following them. Trades will get on site and could find their area is not ready for them. Rather than alerting the site manager, they will just get on with the job with what they have. The result is an inconsistent, and sometimes dangerous, offering for our finished product which can be quickly concealed as work continues. My role is to spot these during quality checks throughout a process; highlighting them to our teams and working close with site management to quickly rectify any issues before they grow or become concealed, only to be found when it’s too late to resolve.
World Quality Day takes place every year in November and I’ve started to use that as a way to kickstart the conversation on site about how, and why, quality should be a priority for all of us, regardless of job title. Last year, I set up a display on site and provided our team with a quick presentation. I highlighted really practical examples of where our need for low cost and speed has long lasting implications for the final product we put our names to. It’s been a fantastic way to start the discussion without pointing blame or making people feel like I’m preaching to them. It’s about raising awareness of the consequences our, sometimes well intended, actions can have for the future of the public who use our buildings. This year the theme is 100 years of quality which, I hope will give us an opportunity to cover many areas of the industry, not only out on site but in the office, during design, where quality needs to start.
Whether it’s to live in them, work in them or enjoy the space. We all have a duty to deliver the best quality product we can, and it’s great to see the industry leaders at the CIOB shouting that loudly and proudly.
I’ve long been hoping for a drive through the industry to bring quality to the forefront, to provide me with back up and evidence for what I believe. That’s why, at the first opportunity, I went on the CIOB Academy’s Quality Management course, excellently led by Martin McCabe. It was a breath of fresh air to hear others with the same level of enthusiasm and recognition as me for this important topic and I can feel the shift of the industry as we start to take quality more seriously. The fact that the CIOB even set up the Quality Commission and has put into motion a series of activities since, including the Code of Conduct and an incoming Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) on the topic, encourages me that change is coming.
We need to do more however. This shouldn’t become about targets but about behaviours and a culture for quality. The CIOB, earlier this year, launched a consultation on their pending Code of Quality Management. My initial feedback was very positive, as this has been needed for some time. Overall, this is something Durkan will sign up. Although, speaking to people who have read through this, we do have the following comments;
- Defect-free construction would be difficult to achieve, but is a good aspiration
- A greater emphasis is needed on integrity, as you can only have 100% or nothing!
- More focus is needed on the culture change required as attitude is key for this to happen
- An attempt to define quality would help
- The design process should clearly involve quality as a legal requirement
- The name to change from ‘’Code of Quality Management’’ to’’ Code of Quality Leadership’’
I hope to see this finished article soon, not getting dusty on a shelf, but practically directing the industry as to how we can change our reputation to one that cares about getting things right, first time, to the best of our collective abilities.