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.

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