Quality Management Helps with Risk
If a project meets all the specified and implied requirements, then it has achieved, by definition, high quality. But that outcome, though 100 percent functional, “may still not be memorable, inspiring, brilliant, or gob-smashingly great,” says Charles Nelson, LFRAIA, AIA, AECPM, author of Managing Quality in Architecture—Integrating BIM, Risk & Design Process. “High quality is very, very good—but not necessarily excellent.”
An excellence program costs firms less once in place, and provides a huge advantage over the competition. Here’s how to establish one:
Embrace change. People want to stay in their comfort zones, but encourage them to ask whether there are better ways of doing things—even if that means the result isn’t perfect the first time. “A big crossover point in every firm that goes down this quality path is having to accept the fact that making mistakes is part of the process,” says Nelson. And shining a spotlight on those mistakes means not making the same ones in the future.
Do the same with risk. Mistakes aren’t the reason for most claims against firms. Poor communication is. Lower your risk for liability by being clear and open about quality-related changes—and adhere to them consistently on all projects—and you’ll get more consistent outcomes that result in repeat business.
Adhere to the Pareto Principle. This is about finding the critical 20 percent of causes in the design process that account for 80 percent of outcomes—then focusing on those and forgetting the others. That search should take roughly four percent of your time, although there is no fixed rule. The more complex the project and design team structure, the more time it will take.
Know trends. The role of design management has exploded in recent years, as dozens of disciplines inside and outside the design team increasingly collaborate on one project. “We’ve reached a point where we need project coordinators who don’t do anything other than focus on how those different specialties fit together,” he says. “That’s particularly important now that the world has moved toward BIM modeling.”
Recognize that size matters. One person can supervise no more than 10 – 12 people well, according to Nelson, “a magic number” that means greater efficiency and adherence to internal quality standards. That said, supervising a smaller number won’t lead to better results unless quality is a very conscious part of the design process. Using assistant project managers or project coordinators can double or triple the number of projects—and therefore people—that a firm can manage safely.
Respect the process. After a quality system has been in place for a while, it starts to mature and become part of the cultural fabric of the practice. As one practice leader of a large and very successful practice told Nelson: “We never think about ‘quality’ anymore. It’s just the way we do things, and everybody here understands it.