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How a collaborative and committed quality culture transforms project performance

How a collaborative and committed quality culture transforms project performance

Author: Martin Davies, Project quality director

First published as an interview in the CQI’s Quality World magazine, Martin Davies, project quality director at Costain describes how its Quality Culture Programme is making a difference to large complex infrastructure projects.

Delivering to plan is of increasing importance on a political and financial level and quality management has emerged as a key enabler for success – improving performance and enhancing personal and organisational reputation. By investing in planning, integrating risk management and quality management early on, clients and their supply chains have the best opportunity to deliver faster, better, and greener projects at a lower cost.

A robust quality culture is paramount to project success

As with any project, the goal is to complete the project on time, to the correct specification and to leave a successful legacy (which incorporates high standards of safety and quality). Due to the complexity and scale of a complex infrastructure, with its wide-ranging scope of supply, manufacture and construction, there are inevitably risks on a project to be managed.

Using a tried and tested management system to identify and address various risks is only part of the solution. People’s compliance with the requirements, their ownership of the risk, and engagement with the project, is vital to getting the desired outcome.

Shifting perceptions of quality management

Costain was recently involved in a major project that was ‘data rich’. This meant we had to spend time analysing the quality control data before we could decide on how to proceed. Our own inspection reports, observations, and audits identified several nonconformance issues across the supply chain. These were not being detected until further down the process due to the perception that identifying at source was enough to prevent recurrence. Our further investigation revealed that a possible root cause was the lack of engagement between leadership and their employees in the supply chain.

Investigating the quality culture

To shift perceptions, it is vital to understand the current environment a team operates in. By looking to an organisation’s values, ways of working and management systems, it is possible to match these attributes to quality management. For example, what are the expectations and behaviours that support quality in the context of the organisations culture and behaviours?

Conducting a quality culture survey can help in exploring the current perception of quality leadership and give the baseline to work from. On our ‘data rich’ project, we had 800 recipients from 14 companies in the supply chain. The 60% response rate was supported by an independent evaluator and the option to complete hard or soft copy form.

Embedding a risk culture

Top-level commitment and leadership buy-in to quality management is what drives a leading quality culture. Leaders need to be overtly championing quality every day to keep it at the forefront of their projects and teams’ minds.

“Leaders actively help remove barriers to working and improve quality as a result.”

Survey respondent

When setting strategy with the client, incorporating key quality culture elements is critical to the project’s success. Quality culture elements are the things that we collectively decide to measure to gauge the current culture. These include leadership, competency and communication.

Quality culture needs to be approached like any project by identifying and involving stakeholders, engaging leaders and clearly defining scope and outcomes.

Additionally, by involving everyone in the process via training, surveys, submitting feedback cards, rewards, toolbox talks, workshops, among other initiatives, you will develop the expectations, routine, and over time, the behaviours and habits that support a strong quality culture.

"Performance and quality messages are a good balance of both positives and areas for improvement, and the messages make me want to do better "

Survey respondent

Maintaining the spotlight on risk

Quality runs through everything we do, and it is quality that largely determines the overall value; where better quality leads to better outcomes.

Continuous support and focus on quality not only minimises risk but can also reduce cost and time when proactively managed and prioritised.

23% of all comments were around improvements to Process – including better response times, simpler or clearer process and associated training.

Data from surveys conducted tells us that by focussing on the culture and not just the procedures and processes, we can improve our ‘right first time‘ delivery. Businesses can learn about their quality culture and understand not only the impact it has on the present, but also the potential positive impact an improved quality culture could have on future projects.

The Costain Quality Culture Programme can act as a useful roadmap to help other businesses move towards that goal of understanding and enforcing a robust quality culture.

Contact Martin Davies to learn more.


Republished with permission from the CQI & IRCA (quality.org). This article first appeared in the Summer 2021 edition of the CQI’s Quality World magazine.