Could Your QA Program Use a Little QA?

It’s pretty easy to create a false sense of security when establishing a Quality Assurance program.  You write down what you do, and it always sounds impressive to an underwriter. But how do you measure Quality? 

Consider these commonly established principles that suggest a top-tier Quality Operation:

             I have a QA program manual

             I employ the insurance-recommended third-party inspection company

             The QA inspector looks at ‘100-percent’ of the homes

             I have continuous inspections by my superintendents on the job

             I conduct a final walk—we fix everything before the owner moves in

Well this sounds really great, but if you dig deeper, what many builders lack is a simple verification system to ensure their QA program is working.  It is called MEASUREMENT.

Let’s take each bullet one at a time:

QA Manual.  Printed manuals sit on shelves.  In an audit, I politely ask people in the field where their QA manual is, or to recite the company mission statement, and I always get a blank stare back.  Manuals are mostly worthless, but they often impress auditors.

Solution:  Embrace a defined system of repeatable processes and evidence that non-compliance to those processes are managed.  This requires Measurement.  Quality and safety checkpoints are positively worded statements that establish a criteria for measuring conformity. 

Approved inspectors.  How does one get approved?  Is there a test? What is the most important thing they should inspect?  Inspectors typically inspect what is comfortable for them, instead of a system requiring them to verify compliance with known high-risk metrics.

Solution:  Be sure your third-party consultants actually know something about QUALITY and risk. If the third-party consultant lacks true forensic or building failure experience, they are simply just another ‘code’ inspector who will provide limited value by checking their pet peeves.  Inspection should focus on predicted risk, which comes from the plans, the climate, the skill sets of the vendors and the sophistication of the builder’s team.

100-Percent Inspection Myth.  It is very easy to claim that you perform “100-percent inspection”. But contact time is the most important measurement of inspection—if inspection is what you are looking for. 

Solution: You get what you pay for. If underwriters could establish CONTACT TIME and DATA as the deliverable, you would finally have something to measure.

Continuous Internal Inspection.  Easy to say—hard to deliver.  If a builder is employing full-time QA inspectors and they have a system of measuring their performance, then reward this behavior!

Solution:  I look for written processes that define the outcome, and methods of capturing data to prove that the product is being examined throughout construction.  Builders should be encouraged to capture data and photos throughout construction, which results in far more checkpoint validation and far more photo validation.

Final QA Walk.  Considering most owners don’t water test their windows or climb into the attic when they first move in, most issues will always be cosmetic and therefore quite minor at the final walk.  This is not a true measurement of Quality, since the home has not yet been placed under a load.  True Quality is measured after a severe storm, a large banquet party and the test of time.

Solution:Customer feedback is crucial at 30 and 90 days for reduction of cosmetic and operational flaws.  Feedback at one year or longer helps you build a superior, long-lasting product that will eliminate wasted warranty expenses, lost referrals and higher insurance premiums.  The end result is Quality!

So what specifically do you measure to achieve a more robust and resilient product?  More about this in my next blog.

Comparing Internal Quality Assurance with Third-Party Programs—Are We Ready to Start Trusting Builders?

For the past 20 years I have said that W.E. Deming was right when he decried, “You Cannot Inspect Quality into a Product,” yet ironically I built the largest third-party QA inspection firm in the USA during this time doing just that.  Why does our industry have such disregard for home builders that our insurance providers require a third-party observer to measure the quality?  The answer in a minute, but first—some background.

Builders are unique in the entire manufacturing industry. They build a complex product, using largely under-skilled workers with almost zero perfected and replicable processes.  We build these complex structures not in a refined factory, but in the mud, snow and wind and with very basic and highly variable raw materials.

If Boeing or Qualcomm were in the home building business, we would not see subcontracted designs for a “builders set” of blueprints but a robust, time-tested and highly repeatable product.  The term “Subcontractor” would be replaced by “skilled worker” with whom they directly control, and the home would be internally measured throughout production to verify the expected performance outcome. There would be no punch lists, since the opportunity for failure would be eliminated via processes.

This is far from reality, but many builders are developing a great Culture for Quality and implementing systems and business rules to push them closer to a consistent end result that has fewer defects. We should embrace these bold new manufacturers because they will drive defects down, profits up, and greatly reduce claims for their insurance partners.

As builders emerge from their caves and enter this next housing cycle, better builders are conforming to world-class Quality cultures that cannot be easily supported by an occasional third-party QA inspector brandishing a can of marker paint.  Although we have learned that inspection can and does result in quality improvements, the reliance of third-party QA inspectors must segue to an elevated support culture of continuous process improvement, robust measurement and the elimination of ‘Muda’, e.g. anything that does not add value to the final product (as in the Toyota Production System).  Third-party QA should not be an inspection, but an external measurement that judges a builder’s ability to continuously improve from their baseline level.

Our challenge is to embrace and encourage a builder’s investment in a Quality Culture.  Baseline QA audits should become an underwriting requirement, much like a builder supplies its financial reports to its investors. Only builders who continually improve and permanently eliminate defects should enjoy the lowest insurance rates.

So back to my question: Why has third-party QA become so popular?  Well, because it is relatively easy for both the builder and the risk partner.  Building a culture to emulate Toyota is not easy, and cannot be accomplished overnight, so third-party QA is a good stop-gap risk management tool to use until a builder outgrows it.  There are great builders out there—I have many as my customers.  AxisPointe will help you get to Great, no matter what level you are at right now.  All it takes as commitment, and trusting us to help you in this very profitable and exciting journey towards excellence.

Axispointe is the Leader in Total Quality & Risk Management Solutions

AxisPointe Partners with top builders to streamline the entire building and customer service experience.  AxisPointe’s leading edge technologies help builders, contractors and developers accomplish complex tasks effortlessly:

  • Instantly share building plans, construction documents and legal disclosures to customers and other parties
  • Eliminate Risk, Waste and inefficiency using InSite Mobile iPhone-enabled field devices for instant communication of schedules, tasks and quality metrics
  • Build an online electronic document ‘safe-house’ that is available for the life of the home
  • Allow customers to view construction documents photos to monitor the construction in progress
  • Print and distribute our customized HomeProfile™ customer close of escrow book, containing all documents important to you and your customers
  • Create and edit trade contractor templates, product listings, and green building documentation to satisfy local ordinances and create a paperless customer experience
  • Track customer service and out-of-warranty claims, and promote work orders to the appropriate vendors for instant tracking and scheduling
  • Utilize our built-in Knowledge-base for Customer Service requests, allowing you to provide consistent support while reducing nuisance calls
  • Allow BuilderCertified™ customized insurance tracker to help you manage your trade contractors’ insurance policies and expirations, notifying you in advance of expiring policies
  • Online Articles, white papers and technical support alerts from the industry leader in Quality and Risk Management services
  • Expert advice is always available from our dedicated forensic and risk consultants