A significant part of my profession as a Construction Project Manager has been focused on delivering value for our discerning clients as well as end users. Lately, I have noticed the seeming drop in the quality of work I encounter both on construction sites and on completed buildings particularly in Nigeria.
If there is a major challenge construction project managers constantly deal with on a massive scale in Nigeria, it is the problem of poor workmanship and quality. From my observation and experience of working in corporate fit-out, I have come to the conclusion that the underlying reasons for poor quality work are:
- “Quick Fix/Quick Gain” Contractors- Contractors that are seeking to maximise profit by cutting corners
- “Inexperienced” Sub-contractors/tradesmen– Local construction workers that lack adequate training and relevant experience.
From a corporate interior fit-out perspective, clients are extremely particular about the quality of finish of their workplace, with most corporate clients willing to pay a premuim to achieve the highest level of quality inline with their corporate image. However, delivering this high quality for workplace solutions by utilizing local sub-contractors could present a huge challenge. The main issues I often come across on site revolve around the two issues highlighted above, which often go hand-in-hand.
Unfortunately, the “quick-fix quick-gain” approach is prevalent in the local construction sector. This is not surprising as most projects are won on a competitive tendering basis. Contractors have the reputation of submitting low bids, with small profit margin, in order to win work. This eventually leads to the adoption of cost cutting measures in order to maximize profit.
Approaches to eliminating quality risk
In order to resolve this challenge and deliver value to our clients, holistic and collaborative approaches are required. As a Project Manager (PM), my personal approach to tackling quality issues locally is:
- Double-check bid costing: Ensure that the contractors’ costing is realistic and challenge their prices. An ideal solution will be to organize interviews where contractors defend their bid prices.
- Adopt a collaborative approach: Once the contract is awarded, the PM must integrate all participants in a collaborative environment and harness the talents and insights of the team to deliver quality and value to the client. Typically, the PM and the client team work together but they exclude other important stakeholders. This leaves the contractors marginalized from the client’s vision for the project, which is a mistake. Bringing in the contractors, as well as other stakeholders into a “collaborative environment” ensures that every participant understands the client’s vision of quality. With this approach, the contractor feels more empowered to drive quality within the site team. Consequently, this approach also reduces the amount of PM time spent on-site to ensure adherence to quality, and it becomes easier to manage and deliver high quality on multiple project sites.
- Interview contractors’ site team – Contractors usually submit resumes of high profile construction professionals during the tender stage. Upon winning the contract however, they substitute this for an inexperienced site management team. It’s thus imperative to interview the contractor’s site manager/team as well. It will be important to determine if they have the right level of experience and attitude which will ultimately result in significant value to the project. Therefore picking the appropriate site manager for a project should be the prerogative of the PM and the client and not the contractor.
- Terminate construction contract in extreme cases- Construction contracts should be flexible enough to allow for termination at any stage of the contract due to poor quality. However, termination should only be done in extreme cases due to the risk of cost escalation, delays and exposure to litigation. In extreme situations, a notice of default and an opportunity to rectify the defect is generally provided for in the contract. The objective is to give the contractor one last chance to avoid termination and the risks associated with it.
Given that the impact of poor quality is long lasting both structurally on the building and emotionally for the client, it is extremely important to trigger the contract termination option the moment it’s clear that rectification is not possible. This is a clear sign that elimination is the best option forward.