As a professional service firm that creates and provides clients with deliverables, you are more than just a consultant or service firm. You are more than simply an opinion, clients are paying for a product that they will use to make decisions, apply for permits, or construct from among hundreds of other possibilities. Like any purchase we make, you will certainly judge your experience. A positive experience, a GREAT Quality deliverable, will create the opportunity to bring you back for more but a negative experience will make you think twice. A poor experience is two to three times more likely to receive an angry review which would require 12 positive reviews to offset the side effects of one negative review.
What measures do you have in place to improve the quality of the product you are delivering to your clients? Perhaps you have designed a complex and well-documented Quality Control Manual, perhaps meeting the qualifications to be recognized with ISO 9001 compliance. Maybe your standards are limited to a loosely structured, way we always do it, routinely? Having either extreme or anything in between may work but I suspect it can be improved upon.
For the past nearly 5 years, I have been focused on producing high-quality civil engineering construction documents. This emphasis on the technical aspects of creating deliverables used to construct hundreds of millions of dollars worth of infrastructure and site work has resulted in a 5-part framework for repeatable and enforceable Quality Control standards. The framework is easy to remember because it is G.R.E.A.T.
Before an effective review of a deliverable can take place, the reviewer must understand what the expectations of the deliverable are. For civil engineering and architectural deliverables, reviewers need to understand what the:
- regulatory and statutory regulations,
- client desires and preferences,
- corporate standards, and
- engineering and architectural standards.
Having resources accessible is important to the success of the Quality Control review. Many of these items, among many other things, will change over time and can even change midway through a project’s development. Keeping up to date and knowledgeable about them takes time and effort. Don’t slack on this, it’s important.
Once the reviewer understands what expectations are for this project, they can initiate the review of the project. This checks the obvious things like simple and complex math but also compares the deliverables with specific aspects of the expectations set forth by local and state approval authorities, the client, the company, and so on.
This is what most people will think of when they hear “quality control check.” They think of the actual review of the deliverable and essentially the search for errors. While finding the blatant technical errors like 2+2 = 5 is obviously important, I look at the review process as the opportunity to find clarity. This is the chance to make sure all of the answers are available in the deliverable. If the reviewer, familiar with the project, has questions, others most definitely will have questions too.
Beyond simply finding errors and answering questions, the reviewer should also consider the content itself. Using their knowledge and experience, they should also question if the solution offered is the “best” solution for the project. I look at every engineering or architectural project as a problem-solving expedition consisting of 3-steps.
- Find a reasonable and viable solution to the problem. No matter how innovative or expensive, the initial step toward solving a problem is finding at least 1 solution.
- Improve upon the previous solution. Once there is a viable solution to fall back on, the next step is to make it better. This can be to save money, improve constructability, or find a finished product among many other ideas.
- Repeat step 2. As the solution is improved upon, the goal is to find the “best” solution. This is measured in many different ways but it is the stakeholders who ultimately determine what that may be. Keep working at it until you reach that point.
This process began in the preparation of the deliverable. With a fresh perspective of a reviewer, the questions they raise may result in the opportunity to improve upon the proposed solutions.
At this point, we understand the expectations and have performed the review which has resulted in identifying errors and questions. This step evaluates what may need to be reworked and improved upon. This phase is a moment of reflection. Before the errors are addressed, the questions posed by the reviewer should be analyzed and considered to confirm that the “best” solution and deliverable are being presented.
This step can also be influenced by the phase of the project. 30% drawings may take questions and recommendations into consideration but shelve the idea for later in the project. At the same time, when the project is reaching its end, the new and better idea may cost the project time, effort, and profit causing it to be disregarded. Every scenario is different but this is the pause to confirm the project and deliverables are on the right track.
Now it’s go time. This is when the reviewer comments and the evaluation items are implanted into the deliverable.
Steps Review – Evaluate – Action may repeat until the final deliverable is approved. Don’t be afraid to re-review the deliverable to ensure it meets the expectations identified in the Gather phase.
Once the project is completed, there is an opportunity for reflection as individuals and as a team. I strongly believe that each and every experience you have ever had and every choice you have ever made has led you to become the person that you are today and brought you to this very article. These experiences create the success of the review process by influencing the finished product.
At the conclusion of a high-intensity or devastating public safety emergency incident, everyone involved in the incident takes a moment to participate in a debriefing process. It could be limited to writing a report but it could also include a round table discussion.
Substantial engineering and architectural projects take time, many design and construction activities take years to complete. When is the last time you sat down and discussed what worked and what didn’t with the entire team? From the lowest on the ladder to the project manager and principal in charge, this is the opportunity to discuss and learn what can be improved.
Personal and group reflection provides the opportunity to identify where policies, standards, and expectations need to be adjusted. Not all aspects of the expectations can be directly controlled by you, but you may have the ability to influence improvements in the process.
From a fundamental point of view, many believe Quality Control is the Review and the Action to correct things. This framework seeks to create a broader yet specific pathway to consistently enforce a routine to ultimately improve the finished product resulting in Superior Quality and therefore Superior Success.
Could you imagine if no ever improved upon boulder designated as a chair? I don’t think a conference room of random-sized boulders would be the best for that next board meeting. Innovators continue to improve the office chair today. The chairs of the future will certainly continue to evolve in the future too.
Don’t limit your Quality Control process to a snapshot in time and an outdated or aged standard. When this happens, the possibility of disregarding the process increases exponentially.