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What is the true cost of quality?

By Ashley Goodin posted 04-20-2015 03:32 PM


I always enjoy getting out of my office and spending time with woodworkers and design professionals.  For me, that is the opportunity to see the impact of the Architectural Woodwork Standards in production, installation, and ultimately architectural woodwork in final use by the owner.  I am privileged to have a unique perspective as a former inspector, compliance auditor, inspections manager, and now technical services manager.  I have seen projects that are stellar examples of craftsmanship and compliance with the contract documents….and I have seen almost all possible scenarios of how things can go wrong. 

With that in mind, I pose the question; what is the true cost of quality?  Take a moment and reflect on the real fiscal impacts of work that does not conform to the contract documents that govern a particular project.  Are there schedule delays that result in penalties and possibly liquidated damages?  Is work removed and replaced or is sub-standard work simply accepted and a credit given back to the owner?  What about the intangible costs?  What is the cost associated with the end user of the building having to accept the fact that every time they interact with millwork that isn’t what they ordered or expected but are now living with?  How do you feel when you order a medium rare filet mignon and instead receive an overcooked cheeseburger?  It may be the best cheeseburger in the world but it still isn’t what you wanted, ordered, or expected to receive.  It is easy to find a different restaurant for the next meal but it is a little more difficult to swallow multiple thousands of dollars of millwork.  This is the age old question of whose values are compromised in value engineering?

Now that we have those thoughts to consider, I will give you the following four considerations for how everyone can work together to attain the expected results:

  1.  Start with the Standards – The Architectural Woodwork Standards do not cover every possible scenario and are not perfect.  However, if you look at the AWS as a baseline communication tool it provides all users with a common foundation to begin to design, specify, bid, award, and build projects.  Keep in mind that direct specifications always prevail over the standards.  As a designer/specifier/owner, you have every right and expectation for what you ordered to be delivered. 
  2. Qualify the Woodwork Manufacturer - A question in qualifying bidders should be if they are familiar with the AWS and if they use the AWS regularly as a basis for their production. This should give a sense of how familiar they are with quality control and tolerances as well as a knowledge of the proper materials to use to attain satisfactory results. (Improper/inferior material substitutions often account for a significant difference in price between bids on a project.  This is often present in items such as unbalanced panels being used for door and drawer fronts in casework which results in warping in many instances.)  The online directory of AWI Manufacturing Members is often a good place to begin this process to find woodwork manufacturers who have an awareness and often an in-depth working knowledge of the AWS.  Accredited participants in the AWI Quality Certification Program have taken an extra step of proving through an intensive accreditation testing and inspection process that they are capable of delivering products and services that comply with the AWS.  They have been vetted by QCP, an independent third party with specific expertise in architectural woodwork fabrication and installation.
  3. Project Certification = Valuable Assurance – What is the cost of having a project certified by QCP?  That often asked question will have a number of different responses depending on who you ask.  The true answer is that the direct project cost is ½% of the millwork contract value or $500, whichever is greater.  Millwork manufacturers pay an annual fee to QCP to maintain their accreditation and some of those costs may be passed along in overhead to the project.  The real question should be this:  Is the low bidder providing work that complies with the project specifications and contract documents?  When I hear the rumor that certifying a project costs thousands of dollars (sometimes $30k-$50k on a $100,000 project), I have to think that the only way that number is derived is the difference between whatever the low bidder is providing and compliant work that is actually what was specified and expected.  If the low bidder is left to their own devices substituting materials, ignoring assembly requirements, ignoring installation tolerances, and providing nonconforming work without any outside oversight, the price difference certainly may be significant.  Again, what is the actual cost of this type of work versus knowing that with a QCP Certified Project that all stakeholders are entitled to the services of third party millwork experts who may verify that what was specified is actually what is delivered.  What would you do if you knew that your bank would be unlocked tomorrow, the vault open, one teller inside, and no police on the way?  This quickly becomes a trust and ethics issue that is mitigated when there is a third party quality assurance option in place.
  4. Stick to your Guns – If you order it, you should expect to get whatever it is that you ordered.  Think of my steak and hamburger example above.  How would you like to order your meal and then have the server decide to tell the chef that you would actually like a cheeseburger rather than a steak because it will get to your table faster and cost less?  Oh, and the cook can’t come out and talk to the customer – they have to communicate only through the server. I know that this is a silly example but this often characterizes the designer/general contractor/millwork manufacturer relationship.  The millwork manufacturer knows what the bid package says you want and how much it costs to provide it. They know how to bid this project to give you exactly what you want.  They want to be competitive with people who are bidding apples-to-apples on the same scope of work.  What they don’t know is how much “value engineering” will take place on bid day or how alluring that low bid may be….the bid that was 30% less than theirs because that bidder is counting on providing a lesser product for a lesser price and counting on no one knowing the difference or simply accepting their work as delivered.  Make it clear to everyone involved that there is a clearly defined expectation of quality to be provided for the project.  Ensure that quality will not be compromised by requiring that the project be a certified QCP project and that all bidders must be currently accredited participants in the AWI Quality Certification Project.  Consider the true costs before accepting anything less.
In closing, set the expectations, communicate those expectations, don’t compromise, and enjoy your steak – just as you ordered.

#quality #standards



08-18-2015 09:01 AM

Very well written. I am new to the industry and would like to know the best way to communicate this message to the GC's I will be reaching out to for new business. Any thoughts?

05-28-2015 03:07 PM

Great article Ashley, I am building a Newsletter I will send to the Architects I recently did a lunch & learn AIA accredited presentation at as a Qualified Presenter for the AWI Speaker's bureau. May I quote your article?