New digital management tool aimed at preventing another Grenfell
Building in Quality, the high profile initiative sponsored by the RIBA, RICS and CIOB, has just launched its Quality Tracker – a free-to-download digital quality management tool.
It is at the heart of a chain of custody system for overcoming the often fragmented composition of project teams and the resultant inconsistent governance of quality. In the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire and the Edinburgh schools defects scandal, to say nothing of the new push to build many more homes, the focus on quality is timely.
The toolkit includes a sample memorandum of agreement, a quality checklist, and a useful guide that explains the overarching rationale for the initiative. It will be piloted on real projects for the next six months to assess its functionality and usefulness.
The Quality Tracker works by establishing a chain of responsibility, championed by the client (perhaps at the behest of purchasers, investors or the client’s professional advisers), agreed by the project team, and recorded and signed off impartially at the end of defined stages by nominated ‘quality custodians’.
Starting at project inception (or, during the pilot phase, filled in retrospectively), the quality baton is passed on until finally issued to the client’s representative, the investors, the purchasers and/or tenants as a verified statement of the ways in which risks to quality were handled during the project. This allows them to distinguish between ostensibly similar buildings that have in fact taken very different approaches to long-term quality.
Risk assessments at each work stage can be interpreted with reference to the quality targets, which should be set out clearly and unambiguously in the project brief. If clients wish, they may use it as a stop-go gateway system, so that progress is halted until high risks are satisfactorily addressed.
The latest mid-project iteration of the Quality Tracker must be disclosed to every new consultant tendering to join the project team or, indeed, to new owners hoping to buy the uncompleted project to help them to cost their risks.
The Quality Tracker consists of one cover sheet and eight main pages – one per RIBA work stage. The cover sheet summarises:
- an overall quality statement of the client’s broad quality objectives as set out in the brief;
- the project’s quality status for the current work stage; and
- the status at previous work stages.
Each work stage-specific page is a table organised into four columns, as shown in the screen grab above. The left-hand column identifies generic quality risk categories.
The next column lists risk reduction indicators for each of the categories. These are statements framed in such a way that answering ‘yes’ will tend to increase the likelihood of achieving quality outcomes.
The next column is where the quality custodians give the consensus assessment of the statements. The only options are ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘partly’ or ‘not applicable’. Answers are automatically colour-coded red, amber or green, allowing the current likelihood of achieving quality to be seen at a glance.
The final right-hand column allows room for the quality custodians to add commentary to explain or qualify the assessment.
A box at the top right of each page records critical project-specific information, allowing changes in key personnel and clients to be tracked.
Clients and their project teams sign the memorandum of understanding committing them to, among other things: setting quality targets; using the Quality Tracker from the outset through to completion; and including quality status updates in project reports.
The client or its agent assigns responsibility to up to four quality custodians responsible for maintaining and signing off the Quality Tracker at each RIBA work stage.
Quality custodians should represent the client, the project lead, the lead designer and the contractor. They do not need any special training beyond a construction-related professional qualification and an intimate acquaintance with the project.
The client grants them the authority to assess the project according to their professional judgement and by consensus with the rest of the project team. The power of the whole system lies in their professional and ethical integrity.
At the end of each work stage, the quality custodians assess the truth or otherwise of the quality risk indicator statements, generating a patchwork of red, amber and green ratings. The custodians’ assessments must be made with consensus from the whole project team as far as possible, with reasoning and any dissent from this position recorded in the right-hand column.
Once signed off, completed work stage pages are locked to prevent retrospective amendment.
The form is for information only. It expressly does not carry any legal liabilities additional to those already borne contractually. For example, the signed-off Quality Tracker is not held as a certified guarantee or warranty of the quality of the building on completion.
The system is deliberately slimline, straightforward and easy to incorporate into existing practices. The simplified rating system is designed to be easily understood by everyone, including the building’s eventual new users.
Results from the pilot phase will tell how useful the Quality Tracker system is and what needs improvement. As with all change, its success will depend on the extent to which people engage with it. With its potentially enormous benefits for improving outcomes and boosting the industry’s reputation, clients and their project teams are encouraged to participate.