Elements Of A Quality Construction Project

Here's what you need to consider to oversee a high-quality project in the current construction environment.

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Plant construction. (Photo provided by Graycor)

By Shawn Anderton and Brian Gallagher

From the modernization of project delivery to the development of quality management and control systems, there have been widespread improvements in capital project construction.

Most team members on these projects are well-versed in quality indicators and metrics, benchmark setting and tracking, and audit and assessment processes. But as these systems become commonplace, changes in the construction landscape—labor shortages, supply chain challenges, and rapid adoption of automation, to name a few—are “moving the goalposts” for what it means to achieve quality on a project.

Start Off On The Right Foot

Project owners know that a quality project has a successful facility turnover, including complete documentation and full readiness for production on day one. Accomplishing this requires more from the project team than simply meeting benchmarks. Quality must be built into the culture, with firmly established processes predicated on upfront planning and early conversations about project variables. The team should take a long view of each design decision before ground is broken, evaluating various scenarios and choosing between alternatives.

For example, instead of defaulting to welded connections on plant equipment, quality risks may be mitigated by choosing bolts, instead. This is because welding quality is achieved not merely through the quality of the material itself but requires significantly more material control (such as weld rod oven temperature control and segregation, control of weld gases, weld machine calibration, etc.). Additionally, welders must have skills that require testing and certification, and welds typically require some form of nondestructive testing, depending on the applicable design code. Material quality associated with bolts, on the other hand, can be achieved if the proper material is ordered and proper torquing procedure—which does not require unique resource skills—is followed.

In the current construction environment, nearly all materials and the resources to produce, fabricate, and install them are in short supply. For this reason, the earlier materials can be selected and products procured, the higher the risk mitigation opportunity. To improve project outcome certainty, design choices should, in general, prioritize using the most available material with the least need of product touch (which includes design, fabrication, installation support, and transport needs.)

Preventative Maintenance

Maintenance needs, if not addressed during design and procurement, can also result in greater long-term costs. Future availability of materials and additional downtime required for maintenance are issues that should be considered by the team early on. For example, HVAC units and solar panels, which need ongoing maintenance, may require non-standardized sizes or materials for replacement parts.

Access to equipment is another issue to consider. The team should ask such questions as: Are accessways maintained to equipment that will require maintenance? Does access require a crane? Do items selected during the design phase fit in a freight elevator so they can be transported to their end location, and is the elevator sized to accommodate the designated equipment?

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Examples such as these make it clear that cost and schedule impacts should not be the only categories weighed when a team is addressing quality. Decisions that result in downstream impacts on service and user convenience should be considered to affect a project’s overall quality.

Communication Is Key

Discussions should take place between facility operators and corporate decision makers. Contractors can facilitate these discussions, since they must navigate the needs and expectations of both to have a successful project and satisfied client. Contractors are in a position to communicate plans that can bridge operational needs with corporate requirements, offering solutions that bring alignment on schedule, cost, and execution plans. Without these bridging strategies, it can be more difficult for conversations between operators and corporate representatives to be productive.

Contractors should participate in site visits during estimating and procurement stages for all types of plants. Estimates and execution plans are significantly at risk if contractors do not visit where the work is taking place in an operational facility. By visiting, contractors can uncover logistics challenges that aren’t apparent from drawings, such as facility work in progress, temporary structures in place, or transport routes in use for operations that will impact the work area (or the access to the work area that is available for resources or equipment). They may also see opportunities to cut costs or reduce the schedule, such as using an unoccupied area or existing facility for storage or trailers.

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(Photo provided by Graycor)

Perfecting The Project Scope

In addition, controlling project scope should also be regarded as a quality consideration. The initial accuracy of the project design, drawings, and specifications contributes to management of cost and schedule growth. Formalized preconstruction processes, along with a commitment from all team members to collaborate and communicate, achieves practicality and accountability, as well as offsets questions and needs that would become costly to address once the project is underway in the field.

Contract agreements regarding turnover should be carefully reviewed during early project stages. It often happens that contracts’ content and format do not accurately reflect what the facility owner wants. Resolving the situation early can eliminate redundancy in quality verification documentation such as inspection and test reports, certificates of compliance, and requests for information.

Redundancy can also be reduced—and accuracy improved—by supporting progressive turnover and the use of technology and construction management software solutions. When the customer is involved during the install phase, acceptance inspections can occur as installations are carried out instead of waiting until the work has been completed. This reduces the amount of time needed at completion to inspect and verify system checkout, which in turn can reduce the number of resources needed for this process, while still to solving the problem of customer inspection points being missed. Additionally, it offers earlier turnover to commissioning and operations crews.

With challenges to project delivery more numerous than they’ve been in years, quality planning should be addressed at a project’s kickoff meeting and be kept top-of-mind at each project stage to through completion. Expanding the definition of quality to include material availability, simplicity of installation, and maintenance and operations after project turnover will achieve quality in the most complete sense of the word.

Anderton is the Operations Manager for Graycor power. She oversees Graycor power, industrial, and gas infrastructure work within the U.S. Anderton brings over 25 years of experience in project controls, estimating, project management and operations in the process, power and gas infrastructure markets.


Brian Gallagher is the Vice President, Corporate Development for Graycor. He has over 30 years of experience leading strategic planning, organizational development, marketing, and sales efforts for design and construction firms. He is author of three books and was named a Top 20 Construction Influencer by Procore.

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