In 2017, AMCM Group was part of a cross-sector working group of The Housing Forum members which investigated how building better quality homes can improve the experience of those living in them.

Building Homes Better – The quality challengeThe group looked into the points of interaction between customers and the housing industry and found systemic failures to provide quality outcomes – either in terms of design quality or customer satisfaction.

The findings of the investigation were published in the ‘Building Homes Better – The quality challenge‘ report. This report highlights where problems occur and what we think can be done about them to achieve a positive change for quality.

AMCM Group CEO Jon Wardle specifically looked at what we are lacking in project delivery, and why quality is vital in ensuring we have a connected and integrated supply chain. The following is an extract from the report:

Harnessing the benefits of an integrated supply chain

It is an all too common fact that when an asset is being designed, procured and manufactured, the processes are owned, managed and executed by 95% of individuals who are salaried, and some might say emotionally invested, in the quality of the product.

However, when the project reaches site, the final aspect of the quality process is very often owned and managed by operatives who are self-employed and only invested in the scheme for that single transaction. Not only do we have a declining labour force, but our current procurement and delivery models manifest a lack of ownership at the very point when quality really counts.

As noted within the foreword of the Farmer Review of the UK Construction Labour Model there is an “absence of alignment between the industry and client interests” and despite this being published in 2016, this is still prevalent today when you consider the intrinsic structure of traditional supply chain models where there is limited, if any connection, between client, suppliers and manufacturers of products specified by designers, installed or assembled by contractors and the operative who is responsible for the quality of the finished product.

A focus on quantity to deliver quality

If clients were to integrate their supply chains, including designers, manufacturers and installers, earlier in the project and even across more than simply one project, then all parties would benefit from greater transparency of forward order books. Greater certainty of volumes would lead to an environment where more parties could naturally invest in R&D and skills development, which would improve productivity and reduce costs. These savings could then be reinvested in quality assurance resources and processes.

A focus on quantity and standardisation must not be seen as a way to reduce costs but a way to increase investment and collaboration.

The importance of a sustainable profit to deliver quality

When industries and businesses generate sustainable margins, R&D and investment inevitably follows. We believe that central and local government should utilise current and future procurement frameworks to provide greater transparency of workloads beyond the traditional models to engage with designers, suppliers, manufacturers and installers in return for transparent investment in quality focused R&D and skills.

By providing the framework and catalyst for investment in the key elements of the development value chain, the Government will influence the private sector as the public and private sectors’ supply chains are intrinsically linked.

Traditionally, the private sector element of housing development has focused on reducing CAPEX to improve and sustain profit margins. However, a successful private rented sector business model is aligned to that of a local authority or housing association asset owning/managing model. This model is one whereby 70% of revenue is impacted by improvements in whole life costs and asset management and ultimately customer/resident satisfaction.

We would recommend that procurement routes that allow joint investment in products and services and skills be created whereby quality and a reduction in whole life costs is a key metric for the private and public sector.

Developing and integrating skills to deliver quality

Whilst the underlying definition of quality should be the same from project to project, there are key elements that are bespoke to each project. It is therefore critical that:

  1. The quality metrics are defined and understood at the beginning of a project including those that are bespoke
  2. That the relevant skills are developed and integrated into the project team to ensure that the client’s and stakeholders’ aspirations are fully met.

Developing and integrating skills is relevant when thinking about being a good client, designer, manufacturer, contractor or self-employed operative and is particularly relevant when considering the impact of new forms of procurement, design, manufacture, construction and quality control.

We would recommend that via the CITB and its industrial strategy, the Government demonstrates leadership and investment to equip the industry to not only survive but to thrive.

This must be done by regulating skills-based programmes and employment initiatives across the broad spectrum of roles within the industry. For example, designers need to be trained in virtual reality and manufacturing processes, we must invest in training to create qualified semi-skilled and skilled operatives in construction manufacturing facilities and, most importantly, on site, which must be seen as the final section of the assembly line where quality concludes rather than diminishes.

In conjunction with these design and production skills, whether by procurement and delivery outputs or by regulation, the role of quality inspection and management must be a skill that is integrated into the delivery process throughout the project brief, design, manufacture and construction.

New forms of procurement and contracts must require investment and ownership in the quality process from inception to completion by the actual procuring client.

How to achieve quality

How much focus do we really put on delivering a quality product? How many man hours are expended on quality inspections on site compared to the man hours constructing?

Unfortunately, we currently only have anecdotal evidence to suggest not very many but, if you focus on quality through design, construction, inspection and testing, huge improvements can be made.

Our recommendation is that the ‘chassis’ of projects, e.g. foundations, drainage, frame, envelope, etc., are regulated by clear guidance and objective-driven outputs, and that the inspection procedures and approvals are regulated by legislation.

Consider again the dynamic where 95% of people on a construction site are self-employed and only for a limited time with very probably no employment contract or job description – it brings into perspective why the quality and testing regimes on site must be even more robust than in a controlled manufacturing environment.

The full report can be downloaded from The Housing Forum website.

Find out more: http://www.housingforum.org.uk/resources/building-homes-better—the-quality-challenge