March 16, 2005

400 attend transportation conference

Delegates told quality management makes good sense for businesses

Quality management (QM) leads to quality product at a lower cost, according to Don Shaw, provincial construction manager with the B.C. Ministry of Transportation (MOT).

Shaw was one of three speakers covering key aspects of quality management at the recent Road Works Ahead: Transportation Conference 2005 held at the Ramada Plaza Hotel in Richmond, B.C.

The sold-out conference, organized by MOT, Consulting Engineers of B.C. and the B.C. Road Builders & Heavy Construction Association, drew almost 400 delegates from around the province to hear about opportunities and strategies for improving project delivery.

All work on ministry projects are undertaken through a total QM process with each party responsible for different components of the program.

The three speakers presented different points of view from the ministry, roadbuilders and consultants to help delegates gain a better understanding of QM principles including quality control (QC), quality assurance (QA) and non-conformance.

“The ministry is firmly committed to quality control being in the hands of the contractor,” said Shaw. “We want to make sure that you build quality in, not have it inspected in.”

In providing an overview of key areas of QM, Shaw also debunked several common myths including ISO 9000 requirements.

“ISO requirements are really good sound business practices and achieve the goals we’re looking for,” he said. “But it’s false that contractors are required to plan to be ISO compliant.”

Another myth is an internal NCR (non-conformance report) is bad. The ministry views it as good, said Shaw, because it indicates the contractor is recognizing shortfalls and correcting them.

Shaw focused most of his presentation on the ministry’s QM special provisions, which outlines the ministry’s role and its expectations of contractors. He noted quality control is more than just testing and documentation is important.

“If you don’t document your QC you’re at risk for not being paid for it. No documentation; no payment,” he advised.

In the roadbuilding industry, QM continues to evolve. Moving forward, said Shaw, continuous improvement is a core focus for both QC and QA.

“We believe management commitment ... is essential but the real key to quality lies in the hands of the frontline,” he said.

Shaw also acknowledged QM costs a significant amount of money to implement. He cited as an example a first-time contractor who bid $50,000 on a job and ended up spending $250,000.

“It is a costly process,” he said. “The real payback does come later with reduced rework.”

Bruce Miller, operations manager, Emil Anderson, agreed that QM cost issues are significant and real. Inconsistent interpretation of the special provisions is another commonly cited problem, he said.

“As the ministry has effectively downloaded the QC onto the contractor over the past three years, we as contractors must embrace this opportunity ... take up the challenge and we’re doing that. We need to continue to work together as both parties are still feeling their way through the process,” he said, stressing both parties need to be reasonable and focus on the goal.

Subtrades and suppliers are also key to the success of a QM program, Miller said, and QM requires commitment from senior management and buy-in from 100 per cent of the workforce.

“General contractors need to take a lead role in educating trades — major subs and suppliers. We have to inspect and insist that our subs and suppliers do as we do,” said Miller.

In his presentation, Mark Havlasek, senior associate, Trow Associates, discussed QM costs, the role of the consultant, NCR process and contract requirements.

The consultant can help to design QM systems such that maximum potential savings are achieved as well as interpret ISO requirements, said Havlasek.

The most valuable tool is the NCR report.

“Each contractor or sub is required to maintain a NCR log. It allows problems to be objectively recorded and tracked,” he said.

When it comes to QM costs, Havlasek explained more time and costs are spent on upfront planning and organizing but this ensures less time and costs later on in the process.

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