Digital QA in the construction industry

Quality Assurance

Are you in doubt of what quality assurance as a concept covers, why quality controls are conducted, or perhaps how you yourself might gain value from the documentation? At Inspectly we have gathered a lot of knowledge about QA, and we have written it all in this blog post. If you would like to gain full value from your quality assurance, you should read more and gain valuable insight here. 

Content

What is quality assurance? 

What is the use of quality assurance in the construction industry?

What are the benefits of digital quality assurance?

How digital quality assurance creates value

Who is responsible for quality assurance?

When is quality assurance necessary?

The elements behind quality assurance

Distribution of controls

Time-related aspects of controls

Different types of quality assurance

Written by Stephen Chotprom

What is quality assurance?

In the construction industry, quality assurance (often abbreviated as QA) is a concept which covers the self-regulation that contractors document continuously throughout the construction process. QA can thus be seen as documentation of the quality of the finished tasks. For the contractor, the purpose of quality assurance is complying with QA requirements imposed upon them from the client, while also aiding the contractor in preventing defects, and ultimately disagreements and financial losses.

Upon entering an agreement, the contractor accepts the requirements set forth by the client as part of the tender document. It is therefore important for the contractor to be able to deliver the appropriate quality controls (as well as the correct amount) as stated in the tender document, as it otherwise might result in financial consequences.

Quality assurance in the construction industry 

Besides the requirements stated in the client’s tender document, the contractor is must also comply with the requirements stated in legislation. This is partly because the contractor is perceived as the most knowledgeable entity in the construction contract, and so the contractor is best suited to ensure that quality control is carried out. It is the sum of these QA requirements (tender document and legislation) that the contractor must fulfil by documenting their work during the construction process..

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What is the use of quality assurance in the construction industry?

There are multiple reasons for conducting quality assurance in the construction industry. First and foremost, the main purpose of QA is for the contractor to comply with the requirements set forth by both client, standards, and legislation. It is becoming increasingly more important, with many nations already requiring by law that public as well as private construction projects conduct quality assurance.

Best practise and the value of documenting one's work

Another reason for conducting quality assurance in the construction industry is because it is considered best practise. It is quite natural to log and journalise the quality of one’s work because it ensures that one is always never in doubt of what has been done, where it was done, and when it was done. Quality assurance is also a tool for the contractor and client to align expectations, and in the unlucky situation that any disagreements would occur, both parties are much better off if one’s QA has been properly conducted, documented, and journalised.

Not being on top of one's QA can quickly become a costly affair

If it is not possible for the contractor to present proper QA documentation, it can very quickly become a costly affair. If the client finds that the QA documentation is not complying with the requirements set forth by the tender document, the client can withhold part of the contractor’s payment, reducing (or most often eliminating) the contractor’s surplus for the completed work.

In addition to this, the contractor will also be better off with proper documentation in the case of any disagreement between contractor and client. This means that with proper QA documentation, the contractor can ultimately avoid being held liable for any compensation claims.

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What are the benefits of digital quality assurance?

The difference between digital and non-digital quality assurance

A digital approach to quality assurance will typically bring with it many benefits. As is the case with most other situations, a digital solution helps with streamlining work processes, and this is naturally also the case for quality assurance.

Quick and simple QA work processes on the construction site

The main benefit is practical in nature, as an IT solution helps with streamlining on-site QA work processes for the contractor.

  • Registrations are done easily and quickly
  • Registering and journalising are done in one procedure
  • Documentation is centralised from the very beginning

With non-digital quality assurance, activities are typically registered physically, i.e., on paper checklists on the construction site, with pictures taken on mobile phones or camera etc. These registrations are then typically journalised in a folder, where the registrations are put together in a Word document to be sent to the client by email.

With an IT tool, this process and its many steps are optimised and centralised, resulting in easier work procedures for the contractor on the construction site. When registering and journalising are consolidated into one procedure, the contractor saves time while also minimising risks of losing the overview of one’s QA as well as losing information along the way.

Whether one’s approach to quality assurance is digital or not, it is important to note that all work concerning quality assurance must make sense for all individuals in a business, project manager as well as tradesmen working on-site. With a better understanding of the QA process, as well as a simpler approach to documenting QA, good habits are built around working with quality assurance across the organisation.

Having an overview of one's quality assurance

Another benefit of digitalising one’s QA is for the project manager or administrative employee, where an IT system makes following, monitoring, organising, and management tasks related to quality assurance much simpler. This benefit includes:

  • Instant access to documentation without having to be present on the construction site  
  • Overview of the status and progress of one's quality assurance
  • Quick and easy report generation

With a system for managing one’s QA, a complete overview will typically follow. The project manager can monitor progress from the office, as the documentation is journalised instantly in the central system. If one has a complete overview of one’s QA, it is possible to see how far along the quality controls are, if the controls are properly distributed, if the amounts are correct etc. The complete overview makes it possible to correct the QA process and therefore prevent the situation that the QA documentation ultimately is not complying with the requirements set forth by the client and legislation.

Systematic journalising also makes it possible to quickly export documentation as reports such as the final report etc., where manually handling the documentation of a project can become a tedious and time-consuming task.

Using standard checklists across projects

There are many benefits to utilising standard checklists for one’s quality assurance. First and foremost, using standard checklists means that work related to QA will always start from the same point. This results in the contractor ensuring that there is an internal quality standard for the company, which ultimately makes managing one’s quality much easier. This also means that the contractor can avoid having to create checklists from scratch for every project, which saves time and prevents mistakes such as omissions etc.

The use of standard checklists also makes it easier for the contractor to update and make changes to their checklists, where a digital system ensures the changes are automatically communicated and pushed out to the tradesmen working on the construction site. With this, it is possible to avoid employees using outdated standards – in contrast to analogue quality assurance, where it can be a difficult task to locate all checklists in paper form and ensure that they are replaced with the newly updated versions.

Finally, using standard checklists also means that with an IT system, it is much easier to compare one’s quality assurance across projects. With the overview that a digital solution grants, it can be difficult to manage a most often large amount of data, and therefore also to compare it.

Optimising one's processes in the long term

Digital quality assurance is a great help for complying with the requirements set forth by client and legislation, but besides the initial benefits, there are also significant ones in the long term. A digital system for quality assurance grants an overview and insight into one’s data, which makes optimising one’s QA related work processes possible. This also means that one will be better equipped and more attentive to especially critical elements of the project, to avoiding repeating mistakes from project to project, as well as preventing defects going forward – ultimately resulting in the contractor saving time and money, and thus making their business more lucrative and effective.

Read more about digital quality assurance

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How digital quality assurance creates value
With digital quality assurance, it is possible to correct one's process

A traditional, analogue approach to quality assurance brings with it challenges in ensuring the complete overview throughout the construction process. Without a systematic overview, it is difficult to stay on top of how far one is with one’s quality control.

With the overview a quality assurance IT system grants, the contractor can follow and monitor the QA process and identify if the quality control is on course. This enables the contractor to correct the course along the way, and thus also to optimise and prevent typical mistakes going forward. Preventing defects is always less costly than rectifying defects, and thus altering already completed constructions.

Imagine throwing a dart. After the dart has been thrown, you can hope that it will hit its mark – and if you are good at throwing darts, you might even expect it to hit bullseye. There is not a lot more to be done to affect the result at this point, however. Now imagine that it is possible for you to correct the dart’s course if you can see that it will not hit its mark. With the overview granted by an IT system, it is possible to see when you are on the wrong course – and you will thus grant yourself the opportunity to correct the path and ensure you will hit bullseye.

Becoming more secure by documenting one's work 

Another perspective to see the benefit of working with quality assurance from is the unlucky situation in which disagreements arise concerning an element of the construction project. The contractor is better of the better the documentation of the completed work is, since it is possible to present documentation showcasing that the work has been completed in accordance with the expected professionalism, and the client’s tender document.

By documenting one’s work, it is potentially possible to detect defects before they happen during the construction process. In the event that the contractor is held liable for a compensation claim, being able to present proper QA documentation can be the difference between paying compensation or not.

With an overview and insight, it is possible to optimise work processes 

In addition to more easy quality control, a digital tool for QA also enables the contractor to gain knowledge from the data that emerges from the documentation. With an overview and insight into one’s quality assurance, defects can potentially be detected earlier, thus preventing the defect from taking place more than once, while also preventing similar defects from happening at all in the future.

Because of this, the contractor gains knowledge to optimise their procedures and to, for example, further educate their employees. If it turns out that there are problems with the controls of a particular element, or if it turns out that defects are happening primarily in another element, the contractor can put effort into correcting these processes going forward. By doing this, the contractor will ultimately improve the quality of their work as well as make the business more lucrative and successful.

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Who is responsible for quality assurance?

With the client’s demands for quality assurance, it is the contractor who is responsible for conducting the necessary quality controls for demonstrating the quality of completed work in a construction project. Besides the client’s tender document, this is also evident from legal requirements for quality control that are put upon the contractor.

For the contractor as a business, the individual responsible internally for the quality assurance varies from business to business. Typically, it is a project manager or an employee with an administrative role that is ultimately responsible for ensuring that the completed work is in compliance with the QA requirements set forth by the client and legislation. Even though the responsibility lies with one or more employees, it is important that tradesmen working on-site are documenting the quality correctly. An important aspect of the quality assurance is to ensure that the organisation creates good habits related to registering. Without a proper workflow and common understanding of what the purpose of the QA is, it can be a challenge to lift the tasks up above “doing it because we must.” It is therefore also important that one has an intuitive tool for conducting quality assurance – after all, one is not better than the data collected.

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When is quality assurance necessary?

There can be many challenges related with conducting quality assurance during a busy workday. Nonetheless, it is important to prioritise getting it done.

The quality assurance workflow is made much simpler and more effective by having a great and intuitive tool to help gaining a complete overview as well as with creating good habits for working with QA for every employee in the organisation.

Quality controls must be done continuously, not afterwards 

Without much time or organisation, it can easily result in the quality assurance being done after completion. If this is the case, it can be difficult to gain value from it, as most tasks on the construction site can only be documented properly while taking place, or just as they have been completed. With a digital tool for quality assurance, it is possible always to have an overview of how far along the process one is, that a control is not omitted, and that the controls are being done continuously.

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The elements of quality assurance

No matter if one’s approach to quality assurance is digital or analogue, the requirements from the client and legislation are the same and must be complied with. The central element for working with quality assurance is the tender document, but the full scope of the QA includes some elements in addition to this document.

It is generally recommended that the quality assurance of a construction project as a minimum should include:

  • Basic information about the construction project, with organisation of and access to the documentation being important
  • An overview of the organisation of the project
  • An overview of the materials and documents relevant to the project
  • The results of project examination meetings as well as risk assessments
  • An overview of the contractor’s approach to quality assurance as well as the plan for conducting it
  • A control plan prepared by the contractor
  • Goods receipt inspection
  • Process control
  • Final inspection checklists
  • Daily diary entries
  • Deviation reports

These elements combined are also what the structure of the final report should look like, which is the final report that the contractor hands in upon completing the construction project.

In the following sections, the most central elements from the list above will be explained.

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The final report

The final report is the report that the client receives from the contractor, containing documentation of how the completed work in the construction project has been done. In addition to the documentation of the completed work, it is also important for the final report to contain descriptions of how the contractor is working with quality, how the breaking of quality standards is handled, as well as what is done to prevent similar breakings in the future.

It is Inspectly’s recommendation that a contractor hands in two final reports over the course of a construction project. Firstly, before work commences the contractor should hand in a “final report” containing all the control checklists that they are planning to utilise for conducting the quality control, not yet filled in. This is a great element for aligning expectations between client and contractor, as it gives the client initial insight into how the contractor is planning to work with quality assurance as well as what the final report will cover.

Finally, the second final report is handed in upon project completion. This will typically be a reproduction of the initial one, however with the checklists filled in and with registrations and other relevant documentation included. The final report is typically very large and contains hundreds or even thousands of pages, and for this an IT system to compile and export the documentation can make the process much simpler and more effective. If done manually, it can be very time-consuming with high risks of omissions and mistakes.

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Tender document

The tender document is an overview of the minimum requirements set forth by the client for the quality assurance of a construction project, and therefore also the controls (including amounts) that a contractor must conduct. The tender document is prepared by the client or the client’s advisors, and it is part of the tender material.

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Control plan

The control plan is one of the most central documents for managing the quality assurance in a construction contract. After the parties agree on the contract, the control plan is prepared by the contractor based on the initial tender document from the client.

The control plan is prepared by the contractor as a statement on how the contractor is planning to conduct controls and comply with the quality assurance requirements set forth by the client in relation to the construction project.

As the general tendency in for increasingly more legislation in quality assurance, there are now many controls imposed on the contractor that the contractor themselves must be aware of and be sure to conduct and document. These controls are not necessarily part of the client’s tender document. Because the contractor is considered an expert in their field, the contractor is responsible for making sure that the quality assurance is compliant with legislation, in addition to the requirements stated in the tender document by the client. The control plan therefore consists of the total amount of controls from both tender document and legislation.

The content of the control plan

The control plan consists of various elements that are all essential when conducting quality controls. Selected areas are:

  • Checklists

Control of an individual element. The control plan contains checklists with individual controls that the contractor conducts, thus documenting the quality of the work being done. The filled-out checklists constitute the total quality assurance document for the construction project.

The main aspect for the contractor in a construction contract is complying with the quality assurance requirements from both client and legislation, and it is therefore important that the checklists are flexible and customisable in order to comply with the specific requirements of a particular project.

The contractor can benefit from utilising standard checklists in their quality assurance, as these standard checklists help ensuring an internal quality standard for the contracting company. For the contractor, the starting point is that one creates one’s own checklists to be stored internally in a library as standard checklists. From here, the contractor can maintain and update their standard checklists, and when changes occur, it is possible to ensure that the changes are consistent for the company and that revised checklists are properly communicated and pushed out the employees working on-site etc.

Another more long-term benefit of utilising standard checklist is the fact that doing so facilitates comparison of one’s quality assurance across project. A comparison can aid in identifying a recurrent defect from project to project, which can be the basis for updating one’s standard checklists and adding a control whose specific purpose is to prevent that particular defect from happening again in the future.

The content of the checklists

In general, the content of a checklist is not dictated by legislation. There are however certain guidelines that Inspectly and the construction industry at large recommend following.

The most essential aspect is naturally ensuring that the content of the checklist complies with the quality assurance requirements of the client, the professionalism of the contractor, as well as potential standards relevant to the specific control.

General recommendations for checklist content 

To help their members with complying with legislative quality assurance requirements easier, or to support contractors in their professionalism, many interest groups create standard checklists for their members to freely use. With these checklists, members are guided with recommendations for what the checklists should include. The standard checklists can be utilised as-is, or they can be customised to suit the individual project. This means members will save time, as it is no longer necessary to create checklists from scratch for each project.

  • Frequency

Another important aspect of the control plan is frequency which notes that it is important to have a complete overview of when a specific control must be conducted. This is relevant if there are requirements for a recurring control.

  • Control method

The manner in which a control is conducted. This can for example be through count or visual control.

  • Control amount

For the contractor, the primary focus regarding the controls is to align expectations with the client before construction commences. It is important for the contractor to be aware of how many controls are to be conducted before the construction is finished, as well as what makes sense in relation to the nature of the construction project.

Inspectly recommends that the contractor challenges a client’s requirements for 100 % control. A “100 % control” can be difficult to conduct, in particular because the parties might disagree about what 100 % means in practice. Best practise is instead to utilise specific control amounts, resulting in a control amount of 10 out of 40 checkpoints, rather than 25 %.

Following the importance of aligning expectations regarding controls, there are also other important elements that the contractor should pay attention to.

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Distribution of the controls

Another focus point is the importance of being aware of the distribution of one’s controls. Some controls naturally must be conducted in one physical area. This is especially relevant when controlling installations that exist only in some areas of the building, for example water pipes. For other controls, it is ideal to ensure coverage over a large area – for example when controlling floors or foundation. In situations like these, it is essential to ensure that the controls, and thus documented quality, are representative for the construction work as a whole.

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Time-related aspects

A third focus area for the contractor relates to time. It is important always to have a complete overview of one’s quality assurance and the controls to be conducted. Without this overview, it is not possible to ensure that the controls are conducted. Furthermore, the timeframe for a construction project will typically be tight, and if the controls are not conducted in a timely manner, it might result in a significant issue for the progress of the project.

For some controls, the deadline dictates that there is a very short window of opportunity. In situations like this it is essential to be aware of the specific timeframe in which the control can be conducted, until it no longer is possible to do so. In many cases it might be necessary to conduct a destructive operation in order to conduct the control after deadline, which means tearing down a finished element to gain access. This would naturally have financial consequences for the contractor.

This is the main reason behind the importance of having a continuous overview of deadlines and the progress of the quality assurance, and it is especially here that digital quality assurance has an edge over the traditional approach. With digital tools facilitating a complete overview, it is much easier staying on top of the progress of the quality assurance and to ensure that that it is always done in a timely manner.

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Different types of quality assurance

There are different types of controls which utilise different types of checklists:

  • Goods receipt inspections

A group of controls typically utilised for checking material deliveries on the construction site. The controls typically check if the amount delivered is in accordance with the delivery note. Besides amount, the quality of the delivery is also checked as well as potential transport damage.

A goods receipt inspect can also be relevant when a finished element is to be delivered from one contractor to another. As an example, a painter can receive a completed plaster wall with the task to paint it, and before painting commences, a goods receipt control is conducted.

  • Process inspections

More or less every control of the main part of the work are part of the process inspections. This is where all documentation from the contractor takes place, as well as all communication throughout the construction process. Process inspection therefore includes all controls that are not final.

  • Final inspections

The final control which is done when work has finished. This is relevant to both partial elements during construction as well as the final report. A final inspection is reminiscent of a master review, but in practice there are some differences. A final inspection usually takes point of departure in a checklist which allows for a more systematic and in-depth approach to the control. In contrast, a master review would typically be more visual in nature, as one would go through the controls by inspecting and checking whether the completed work is compliant with the requirements of the construction project.

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Inspectly's module, Checklists

A digital platform for managing one's quality assurance brings with it many benefits, ensuring value in both the short term and long term – and investing in an IT system for quality assurance can therefore very quickly be worth the cost. 

Inspectly has designed a module for digital QA that is tailormade to help contractors with their approach to working with quality. If you would like to know more, you can read more here or contant our advisors. 

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