New mindset needed to improve quality

9 Mar 23

Money spent upfront on avoiding errors should be regarded as an investment, not a cost, and we need a new mindset that takes a value-based approach, David Anderson of BAM told February’s joint GIR/CQIC event in Edinburgh. David, who is director of business assurance, quality and systems at BAM UK & Ireland, emphasised that quality is an industry-wide problem and we cannot solve it by working alone

Changing processes won’t solve construction’s quality challenge, neither will technology, he added. It is the people who create the processes, who make and use the technology, that we need to focus on if we are going to effect change. “We need to change the way we think. We are living in an extremely complex world. Not only do we have quality to think about, but also sustainability, social value, safety. We used to have a simple triangle – quality, cost, time. Now we have a coin that is constantly spinning with all these elements on it. Part of our job is to keep that coin spinning, to keep everything in balance, to get the right approach to everything we do. There is no singular solution; this is about what is appropriate for us as an industry and how we take that forward.”

What the industry needs, he argued, is to find a way to make things simpler, better, and faster. “We have a terrible habit of doing that in the wrong order. We go straight to faster and create more errors as a result, so we need to step back and think about how we can simplify things and make them better for customers. How do we change that mindset to an industry that is progressively working towards that final goal – what our customer wants, what society wants? Because society is one of the primary customers of the construction industry.”

Until now, he said, the industry has taken a reactive approach to error. “We build something then we check it, then we get it right.” What’s needed instead is a proactive approach – to consider what could go wrong before it does. “We are great in this industry at lessons learned. What we are terrible at is applying them. We have databases of lessons learned and then we make the same mistakes again and again. And the blame game benefits no one. Instead of pointing fingers, we need to ask why something went wrong and ensure it doesn’t happen again. It is up to everyone on a project to take responsibility for quality.”

Getting it right first time, on the other hand, benefits everyone – society, the environment, and businesses. “£21 billion wasted on error – think what we could do with that. Not only could the industry increase profit margins, but we could invest more in the technology we need and that we don’t currently have the headroom to invest in. We could deliver more for society. We could improve safety. Around 40% of accidents occur during rework. Then there’s the environmental impact, and social value, and actually delivering for our customers. Those are the people in our hospitals, or the children in the schools we build – that’s who we need to be focusing on.”

David described BAM’s experience working on a project for the British Antarctic Survey that took a quality-from-inception approach. “When you’re working in the Antarctic, you don’t want a snagging list,” he said. The project focused on understanding what the client wanted and needed and how everyone would work together collaboratively to deliver it. “It meant more money upfront, but that’s not cost. That’s investment. That’s the way the client and the whole team looked at it – investing up front to save over the whole project duration.”

He argued that the construction industry needs to move from a cost-driven approach to embrace this value-driven alternative. While there are different drivers on different projects, and different pressures, this means understanding the value that can be achieved. Which means understanding customers.

“I listened recently to someone from the HSE who talked about the massive change we have made in safety and pointed out that’s the safety of how we build. What we need to change now is the safety of what we build. That’s quality, and that’s where we are headed. And we know we can change the culture because we’ve seen it with safety. And remember – it’s not quality that costs the earth, it’s errors.”

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