Explaining Failures of Quality Control to the General Public

DenRM

Listening and Learning
#1
Hi All,

I thought I would solicit any experience others may have had with this question. It relates to how to explain to a client (and sometimes the general public) about why failures in a contractor's Quality Control can still occur despite the fact that Quality Assurance services were being provided.

Imagine you're a separate agency providing Quality Assurance services to assess and monitor a contractor's quality control activities and performance. Yet, sometimes errors and serious problems arise due to failures in that contractor's Quality Control. Inverably, in most cases, all eyes turn to those providing Quality Assurance to explain why they didn't catch or identify the situation earlier. There is often this perception that if QC didn't catch it, QA should have.

I find myself trying to explain the QA role in different ways like about the different objectives and purposes between QC and QA, that QA is meant to assess a level of "confidence" in QC activities, that quality monitoring can not ensure perfection, that QC is ultimately responsible, bla the bla the bla. But it does not always resonate with clients and the public as effectively as I would like.

Any of you experience this? How do you explain it in easy terms so that those who may not be familiar with technical definitions and roles will still understand?

Thanks in advance.

DenRM
 
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DenRM

Listening and Learning
#3
I'm with a consulting engineering firm. My staff and I provide quality assurance services to clients of infrastructure projects like roads, bridges, and transit systems.

DenRM
 

harry

Super Moderator
#4
I'm with a consulting engineering firm. My staff and I provide quality assurance services to clients of infrastructure projects like roads, bridges, and transit systems. ..................
Welcome to the Cove.

Are you providing supervision services for the design that you produced or are you a project manger responsible for supervision and implementation (design being done by others)?

Either way, there are always limitations to what you can do with regards to the quality of the final work produced by your contractor.

Two common points:
1. You cannot inspect quality into a product and
2. Quality is a habit, a culture - you cannot extract it from an organization (contractor) that doesn't have it.

A contractor can always get a consultant to prepare 'the best' Project Quality Plan during the tendering process. That's why it is so important to look at the contractors market reputation, past projects done and reference in the evaluation and selection process.
 

Helmut Jilling

Auditor / Consultant
#5
Hi All,

I thought I would solicit any experience others may have had with this question. It relates to how to explain to a client (and sometimes the general public) about why failures in a contractor's Quality Control can still occur despite the fact that Quality Assurance services were being provided. <snip>
Actually, I would take a different angle to this. I have clients and family members in this field. In my discussions with them, I emphasis the criticality of their service, and the serious risks that ensue when an error is made.

While I agree potentially an error can be made, I think your focus needs to be directed toward error proofing systems and double safe-guarding activities to prevent errors from occurring. That is far more successful from the clients' perspectives. Rather than putting forth efforts to persuade clients to accept errors as a normal part of the process. You can make a persuasive statistical argument, but at the end, your clients are still going to expect you to deliver a service without meangful errors.

I would advise a review of your processes with an eye to designing all critical activities in a way that errors are prevented, or made immediately obvious at the earliest possible opportunity, so they can be corrected. There really is no other reasonable approach.
 
M

Murphys Law

#6
Den - you have a tricky situations here. By that I mean the type of operation that you oversee is essentially 1 off instance. Designing in quality here is going to be difficult in that the design, materials used, the subcons could all be unique per project.

The other side of the operation spectrum is a process that produces same thing day in, day out and that is probably the easiest to control quality.

Probably best analogy I can think of here is that quality for such a business model is like a financial auditor. You have a set of general accepted practices and you will only audit a snapshot at anytime. Even Arthur Anderson didn't prevent Enron blowing up.

That being said, The large project operation does have the potential to do some 'advanced' quality planning here to influence the end quality. That would involve you being able to determine which subcon gets selected, how the design is closed and validated and what materials + source get used. However, you'd need to get involved in the concept and RFQ stage to influence that. Most of that is really about costs.
 

DenRM

Listening and Learning
#7
Hi All,

Thanks for your input so far. Very interesting the different angles and approaches explained.

We are often not the design authority in the projects we take on but rather provide the Quality Management / Quality Assurance services that an Owner of a project requires. That same Owner has a separate contract with the contractor to build the project. So there are other "Consultants" overseeing the work of the contractor like designers, engineers, etc.

We are often engaged for our services AFTER the Owner has already had the design and terms of the contract executed with the contractor. This makes it difficult to "overlay" Quality expectations upon the Contractor after the fact. Indeed, the contractor may go out of their way to say "It's not in the contract!" - albeit in a nice sort of way. We sometimes can get over these differences and get the contractor to understand the value of implementing effective quality control. The problem is, we often have very little power to direct how well they do that. During a project we may let the Owner know of our serious concerns about the contractor's quality performance but the Owner seems powerless to do much since the contract language never allowed for direct intervention with respect to quality management. The Owner, actually turns to us thinking that it's our job. We cannot be responsibile for the Contractor's quality control but we do our best to make our point about what we can do and what the contractor should be doing. Nevertheless, when the Contractor's quality falters, the Owner still turns to us believing we perhaps also failed.

Some of these projects involve public infrastructure, so we are often having to explain to governmental agencies our efforts and limits to monitor and notify about the contractor's quality control performance.

We have had to educate these clients about the difficulties and poor language of the contracts they have drafted without offending their intelligence. We ask them to get us involved BEFORE the contract is signed so that we may have a say on the quality expectations.

It's a difficult road but one that has its rewards too. Thank you all for your time and advice.


Den
 

buzzjaw

Inactive Registered Visitor
#8
You can always offer the highest level of quality, with checks and double-checks on everything, but who would be willing to pay for that? The fact is that anything you put in place will always be a compromise between what can reasonably be achieved and the cost. The whole point of risk based quality management is to put your efforts in the right places, but that always leaves those other places relatively unmonitored. As such quality management processes are there to reinforce quality, rather than guarantee it. All you can do is ensure you understand the failing, set about improving your processes on the back of it and make sure your customer is reminded that you didn't make the error. The error was already there - you merely failed to anticipate it and/or control it.
 

Wes Bucey

Quite Involved in Discussions
#9
Hi All,

I thought I would solicit any experience others may have had with this question. It relates to how to explain to a client (and sometimes the general public) about why failures in a contractor's Quality Control can still occur despite the fact that Quality Assurance services were being provided.

Imagine you're a separate agency providing Quality Assurance services to assess and monitor a contractor's quality control activities and performance. Yet, sometimes errors and serious problems arise due to failures in that contractor's Quality Control. Inverably, in most cases, all eyes turn to those providing Quality Assurance to explain why they didn't catch or identify the situation earlier. There is often this perception that if QC didn't catch it, QA should have.

I find myself trying to explain the QA role in different ways like about the different objectives and purposes between QC and QA, that QA is meant to assess a level of "confidence" in QC activities, that quality monitoring can not ensure perfection, that QC is ultimately responsible, bla the bla the bla. But it does not always resonate with clients and the public as effectively as I would like.

Any of you experience this? How do you explain it in easy terms so that those who may not be familiar with technical definitions and roles will still understand?

Thanks in advance.

DenRM
Hi All,

Thanks for your input so far. Very interesting the different angles and approaches explained.

We are often not the design authority in the projects we take on but rather provide the Quality Management / Quality Assurance services that an Owner of a project requires. That same Owner has a separate contract with the contractor to build the project. So there are other "Consultants" overseeing the work of the contractor like designers, engineers, etc.

We are often engaged for our services AFTER the Owner has already had the design and terms of the contract executed with the contractor. This makes it difficult to "overlay" Quality expectations upon the Contractor after the fact. Indeed, the contractor may go out of their way to say "It's not in the contract!" - albeit in a nice sort of way. We sometimes can get over these differences and get the contractor to understand the value of implementing effective quality control. The problem is, we often have very little power to direct how well they do that. During a project we may let the Owner know of our serious concerns about the contractor's quality performance but the Owner seems powerless to do much since the contract language never allowed for direct intervention with respect to quality management. The Owner, actually turns to us thinking that it's our job. We cannot be responsibile for the Contractor's quality control but we do our best to make our point about what we can do and what the contractor should be doing. Nevertheless, when the Contractor's quality falters, the Owner still turns to us believing we perhaps also failed.

Some of these projects involve public infrastructure, so we are often having to explain to governmental agencies our efforts and limits to monitor and notify about the contractor's quality control performance.

We have had to educate these clients about the difficulties and poor language of the contracts they have drafted without offending their intelligence. We ask them to get us involved BEFORE the contract is signed so that we may have a say on the quality expectations.

It's a difficult road but one that has its rewards too. Thank you all for your time and advice.


Den
I've had occasion in the past to offer seminars for organization executives on how to respond to public relations crises. First, and foremost, the response/message must be consistent AND accurate throughout the organization. Gag orders on low level employees convey the impression the organization has something to hide. Thus it is important that ALL staff be kept in the loop so the message is accurate and consistent. "Dumbing down" the details is counterproductive because smart aleck hecklers will endeavor to make things look like a cover up.

The important thing is to convey the message: "We are NOW aware of the situation, regardless of any reasons we did not have a structure in place to prevent the event and we are using EVERY resource at our disposal to correct the situation, keeping the safety of public and our employees as our foremost concern. We will keep you updated on our progress and pledge to issue a final report when the issue is completely resolved."



Added in edit: It is important to emphasize: "Correction of the problem is most important now and where we will focus our energy and resources. There will be plenty of time later to assess blame if any is discovered."
 
Last edited:

Jim Wynne

Staff member
Admin
#10
Hi All,

Thanks for your input so far. Very interesting the different angles and approaches explained.

We are often not the design authority in the projects we take on but rather provide the Quality Management / Quality Assurance services that an Owner of a project requires. That same Owner has a separate contract with the contractor to build the project. So there are other "Consultants" overseeing the work of the contractor like designers, engineers, etc.

We are often engaged for our services AFTER the Owner has already had the design and terms of the contract executed with the contractor. This makes it difficult to "overlay" Quality expectations upon the Contractor after the fact. Indeed, the contractor may go out of their way to say "It's not in the contract!" - albeit in a nice sort of way. We sometimes can get over these differences and get the contractor to understand the value of implementing effective quality control. The problem is, we often have very little power to direct how well they do that. During a project we may let the Owner know of our serious concerns about the contractor's quality performance but the Owner seems powerless to do much since the contract language never allowed for direct intervention with respect to quality management. The Owner, actually turns to us thinking that it's our job. We cannot be responsibile for the Contractor's quality control but we do our best to make our point about what we can do and what the contractor should be doing. Nevertheless, when the Contractor's quality falters, the Owner still turns to us believing we perhaps also failed.

Some of these projects involve public infrastructure, so we are often having to explain to governmental agencies our efforts and limits to monitor and notify about the contractor's quality control performance.

We have had to educate these clients about the difficulties and poor language of the contracts they have drafted without offending their intelligence. We ask them to get us involved BEFORE the contract is signed so that we may have a say on the quality expectations.

It's a difficult road but one that has its rewards too. Thank you all for your time and advice.


Den
I think you might be fighting a losing battle. Why do you think your clients feel that your services are worth paying for? It's almost certainly because they've entered into lowball, high-risk contracts and are looking to try to cover their butts when the inevitable happens. If they had a high level of confidence in their contractors, your firm's services wouldn't be considered necessary.

When things go wrong, especially in public works projects where politics gets involved, people want to see someone get a good beating for it. The companies that hire your firm can say, "Well, we did our due diligence, even going so far as to pay a lot of money to quality assurance consultants to oversee everything." When a company sets itself up as a target, it shouldn't be suprised when people start shooting at it.
 
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