I recently published an article ‘The True Costs of Poor Quality Construction’. I was surprised at how well the article was received and the many shares and likes it got. Obviously many are concerned about quality in our industry. Thanks to the many people who took the time to add their comments. Some readers commented that quality in general was deteriorating and that clients in desperation were lowering the bar and accepting poor quality because it was becoming too hard to find contractors who could deliver good quality work, and it was an uphill struggle to get contractors to produce acceptable quality and fix their poor-quality work.
Now I was reminded of this on my recent travels where many restaurants and hotels delivered ordinary and, sometimes, even poor service. Granted these weren’t five star establishments – but do we have to pay five star prices to get friendly service and a clean table. I might add none of these establishments were cheap (no backpacker lodges or street food). Yet, we stayed in places with more cobwebs than a Halloween party, used bathrooms that had mould on the walls and ceilings, sat at tables that were sticky and dirty, received cranky service and ordinary food, and more. These establishments were in a first world country, and I’ve had similar experiences repeated on different continents. Does nobody care anymore? Doesn’t anyone have pride in their work anymore?
Unfortunately the same seems to be repeated in construction. I regularly walk into houses, hotels and shopping malls and see poor quality work. Poorly fitted doors, uneven floor tiles, walls out of square, evidence of leaks, poor quality concrete, patchy painting, rapid deterioration of a newly finished project, and the list goes on.
Are clients responsible for poor quality?
Now another reader of my article on construction quality said that clients were responsible for contractors producing poor quality because they squeezed the contractors for the cheapest price. Now, just because the contractor is paid a low price, is that an excuse for poor quality work? Yes, often the client is responsible for a poor-quality project because they select the contractor with the cheapest price without considering whether that contractor has the experience, skills and resources to deliver a quality project. Clients need to focus on more than just price when selecting their contractors. But, for a contractor to blame a cheap price for their poor-quality work is clearly unacceptable. Contractors could select cheaper materials to include in the project – but, these materials must comply with the project specification and they should perform according to the client’s expectations. As mentioned in my previous article poor quality work actually costs contractors money when they have to fix the problems, either during construction or after project completion – so the cost of producing good quality work shouldn’t enter the argument! Poor quality work destroys reputation. In the same way that most of us won’t return to the restaurants and hotels I mentioned earlier, many clients avoid contractors that deliver poor quality work.
Some blame clients and say they are responsible for poor quality work because they should ensure that the contractor delivers a good quality project. But, is it really the client’s responsibility to ensure the contractor delivers a good quality product? If a restaurant serves up a terrible plate of food should we be blaming the customer for the terrible food because they didn’t send it back to the kitchen?
Others blame clients because clients expect projects to be completed in unreasonable time-frames. Just because I go to a fast-food restaurant does that give the establishment an excuse to serve inedible food, or food that’s going to give me an upset stomach? Is it an excuse to give me grumpy service, or serve me the wrong item? Unfortunately, some fast-food places do serve appalling food with equally terrible service and they should be avoided.
Have we become accustomed to poor-quality - maybe even oblivious?
But, surprisingly, many businesses continue to survive despite delivering poor quality offerings – whether it’s hotel accommodation, restaurant food or construction work. Is it because people don’t care a …. anymore, perhaps they have become accustomed to poor-quality work and service, or, are they prepared to accept poor-quality simply because it’s convenient or cheaper to do so? Maybe many don’t know (or have forgotten) what good quality is – whether it’s food, accommodation or construction work?
If a person dishes out poor-quality work and service are they more likely to accept poor-quality work and service as being the norm?
Certainly, it is a problem in construction where we are starting to see the blind leading the blind. (My apologies to blind people because I am sure in many cases even a person without sight could produce better quality work than I sometimes see dished up.) We have Project Managers and Supervisors who have not received the proper training, who know no better, and who are now responsible for managing and supervising an unskilled workforce. In many countries apprenticeships have been abandoned and someone can do an online course, get a piece of paper, buy some tools from the nearest store and suddenly they are employable as a painter, carpenter or bricklayer. Unfortunately, these same people somehow in many cases become Project Managers and Supervisors, yet, know very little about delivering a quality project. The same is repeated in other industries such as the hospitality industry.
Managers don’t check what their workers are doing, or if they do, they can’t see the mistakes, can’t correct the workers and can’t implement corrective actions. Are these managers going to accept the same shoddy work at their house, or accept the same poor service at restaurants they frequent – probably?
Who is proud of their work?
I guess it comes down to asking why so many don’t have any pride in their work anymore? Many don’t have the passion and are merely happy to do the minimum to earn their wages! There’s a sense of entitlement that they’ll be paid just for showing up at work.
Some societies have become adept at accepting – even promoting – mediocrity. It sometimes starts at school where prizes are no longer awarded to those who come first (whether in sporting events or in class). Just passing a grade is good enough (and in some cases even attempting to pass is acceptable)! Is this a manifestation of what we see on our construction projects and in restaurants? Should we accept the fact that we were served food in a restaurant as being good enough, even when the food was awful and it arrived cold and late? Should we be happy that our construction project was finished, even if it was late and of substandard quality?
Where will it end?
If we continue to let standards slip and turn a blind eye to poor quality where will our quality standards go? If we are happy to lower the quality bar now, will we have to lower it again in the future? How low can we lower the quality bar? What will future generations be prepared to accept?
But is it all doom and gloom?
Fortunately, there are still many people and organisations who are committed to delivering quality products and service. We still have some master craftsman and artisans who take pride in their work.
What can we do?
We owe it to society to speak up. People and organisations who deliver a good quality product should be thanked. (Recently we had a contractor replace the roof on an apartment building. Being the chairman of the body of owners I coordinated the work. The roof was replaced efficiently and professionally and the few minor hiccups were promptly dealt with by the contractor. When the project was completed I wrote a thank you note to the contractor. They thanked me for the note and informed me they had distributed the note to all those involved in the project. My thanks was appreciated. But I also went further and made sure that I recommended the contractor to others that might need their services.)
In the same way people and organisations must be told when their service is unacceptable. Some won’t like it and others will ignore the comments, but a few will, hopefully, take the comments to heart and make the required changes. Of course, we shouldn’t become a whining, winging bunch of customers who complain about every little thing – rather, we should raise genuine complaints which the restaurant manager, hotel manager or contractor can actually deal with – problems they and their team are responsible for. These complaints should be raised in a restrained manner, without anger or rancour, but in such a manner that the person, or organisation, realises that what they have delivered in poor service or quality isn’t acceptable and won’t be tolerated. These complaints should be raised with the person responsible for improving quality and service. As a client it is pointless ranting and raving at a worker, rather complaints must be addressed to management.
We should not accept poor quality work – even if it means we have to get the contractor back repeatedly to fix the same problem. I know this can be tiresome! Maybe we need to send poor quality food back to the kitchen more often – I mean in restaurants and not at home.
We need to become more discerning as customers, and support people and organisations that deliver a quality product. We shouldn’t be swayed by price or convenience alone.
Those of us who have experience and knowledge, and who understand the right way of doing things, must take the time and effort to mentor and train the next generation.
We should all take pride in our work. We need to lead by example. We should never walk-by, or accept poor quality work or service. Those who do not deliver quality should be corrected and shown what’s acceptable. Where necessary people must be trained so they improve their skills.
There really is no excuse for poor quality work. In my next article I’ll discuss steps that clients and contractors can implement to ensure good quality construction projects.
What do you think – are quality standards slipping?
What can we do to improve quality and service?
This article is adapted from information in the author’s popular books: 'Successful Construction Project Management: The Practical Guide' and 'Building a Successful Construction Company: The Practical Guide'. and 'Construction Claims: A Short Guide for Contractors' . Paul's latest book 'Construction Project Management: tips and insights' , which contains his best articles, with additional information, has recently been published. These books are available on Amazon and other online book stores.
Paul publishes articles regularly on LinkedIn and his website.
Paul writes regular articles for other websites, gives lectures, mentors, and is available for podcasts and interviews.
© 2017 This article is not to be reproduced for commercial purposes without written permission from the author.