Front Line Quality Assurance

When does quality assurance begin during the design process for a construction project? Often formal document review may be planned for those last few weeks before the construction documents are completed. Sometimes reviews are planned before each design phase is completed. But document reviews are not quality assurance. Reviews at a specific time are a quality control function.

Quality Assurance: A process of continuous planning, monitoring, and adjusting with the goal of delivering an error-free intended result.

Quality Control: An inspection or test of work in progress to determine compliance with the intended result.

Quality assurance is proactive. Quality control is reactive. Quality assurance allows work to proceed with the confidence of a high probability of success in meeting the intended goal. Quality control identifies errors in completed work that must be corrected to meet the intended result.

What design team wants to receive a set of drawings and specs with hundreds of red-line comments that must be corrected before the documents are issued for bid? How many times is the solution a make-do response because it is too late to revisit a material or system choice that caused the red-line comment?

Case in Point: An architect and envelope consultant designed the exterior skin for a 7-story medical office building. The rain-screen cladding was aluminum composite material (ACM) installed over metal framing backup with gypsum sheathing, air barrier and foam insulation. As designed and documented, the assembly could not meet NFPA 285 and, therefore, was not code compliant. The issue was discovered when Conspectus began the project specifications at approximately 80% CDs. The envelope detailing was essentially complete. Other alternatives to accomplish the same exterior appearance existed. But, it was "too late" to reconsider the entire envelope design. The solution was a make-do modification of not just the one assembly, but several that connected to the non-compliant assembly.

The Result: The architect was nervous about the quality of the final documents because of all the discussion about the building envelope. There was enough concern that Conspectus was asked to perform a quality control document review to be completed within two weeks. Four weeks later, drawing corrections were still in progress and the resulting spec coordination had not been started.

Who could be happy in this scenario? The architect? He is burning unplanned fee correcting drawings so the project can be bid. The owner? He is facing a project delay (and potential financial penalty) waiting for the documents to issue to the bidders. What must the owner be thinking of the architect's performance?

Fortunately, the contractor wins, without knowing it. He gets a better set of documents. Every correction eliminated a potential RFI to request clarification. The contractor may be more confident in the documents' quality and the design contingency in his estimate may be nearly zero.

Choices for a single building assembly triggered this chain of events. These choices were made without the benefit of the entire design team's participation - the specifier was missing. The code compliance issue was discovered only because the specifier attempted to understand and questioned the decisions establishing the design intent.

In this case, the specifier, by starting late in the design process, performed a quality control function while gathering data needed to complete the project specifications. Had the specifier been engaged earlier in the process, the reactionary QC function would have shifted to a proactive QA function to help guide the team to a better solution before the design was completed.

Next Time: Let your specifier out of the closet. Invite your specifier to participate. Capitalize on the technical knowledge and building materials expertise to reduce your risk from material, product, and system selections.

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