Post #4- The Launching of ‘Quality is My Job’ Project

tools1Dear Reader,
I am launching a project with the following draft project charter and I will need your feedback to refine it in order to move forward. This action is a follow up from my first three posts. I sincerely hope that we can make a significant contribution to the construction industry and initiate a positive change for delivering quality.


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Draft Project Charter:

1) Working title- ‘Quality is my job- promoting leadership for quality in construction’

2) Working PM- Zul Helal

3) Vision- To reduce waste of $75 billion national resources through by improving construction quality.

4) Mission- To engage the industry to adopt leadership tools for delivering quality.

5) Constraints- It will need significant efforts to achieve buy-ins from the industry, will not happen overnight and various stakeholders need to be involved.

6) Stakeholders- Owners, Consultants and Contractors and related associations, e.g. BOMA, IFMA, AIA, ASCE, CMAA, AGC.

7) High level schedule- 2 years (Jan- Dec, 2018) 8) Phases- The project will have four phases: initiation, planning, execution, and closing.

9) High level budget- Will be worked out as project moves forward.

10) Potential risks and mitigation- Existence of unknowns will need research, gathering and keeping stakeholder support will need motivational efforts, lack of fund may trigger other ideas for moving forward.

11) High level scope- Drafting guides for Owners, Consultants and Contractors regarding construction quality.

12) Team- Will be worked out as project moves forward.

13) Mode of communication-;;

This project charter is a living document throughout the project and will be updated as needed using your feedback.

Thank you.


Post #3- How Quick Leadership Tools Can Put You on Top of Quality?

penguins1Quick leadership tools or QLT can help you demystify construction quality and make it the top priority. In the previous post I explained what makes quality mysterious and in this post I will tell you how to move forward.


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Looking back:

Construction quality is unique for one reason: the Owner, the Designer, and the Contractor, are running sprint race and trying to outsmart each other in managing quality of one project by using incompatible systems, e.g., ISO 9001, Total Quality Management or something else.  In an ideal case, the construction project quality ought to be a relay race among the three partners by sharing a common baton, which is rarely happening. That’s why you will see the checklists used in construction quality control program are not able to prevent the risk-triplet scope creep, schedule slip and cost overruns. If the vision for delivering quality was not on the agenda during program stage, having hundreds of checklists during construction may look very smart, but they cannot deliver fitness for use or a quality that the Owner needs.

How quick leadership tools help?

Because the current situation in construction is not conducive for delivering quality, we need to introduce a big change in the practice of how the Owner, the  Consultant and the Contractor engage with each other early on. But, when people smell change, the tendency is to either run away or create roadblocks. That’s why we need leadership tools to inspire and bring people back to join the relay race for quality. It’s not hard, believe me- it’s fun! And you can do it.

Keep in mind that the leadership we are talking about here is not a position; it’s a set of tools. This is how you can check if you are a leader- if you have the courage to enjoy collaboration, you’ve made it, regardless of where you stand on the corporate ladder. You may read my post #1 to get an idea how I used courage and collaboration in a particular situation.

There is good explanation why leadership tools work for quality. Bill George argues in his article The New 21st Century Leaders published on Harvard Business Review that the top down hierarchical model of leadership is obsolete and it is now replaced by knowledge workers who seek bottom up leadership.  These people search for genuine satisfaction and meaning from their work, not just money. The quick leadership tools do the magic and provide people pride of what they do and there comes the satisfaction.

You may think we can’t do anything big without the support from high positions. It’s true, but nothing to worry about it. Support from high positions will come automatically if they see you have A) leadership tools in your back pocket and B) a business case. The business case for quality is simple- when quality goes high, risk goes low.

Structure of QLT (quick leadership tools):

I compare practice of leadership to riding a bike. It runs on two wheels and you need to ride it regularly to maximize the benefits.

The courage wheel:

The wheel at the front is the courage wheel, which will inject confidence in you to stand up for the cause. Too many of us are afraid to be on the spot.  Too many times we see things going sideways and walk by the other side, because that is someone else’s job. A lot of time we do not stand up because no one listens. Also a lot times we don’t do that because it’s convenient to avoid. So long as we get our paychecks and the retirement is ensured, we chug along with why bother attitude. All it needs is a little courage to come out of that mind-set and stand up for the cause. You may visit the site of Stanford professor Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D to get a few handy tip on how to change mind-set.

There are three tools in the front wheel that will help you build courage: 1) visioning, 2) communication, and 3) creativity. The visioning tool allows you to bring people together to a common cause. The communication tool allows you to connect with people actively with clarity, empathy, respect and open mind.  And creativity tool will help you draw new ideas out of the people.


The collaboration wheel:

The wheel at the back is the collaboration wheel. If you engage collaboration with courage, your team will be in motion and will put quality on auto-pilot for your project. You will make people feel important and they will be happy to work with you and deliver quality without you pushing them around with checklists so much.

There are three tools in the back wheel that will help you get into action of collaboration: 4) critical thinking, 5) leading, and 6) following. The critical thinking tool will help you analyze the creative ideas and compare them. Leading tool will allow you to use your judgment to make preliminary decisions. The following tool will allow bounce your decisions back and forth with your team and come to conclusions or lead to the right actions.

Once you master these two wheels with six quick leadership tools, you can add or replace tools as you feel necessary and build you own bike. Also note that when you pedal the bike, back wheel is the one that drives it and the front wheel acts to steer the way.

The change needed for quality:

Using the QLTs, the Owner, the Consultant and the           Contractor can make the following changes in practice happen:

During programming:

  1. Through partnerships, establish a vision around quality and fitness for use
  2. Outline a clear path on how the vision will be carried through from beginning to end of the project life cycle

During design and documentation:

  1. Through partnerships, follow through the vision to ensure high quality design and documents that translates the fitness for use into accurate requirements
  2. Outline a clear path for roles and responsibilities to achieve conformance to the requirements for all three parties

During construction:

  1. Through partnerships, analyze the vision, fitness for use and conformance to requirements
  2. Prepare and enforce a quality management program throughout construction.

Take away:

Leadership sounds like a lot of work but actually when you try it out you will find that its much less work! QLTs may take a few hours upfront but saves hundreds down the road. It has the power to prevent the risk-triplet, scope creep, schedule slip and cost overrun, and save a lot of agonizing time down the road. When you will see your courage and collaboration in action, you will never want to go back to the old ways. All you need to move forward is switch to your mind-set that you can do it and you are good to go!

In the next post I will launch the project I have been talking about- “Quality is My Job”. Until then- thank you for reading and by the way- please send your feedback- long or short.

Post #2- Why Quality is Bigger Than What We Think it is?

instruments1Construction quality is a mystery and typically referred to as the level of workmanship. But if you look into it deeply,  you will see that it also includes the project’s scope, schedule and cost- the risk triplet and I will tell you in this post how it works.



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Looking back:

According to an article in Journal of Construction Engineering and Management published in 2009, “Construction projects often experience cost and schedule overruns and rework is a significant factor that directly contributes to these overruns. Research by the Construction Industry Institute reveals that direct costs caused by rework average 5% of total construction costs (CII 2005). Considering that the U.S. construction industry expended $1,502 billion in 2004 for total installed costs (Bureau of Economic Analysis 2006), almost $75b was wasted on direct costs caused by rework in that year alone. Therefore, rework must be considered a significant factor affecting cost performance in the construction industry.” (Bon-Gang Hwang; Stephen R. Thomas; Carl T. Haas; and Carlos H. Caldas)

In another study, Philip Barlow (Professor of Construction Management at Cal Poly at San Luis Obispo, CA) identified that besides the Contractor, the Owner responsible for programming and Designer responsible for documentation both contribute to construction rework.

Everyone wants quality, but because it is glued with the risk-triplet, hardly anyone wants to deal with it. Perhaps the story of anybody, somebody and nobody is a good analogy to the topic. In this story everyone assumed the work in hand would be done by others but at the end it didn’t get done.  Similarly, most of the time the Owner assumes that the Consultant is hired to ensure quality and the Consultants assign the Contractor to deliver it. When on board, the Contractor looks clueless and says, “what do you mean?”

What is quality?

One pioneer of quality Juran promoted that quality was fitness for use. The other pioneer Crosby touted quality was conformance to requirements. Both are very appropriate definitions. The Owner wants fitness for use and the Contractor delivers conformance to requirements. The Consultant is in the middle to translate the Owner’s use thing into requirements for the Contractor via drawings and specifications.

When the requirements are inadequately presented, you need to initiate the Change Order to make it adequate so that fitness for use is achieved. If we draw an equation of quality it may look like this:

Fitness for use (Owner needs) – Conformance to requirements (Contract) = Lack of quality = Rework and change orders

Let me tell you a fictitious story to explain it further. A customer ordered a special holiday party dress for $1000 to be delivered 3 days before the holiday. The customer provided all the ideas and sizes to the designer but didn’t mention the length. The designer sent the design to the tailor without specifying the length. To be safe, the tailor made the dress extra long and delivered to the customer. When the customer realized that it does not fit properly, the dress was sent back to the tailor for length adjustments. The tailor normally does this kind of adjustments for free, but this was a wrong time because the staff was leaving for the holiday. One of the staff agreed to fix it for $125 overtime charge and the dress was delivered to the customer on the holiday evening.

You can see the scope creep, schedule slip and cost overrun in action in the story above. $125 is the value of the Change Order or the cost for lack of quality as well as the difference between fitness for use and conformance to requirements. Change Order does not make anyone happy and it is rampant in construction projects.

What we learn is that, in theory, quality can be free if the requirements are matched to the intended use. That way the Contractor can conform to requirements at no extra cost and fitness for use will be automatic. The reality though is different!

Today’s reality in construction quality:

The first step in quality lies with the Owner.  The Owner is in a position to rally the Consultant and the Contractor around a vision to deliver quality. The seed of risk-triplet is planted when the vision is missing in the project’s program which contains the Owner’s wish list among other things. Most of the programs, if you are lucky to have one, never outlines expectations on quality of design and construction and a great opportunity is missed. I am curious to know what stops the program writers to say that the Owner needs a building that will last 10 years or 100 years using minimum possible operating budget and built with easily maintainable building systems and equipment; whole building commissioning will start before design; the design, drawings, and specifications will be peer reviewed to eliminate discrepancies to ensure fitness for use; the construction process will have rigorous quality control program, all at the Owner’s expense? All of these may cost 2-3% extra but that is much less than 10-15% cost of change orders for not doing so. But the Owners feel that there is no reason to spend that money, the Consultants and the Contractors are hired to do it anyways. But the Consultants and the Contractors feel differently. At this stage the cost is minimal to change and rewrite the program around a vision for quality.


The second step in quality lies with the Consultants when they come on board. Consultants work hard to come up with new ideas for high performance buildings. A lot of time this noble intention turns into self defeating practices. First, the building would be given a slick look using exorbitant amount of glazing making it extremely low performance in energy. Then, very expensive and very complex technologies which are often incompatible to each other will be introduced to compensate for the lost energy. This kind of the building is inherently very difficult to build with high quality. With all good intentions and purposes the Consultants get bogged down in time management. The lion share of the time budget gets taken away by the design team and drawings and specifications are produced in a hurry. You know what happens when you do thing in a hurry- lack of quality that leads to design changes, drawings errors, and inconsistent specifications. If there is no budget allowed for peer reviews, no one will ever catch the discrepancies until the bid is closed. Cost for making changes and producing high quality documents is still low before rubber hits the road when the contractor is on board.

The third and final step in quality lies with the Contractor. Burdened with a lack of vision for quality and poor quality of documents, the Contractor doesn’t know where to start on this mysterious matter. On top of that the project seems to be behind schedule and over budget before it even started. So there is a tendency to move fast and catch up without adequate discussions and good planning- the so called time wasters. Then the question of quality control program comes up which is either not mentioned or partially mentioned in the documents. So the Contractor may or may not have allowed adequate budget for quality control program.  Without a quality control program in place, you cannot expect high quality of construction. What the Contractor needed to do is to pause and be upfront with the Owner and the Consultant if the documents are not clear on who pays for the quality control program and come up with a common understanding before construction starts. Most of the time, in a hurry, the initial opportunity is lost for making things straight on quality and it becomes too late when they become big issues. At this stage any change means very high cost associated with it.

So, the three things- a lack of vision for quality from the Owner, poor quality documents from the Consultants and a lack of quality control program from the Contractor, come together to cause and grow scope creep, schedule sleep and cost overrun until they become unmanageable. This is how the cost for making changes in order to bring back the project to fitness for use goes through the roof.

Take away:

The relationship between quality and the risk-triplet is obvious and they are mutually exclusive. So when quality goes high, the risk goes low. But why in construction we always have low quality and high risk making the issue so mysterious? It’s because the industry has chosen not to make the connection between these two. That’s why everyone is afraid to talk about the mystery too early and you won’t see quality on the meeting agenda until it’s already too late.

The question is- how to make quality the top priority for the Owner, the Consultant and the Contractor? Short answer is- using your leadership tools. Next post will explain how that works. Until then- thank you for reading and by the way- please send your feedback- long or short.

Post #1- My Story on Leadership for Quality

dreamstimefree_6897995I worked as a designer for many years and I used to deliver quality for my construction projects the hard way- using bullying tactics. When I took a job as the Owner’s rep I figured a smart way- using leadership tools. I did not realize the power of leadership tools before. I also discovered that along with the Consultant and the Contractor, the Owner can play a powerful role in construction quality when leadership tools are employed.

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Looking back:

After I was hired as a capital project manager for an Owner of 50 facilities, I found my office located in the Operations and Maintenance building. The location provided me a great opportunity to mingle with the facility managers and the trade staff. They used to share a lot of stories about their experiences with existing buildings and new projects and their frustrations about the quality of construction.  They told me that my predecessors never valued their concerns and they were surprised that I did. I used to empathize with them because, ultimately my job was to have a new facility in place or retrofit an existing one within a few years or less and their job was to operate and maintain it for next 50 or more years! So my short term work had a long term impact on their work

The big issue:

One question they used to ask me often- why the new facilities don’t long anymore? They had real life example of a brand new facility, completed a year ago, state of the art, LEED Gold certified green building, won numerous prestigious prizes, was on the news, and was published and republished many times. Obviously the Owner, the Architect and the Contractor were all proud of it, but it was the worst nightmare ever for the Operations and Maintenance guys. The brand new building was already generating ten times more work orders than any older building was doing. Literally that fancy building was burning them and their budget out. How green or sustainable was that? So I did a little research by digging into the history of work orders of a 10 years old facility and compared to the new facility. When I printed them out I was shocked! The guys were right- the 10 years old facility printed 3 pages of work orders and the 1 year old facility printed 30 pages of work order- wow!

This is a classic example of ruining quality, get rewarded for it and make the Owner go crazy. No wonder the guys were so frustrated! When I asked them, “why are you complaining now, why didn’t you tell the Architect and the Contractor that you wanted a building that must last long?” The answer was quick- “no one cared about us!”

A solution without leadership tools:

Shortly, I found that there was a mechanism in place to get their input through documents review but the motivation was missing. To make sure they could not complain later, the documents would be distributed to them for a quick review without sufficient briefing or guidance. After a few reminders, the documents would come back without any input or with haphazard input, if any. The Architect would be finalizing the documents by then. As a result, the staff would stay away during construction, but after handover, they would start changing things to suit their needs. In short, the bullying tactics for collecting input wasn’t working.

A different solution using leadership tools:

I realized that I needed a different mechanism to motivate them for providing input. I got lucky- my employer offered training for a bunch of managers titled “21st Century Leadership and Learning.” I was able to discover my leadership tools during the training. later I came across a book titled ‘Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision Making’ by Sam Kaner. These two things changed my mind-set and showed me the way to engage these people effectively with courage and collaboration.

I offered the facility managers and the trades staff a half a day workshop on how the District can help improve construction quality in capital projects. They came and we had a lot of fun together.


Here is what we did before and during the workshop:

Courage phase:

  1. Vision: I consulted privately with the facility managers and the trades staff back and forth to set the vision that quality was everyone’s job. They agreed on the idea and supported me to move my mission forward.
  2. Communication: The idea was to let people communicate their views without being challenged by their peers or superiors. About 20 managers and trades staff met in a large meeting room and pushed the desks to create an open space. I divided the group into two, stood them at the two ends of the room and provided a blank piece of paper and a pen to each. I showed them how to make paper planes; most of them knew it anyways. The environment for fearless communication was ready.
  3. Creativity: Everyone anonymously wrote his or her own creative ideas on the topic, folded into a plane and flew across the room. Each person picked up a plane that came from the other side and continued expanding on the idea already written on it. We did this exercise three times. People aged from 30 years to 60 years enjoyed the game as kids do.

Collaboration phase:

  1. Critical Thinking: Then we collected the planes and read them out loud. A bunch of great ideas came out supported by their peers! We dissected and analyzed every idea and then sorted and compared them.
  2. Leading: At this point, I took on the dual role of being a facilitator and a contributor. I started drawing a mind map on the whiteboard and offering my suggestions for actions based on the mind map.
  3. Following: At the same time of offering suggestions, I kept my ears open for counter suggestions and discarding mine without prejudice. It made people feel that I was following them as well while I was leading them.

What came out of the workshop?

This is what we got as the top action- in the next 60 days we will come up with a guide titled ‘the Capital Projects’ Requirements’ or the CPR. The CPR to include quality needs for civil work, landscape work, building materials, mechanical, plumbing, electrical work, and commissioning. This will be a living document and updated on a needed basis. It will be handed to the design team at the beginning of the project. When the 50% and 90% drawings and specifications come in for review the staff will have the CPR as a reference.

The CPR was drafted, edited, vetted and used for the next project. It was a grand success! I did not hear complaints during document review that they were too busy. During construction, they were very supportive and after construction, they didn’t have to start changing things anymore.

What changed? Two things- they owned the decision that they had to spend time during the design stage and that they had the CPR as a guide to make that time meaningful.

Take away:

You can see with the right mindset you can pick up your leadership tools and change the world, obviously construction quality is one of those things. Keep in mind that you don’t always need a lot of people around to use your leadership tools. The tools work as good for even when you are dealing with an individual or two privately.

When you need people on your side for a change, always look in your back pocket full of leadership tools. If you are a Capital Project Manager it’s even easier for you!