Construction Quality Management: Barriers to Success

Pursuing higher quality is a natural goal for an organization to set and pursue, especially in the industry that is known for its high competition rates. Therefore, organizations have to follow both innovative and time-tested approaches for quality improvement and compliance with quality standards. The Total Quality Management (TQM) framework has been used by companies in monitoring production processes and general performance rates to detect and prevent instances of defects or task mismanagement (Neyestani, 2018).

However, even with the application of the TQM model, multiple barriers to improving services exist. In the construction industry, the intricate process of managing quality needs to be dissected properly in order to define the strategies for encouraging better performance (Tabatabei and Khabiri, 2017). The goal of this paper is to review the obstacles standing in the way to implementing TQM in the construction industry. It is believed that the combination of unrealistic expectations from customers, short deadlines, and high costs affecting organizations’ profit margins make it nearly impossible for the firms in the construction industry to comply with the TQM standards.

Although there is no instant cure for the outlined problems, the introduction of the Total Quality Management (TQM) principles is believed to have a deeply positive impact on the construction industry and the quality of services offered by contractors. In its essence, TQM suggests that the notion of continual quality improvement is incorporated into the company’s performance framework. Namely, Nguyen, Pham and Pham (2016) explain that TQM is the model of excellence that is expected to improve the performance of an organization by moving the quality goalposts further each time so that the process of professional growth could never stop.

However, Nguyen et al. (2016) also mentions that the range of models of excellence that have emerged after the introduction of the TQM framework into the business setting, often representing an improved approach toward managing quality. EFQM Excellence Model is one of such frameworks, the dynamic nature of which makes it particularly easy to adjust it to the environments of different organizations and make it compatible with the specifics of the workplace environment in which staff members function (Gómez, Costa and Lorente, 2017). The specified change to the TQM strategy has a particularly high importance for the construction industry, which has several unique specifics.

However, the implementation of the TQM model in the construction industry context is quite difficult due to the existence of multiple hindrances. The factors that disrupt the model and prevent it from running in the construction setting are quite numerous (Small, Bakry and Ayyash, 2019). Nevertheless, most of them can be summarized as problems with communication, lack of clear quality criteria and guidelines, and poor leadership.

The complexity of a construction project is in direct proportion to the number and extent of problems that it will entail in terms of meeting the needed quality standards and implementing the TQM system. Though the latter is expected to help to systematize every aspect of a project and arrange it in a natural and effective way, it may still fail to capture some of the factors if the number of them is immense (Lu, Li and Zhang, 2019). Thus, the bigger the project gets, the more complicated the compliance with the TQM standards becomes.

Another factor that is likely to impede TQM implementation and the prevention of construction defects is low education levels among workers. According to Ahmed and Wong (2019), most contractors employed in the construction industry do not have enough education to evaluate the outcomes of poorly thought-out solutions in managing construction processes. Therefore, while initiative is encouraged across industries, the construction environment, in fact, may be affected adversely by the solutions that will influence some aspects of the construction process negatively (Nallusamy, 2016). Among the most obvious solutions to the described problem, an upgrade of construction workers; education and knowledgeability needs to be mentioned.

Nevertheless, the low level of academic education in workers is believed to be one of the main driving factors behind the barriers to implementing construction projects at high quality level. The absence of profound professional knowledge and the clear understanding of the foundational principles of construction theory, which can only be gained with a certain level of academic progress, is quite jarring. Apart from the inconsistency of professional quality of the end product, the lack of appropriate education may cause severe damages to both construction workers and the people that will use the building in the future.

Thus, ensuring that all workers have the same level of academic preparation and are aware of the main methods of maintaining workplace safety is critical (Jong, Sim and Lew, 2019). The proposed education of the target audiences may occur at different levels, one of which may include the state-funded support of their academic progress. However, either way, construction workers have to show their understanding of the key physical outcomes of specific actions so that accidents in the workplace could be prevented from taking place.

Another contributor to the mismanagement of the TQM principles in the construction industry context is the disproportionate rise in demand compared to the drop in supply. While the sources for funding the performance of construction companies are very scarce, the quality that such companies are expected to deliver is set at a very high level. As a result, construction organizations struggle to find the right balance between the expenses associated with quality management and costs for key construction processes, experiencing a massive downgrade in quality. Therefore, regulating the relation of demand to supply is one of the solutions to the existing problem with compliance with TQM principles (Ajayi and Osunsanmi, 2018).

One could state that separate organizations cannot influence the existing rate of demand and supply, which would be true. However, construction companies can define the education opportunities for their staff members, offering training courses and the options for acquiring new competencies. Thus, the extent of the employees that have been struggling to support the company in its use of a cost-efficient approach is likely to be reduced with time.

Other studies specify that the current problem of the lack of quality in the construction industry may have a more elaborate explanation. Namely, the paper by Nouban and Abazid (2017) points out that the presence of competitive markets is what makes compliance with the existing quality standards almost impossible for companies in the construction industry. While the reasoning behind the specified argumentation might seem a bit blurry, taking a second look at this argument will help to clarify the author’s position. Specifically, the development of competitive markets has shifted the perception and definition of quality as linked directly to the price for the end product (Chege and Bett, 2019).

The specified assumption could not be further away from the truth, yet the emerging organizations tend to believe that setting prices as high as possible intrinsically implies that they will develop an advantage compared to the firms that have an established history in the construction industry (Panuwatwanich and Nguyen, 2017). As a result, in pursuit of a competitive advantage, organizations in the construction industry will ultimately fail to meet the quality standards set by their contractors.

Another study reveals that there is a palpable lack of planning and specifications in the current landscape of the construction industry. Without a clear and accurate vector for the quality management and professional development, construction organizations are unlikely to provide the services that meet the existing standards (Miller, Jayaram and Xu, 2018). In fact, the specified issue runs much deeper than an average observer might think; particularly, the problems with defining quality by determining the full list of specifications that construction workers must have is at the core of the problem presently (Rajiv and Harinath, 2018).

As Othman, Mokhtar and Asaad explain, the lack of case-based reasoning in the construction context has nearly erased the standards for quality management, leaving only basic principles with which employees comply.

According to Zhang, Ding, and Love (2017), it is crucial to create the framework that “enables planners to obtain the most closely matching construction technical specifications for planning new projects and increases the performance of case reuse in the CBR cycle” (p. 5). However, while the authors suggest the implementation of the model that they define as the kkNN technique, the actual integration of innovative tools into the entirety of the construction industry will take an immensely huge amount of time.

Therefore, it is highly unlikely that any of the construction companies working in their industry currently are going to invest in the specified innovation within the observable future (Yousif, Najm and Al-Ensour, 2017). The specified issue is quite pressing for the modern construction industry since the inability to determine quality specifications leads to the failure in determining the criteria for the performance of sufficient quality. As a result, a range of processes performed in the course of construction become potentially unsafe for workers and the future users of the facilities to be created.

In addition, the poor quality of an end product made in the construction industry context is often defined by miscommunication. Even once the TQM model or one of its multiple clones is deployed in the construction environment, the absence of handoff communication tools and other devices for disseminating information among staff members makes it impossible for the framework to be integrated properly (Khawaldeh, 2017).

With crucial data being left out of the conversation, mismanaged, or misconstrued, even an impeccable quality management model will ultimately fail, as several construction cases show (Talapatra, Uddin and Rahman, 2018). Therefore, in order to address the problem of adopting the TQM framework in the construction industry, one will need to address the issues of communication and quality criteria first.

The absence of an effective testing system that would allow verifying the security and feasibility of a construction project is another point of concern for the organizations working in the specified industry. Thus, the development of a testing algorithm for the evaluation of a building and the construction process are strongly needed (Niazi, Qazi and Sandhu, 2019). Once the specified principles are deployed, construction workers are likely to change their professional ethics.

The failure of suppliers and vendors and the resulting damage of the products and raw materials further used during the construction process is, perhaps, the most glaring concern. While the previous factors were linked directly to the lack of the necessary skills and moral qualities in construction workers and managers, the dependence on vendors seems to be a rather unfair situation that devalues the quality of construction (Mahmoud et al., 2019). Therefore, it is desirable that construction companies should reduce the risks associated with vendors by updating their supply chain and developing better ties with suppliers.

The unwillingness to comply with the set framework for audits and testing is yet another factor that determines the ultimate failure of a construction project. The existing readings on the topic suggest that the failure to implement proper audits and checks in the construction industry is linked to the lack of performance quality standards mentioned above (Lahidji and Tucker, 2016). In addition, corruption and bribery also plays a significant role in covering the instances of faulty performance (Androniceanu, 2017). Therefore, the construction industry could bereft from greater transparency and a better assessment of the quality of workers’ performance. In fact, the avoidance of audits and the propensity toward ignoring the importance of testing lead directly to the threats of organizational fraud.

Moreover, with the negligence toward security and safety that the specified approach entails, the TQM model will fail in ensuring safety of staff members and the users of the end product. Even if accidents are avoided at the construction site during the production process, customers are likely to find the product quite uncomfortable to inhabit, at best, and posing a threat to their lives, at worst (Tari et al., 2019). Therefore, ignoring safety issues and the established standards for quality management needs to be prevented. The described goal is attainable by introducing a rigid audit system that will not allow for cheating, bribery, or any other type of fraud to avoid inspections and the assessment of flaws. Thus, buildings will become significantly safer.

Although each of the problems listed above seems to be manageable on its own, they represent a huge issue when combined. Therefore, creating a better thought-out approach toward promoting TQM and ensuring quality is needed. Specifically, the core organizational value sand criteria for performance will have to be revisited.

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