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Before a company can have good quality control processes, it must have a good quality management system (QMS). That is, optimal processes and procedures must be solidly identified, addressing internal and external risk. Only then can discrete steps be taken to achieve quality outcomes. An effective QMS requires documentation, an auditing process and continual improvement of the system.

The best approach is for commercial construction companies to certify their QMS according to standards published by the International Organization of Standardization (ISO). The ISO 9000 family is the set of standards that focuses on QMS. ISO 9001:2015 sets forth criteria for a QMS and is the only standard in the ISO 9000 family that can be certified to, according to iso.org. ISO 9001 sets forth regulations for project design and management and is applicable to fields beyond construction; any organization (of any size) can be certified to ISO 9001. According to ISO, “there are over one million companies and organizations in over 170 countries certified to ISO 9001.”

Not only is certifying to ISO 9001 proof of a company’s rigor, but the full documentation and regular audits required by the standards keep a team at peak performance levels, lead to ongoing process improvements and result in optimal project delivery for the client.

Quality Management: The Challenges and Benefits

Different stakeholders can have varying—and sometimes competing—interests. For example, customers may have an eye on a delivery deadline while company employees need to be assured of workplace safety. This quickly leads to complexity—and complexity can be an obstacle to quality. The solution is to put processes and procedures in place that are company-specific and highly detailed without becoming mired in bureaucratic inefficiencies.

Industrial contractors should address client needs and expectations during pre-construction by having a thorough understanding of the contract documents (e.g., specifications, codes and drawings) as well as of the customer’s expectations. Quality must be considered during a project’s proposal phase. This is when ambiguous contractual language—which would be difficult or costly to bring into compliance—can be clarified. The proposal phase is also when elevated quality requirements can be identified and planned for.

Takeaways from the proposal phase should be used to support the project team’s understanding of customer expectations and deliverables throughout design and construction. Regular meetings and communications between contractors and clients allow the team to address quality on a day-to-day basis, making it an ongoing pursuit.

Successful quality management has benefits beyond project delivery. It can reduce risk, eliminate waste and make employees feel engaged and important.

Becoming ISO 9001 Certified

ISO only develops standards; it does not perform certification. Third-party certification bodies (CB) audit an organization’s performance and issue certificates. However, ISO's Committee on Conformity Assessment has produced a number of standards related to the certification process, which are used by certification bodies; iso.org also offers recommendations for choosing a certification body. If a company passes their CB’s audit, they will receive an ISO 9001 certificate demonstrating three-year ISO 9001 registration. An organization must be recertified every three years to maintain ISO 9001 certification status.

To certify to ISO 9001, an organization must follow certain requirements as outlined in the ISO 9001 QMS standards. These requirements target all areas of a business, including facilities, people, training, services and equipment.

Foundational needs, such as proper facilities and equipment, as well as employee training programs, must be put in place first, to support proper processes and procedures. (For example, equipment must be calibrated according to accepted industry standards.)

For the documentation phase of certification, ISO does not provide a generic set of forms or otherwise dictate a one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, each company must determine its own process and procedural needs. That is, it must fully document what tasks need to be performed; when, where and how those tasks need to be performed; and who will perform them. Documentation should be user-friendly and easily accessible. It should also be remembered that underlying all quality concerns is a simple principle: the “say-do” ratio. Inc. magazine defines this as the “the ratio of things you say to the things you follow through on and do. In a perfect world, your say-do ratio is 1:1, meaning you have done everything that you said you would do.”

The 2015 release of ISO 9001 has less prescriptive requirements for documentation than previous versions did; however, to meet the overall goals of ISO 9001, companies generally find it beneficial to create documentation in the form of:

  • Fully stated policies and procedures;
  • A defined scope of the QMS;
  • A process map or flowchart;
  • Checklists of audit requirements;
  • Defined objectives; and
  • Work instructions.

After the documentation phase, the key to success is ongoing measurement, record-keeping and commitment from management. These steps help a company meet its quality goals, but also help them spot ways to improve in areas where they may be falling short (an important aspect of the QMS).

The construction industry, like many others, must adapt to a rapidly evolving environment. Therefore, a company’s processes must be continuously evaluated for effectiveness and efficiency—as well as for minimization of risk. At the end of a construction project, customer satisfaction surveys are a good way to identify areas that still need improvement.

At its most basic level, the commitment to quality can be viewed as a philosophy: a company commits to delivering the best possible product or service. Once it has committed to that philosophy, however, a company can only achieve its goals by implementing a QMS. The steps outlined in ISO 9001—and verified through certification to ISO 9001—ensure that a company achieves its vision and delivers on quality.


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