How to Ensure Quality in Construction

How to Ensure Quality in Construction

how to ensure quality in construction hlh edmonton

Efficiency is a 2-sided sword. It’s easy to get infatuated with the bottom line improvements that process cuts offer, but it’s all for naught if your building’s quality suffers. 

Cut processes too deeply, and you’re asking for trouble. Workers start to cut corners to meet Foreman demands, who in turn is reflecting Head Office expectations. That can lead to Inspectors finding defects in the build which can lead to (very) costly reworks. 

The solution: build quality into the front end. It’s an integral part of Process Improvement and helps you negotiate the balance between cutting for efficiency and maintaining a top notch product.



A Culture of Quality

You can improve your processes from the corner office, but the improvements won’t last. To be sustainable (and save some real money) you need crew buy-in, and for that, you need to define a focus.

Focus on efficiencies in meetings and people get scared. Efficiencies means job cuts. Tilt the conversation to quality and ears perk up because:

A culture of quality will deputize every worker to ensure that everything they build represents the best of the company. Once they’re empowered to be stewarts of quality, they’ll probably be more receptive to hearing about efficiencies in processes. 

Remember that your workforce cares about the projects they work on. The pride is already there, all you have to do is encourage them to actualize it. 


Mistake-Proofing Your Processes

Once the Inspector comes around, all your money has gone into that project. It’s frozen into the floorboards and framing. Any defects that he or she finds, are going to come straight out of your bottom line and impede your ability to thaw out that cash.

Mistake-proofing (poka-yoke in Japanese), is about both catching defects early and empowering your workers to prevent them. It builds on the culture of Quality that you’re reminding people about every morning at your stand-up meeting.

It’s temptingly easy to give workers such clear instructions that they can shut off their minds. Empowering them, and building a Lean Culture, is about asking them to measure twice and take a second look at that angle before moving on. 

A 5 degree error is easy to fix at the time. But build upon it and that error amplifies, with each step forward being another profit-eating step backward later to fix it.

Every worker who touches your product should be their own Quality-Control. Don’t wait until the end; empower your team to spot defects and improve them before they cost you another dime. 

with without mistake proofing comparison hlh edmonton

The Balance of Quality

Ironically, efficiency often trumps quality when it comes to cost savings, even though quality defines the value of your product. Your customers, and the Inspector, don’t judge you on efficiency; they judge your quality.


“Inspection is too late. The quality, good or bad, is already in the product. Quality cannot be inspected into a product or service; it must be build into it.”

– W. Edwards Deming

Prefabrication and Real Construction Savings

Prefabrication and Real Construction Savings

prefab real savings headerIn construction, as in warfare, success hinges on logistics. Project Managers need to juggle not only people and supplies, but also the needs of independent contractors and clients. Add in layers of compliance and safety checks, plus the wildcard of weather, and suddenly “lean methodology” seems downright abstract when it butts heads with on-site realities.

Today, we’re taking a break from theory and talking about a lean tactic that works. Prefabrication is an elegantly simple answer applied to an age-old problem: how to streamline on-site construction of necessary components.

Here are the basics:




You’re building a walk-up apartment building. Each unit requires plumbing, ventilation, and a host of other “behind the scenes” work. The plumbing for each unit is also approximately the same.

Traditionally,  bringing the plumbers out for however many trips were needed was an extra layer of coordination and expense. They had to bring out the materials, go back for more, liaison with other trades, etc.

So why not centralize? Having all the materials in one place means less time wasted travelling and buzzing around a crowded construction site.

Being able to do most of the work ahead of time means that the drywallers aren’t twiddling their thumbs and waiting. When the units are ready to be plumbed, the units are brought over, secured, and onto the next step.


efficiency before and after


We do our best, but even the most controlled worksite is a gauntlet of objective hazards. Every additional variable we introduce, including the parade of independent contractors with their own timelines and agendas, complicates safety.

Prefab happens in controlled environments. In a warehouse, there’s far less falling debris, or random nails, or rainstorms than on-site. 

Improving safety is one of the leanest things a construction firm can do. Besides the obvious improvement to worker well-being and morale, it notches down insurance costs and elevates your company’s reputation, which leads to smoother hiring. 


safety before and after


Being environmentally friendly isn’t a feel-good exercise. Kaizen’s central tenant is reducing waste. Saving waste = less energy consumption, fewer materials, and ultimately fewer dollars flushed away.

Prefabbing doesn’t rely on ad-hoc solutions thrown together on-site. It allows for the deeper planning required to utilize more energy-efficient and recycled materials. The higher initial cost of these materials is rapidly offset by your ability to add long-term value to your project with them (not to mention increase your business’ “green” reputation overall). 

Prefabrication is neither fad nor theory. Popularized out of necessity after the 2009/10 recession, it’s become standard practise for savvy firms hustling to get ahead. Like all innovations that are absorbed into an industry, it’s quickly moving from “bonus” to “mandatory” in order to maintain solid profitability. 


sustainability before and after

Fortunately for you, by now, the kinks of prefabbing have been worked out. There are ample best practices for firms who are new to prefabrication to follow (or brush up on). When done strategically, it’s a tactic that works in a big way.


“However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.”

– Winston Churchill

Creating a Change Team in Construction

Creating a Change Team in Construction

change team construction HLH edmonton

Staying profitable in the construction industry is about being able to adapt to change. Projects overrun, site conditions change, regulations close in: the businesses that stay nimble stay prosperous. 

Change management on a project-by-project scale is about building processes that both standardize best practices and anticipate changing conditions. Change management on a business-wide scale is no different.

To make your business more nimble and efficient, you need people to help you get there. You need a team dedicated to sustainable change.



creating a change team in construction

Find Your Change Leaders

Small changes don’t happen by themselves, especially if they’re to be consistent. Your Change Leaders are the ones who, hour after hour, keep Process Improvement top of mind.

Your change team needs to be as all-in as you are. They need to be talking up the need to be nimble and efficient in the hallways and lunchrooms and job sites. 

But how to find them?

Think of your existing staff. They drive your company and know its inner workings better than anyone. 

So think: Who are your most engaged employees? The ones already coming to you with ideas on how to do better. The ones who care, not because they have to, but because it’s their nature. 

Start with them. And let them inspire others to the challenge.


Roles in Change Leadership


roles change leadershipPeople have unique strengths. Embrace them. Here are the roles your Change Leaders need to fill. Put them into the roles they’re passionate about and they’ll bring their daily A-game. 

Communicators: Don’t fool yourself – you still have skeptics about this whole “Process Improvement thing” you’re up to. You need someone to not only share your vision, but articulate it with purpose when you’re not around. 

Advocates: Your skeptics will say they’ve heard this all before and swear it’ll fizzle soon enough. Change Leaders will need to be consistent about why change is vital and how to make it happen. Ideally, you’ll have an advocate at every step of your process—from the office, to the floor, to the trucks. 

Liaisons: Sustainable change is organizational. It affects employees and customers alike. No one likes surprises in business, so each group needs to be advised and guided through what is happening and how it benefits everyone. 

Coaches: Your team will need guidance and they’ll need to be challenged. Coaches do both. Coming from a peer, ongoing motivation is a powerful thing.

Resistance Managers: You’re going to get criticism. Rather than stifling it (which doesn’t end well), your Change Leaders can engage and respond constructively.


Empower Your Change Team

How many employees are driven every day to change your business for the better?  How many are doing the bare minimum until the end of their shift? And how many are somewhere in the middle? 

No one is going to be proactive about positive change unless you show them that the business is worth the investment of their energy. And that means investing in them first. 

Empowerment is a leap of faith. You need to give your employees the opportunity to contribute their perspective to the Process Improvement project. 


Not everyone will step up, and that’s normal. But give everyone the opportunity to be a part of a special initiative, and often your Change Team will come out of the woodwork organically. 


“Change is the law of life and those who look only to the past or present are sure to miss the future.”

 John F Kennedy

Real and False Urgency in Construction

Real and False Urgency in Construction

real vs false urgency construction header

By definition, construction is a manual industry. It depends on people’s hands to do the work of bringing a blueprint to reality. And its success or failure is directly related to the level of urgency that those hands (and minds) have bought into.

Forcing a sense of urgency is a mistake. It creates pressure to act busier, which equates to working too fast, and results in unsafe work conditions and team burnout.

You can only build a healthy culture of urgency if you inspire the people around you. Tell them your vision, then show them what it looks like. This culture is the fuel that will propel employee engagement and Process Improvement.

Vision creates perspective. Perspective is what keeps urgency from becoming dangerous. Here’s the difference between the 2 types of urgency:

  • False urgency needs this job done now and then the next job done now. It races through each step and it doesn’t coordinate with others. In a construction setting, it can lead to people running down the stairs 2 steps at a time, cutting corners on safety protocols, and to equipment not being cleaned, stored, or serviced properly.
  • True urgency finds the horizon and creates a map as it charts backwards. It keeps perspective, knowing the goal is urgent but the task is not. It neither hustles nor bustles, but takes correct, coordinated steps, exactly when it needs to. True urgency understands that slowing down to keep a safe pace is the only way to achieve business goals.

real vs false urgency construction

Here are a couple ways to keep your culture of efficiency as safe as it is productive:


1) Make Safety Non-Negotiable

Anyone who has stepped onto a construction site knows it’s a dangerous place. Over thousands of years, and many lives lost, the construction industry has developed standards for negotiating hazards.

But sometimes safety feels tedious. You pay a person to clean every drop of every spill, to call someone else over to lift something they could probably lift themselves, and to make that second verbal check of the equipment. Yet you also know what can happen if you don’t spend the proper time or money…

Remember: urgency is not busyness. It’s not pressuring people to move faster. If you do that, your team’s “low-hanging fruit” for amping up speed will be to cut corners with safety protocols.

True urgency means helping your team see 3 steps ahead so that they plan properly. If everyone is only thinking about the next step and then the next, mistakes and inefficiencies will slip through unnoticed. Keep everyone thinking a few steps forward, and you’ll save time without endangering anyone’s life.


2) Attract, and Value, the Right People

Hiring the people you need when you need them is an industry-wide challenge. To get it right, you need to offer something that the other guys don’t. You build your marketing strategy to prospective clients around your key differentiators; same rules for attracting workers.

What are your hiring differentiators?

  • Paying more money?  This doesn’t necessarily attract the best people- just the opportunistic ones. And it can kill the bottom line like a bullet.
  • Reputation? We’re all envious of the companies that everyone wants to work for. But there’s a reason for it, and it’s probably not money.
  • Empowering culture? This is the one that matters. Empowering workplaces treat workers like skilled, smart adults. They foster accountability while encouraging people to make smart decisions independently.

A culture of urgency is a culture of listening. It’s a promise to listen backed by something more personal than a feedback form. It’s asking your workers what’s bugging them and making good on your share of the solution.

steps to urgency in construction

You can’t ask for urgency without showing it. If someone comes to you with an improvement that makes sense, it’s on you to show them the urgency of implementing the fix. The feeling they get when they see that their idea has a real difference in the business is the best retention tool you’ll ever have. Once your team sees the impact of their work, you’ll see what an internalized sense of true, healthy, urgency looks like.

Creating a Sense of Urgency in Construction

Creating a Sense of Urgency in Construction

urgency in construction





Building a culture of urgency isn’t easy in the construction industry. For starters, your crews are remote and it’s usually up to your Foremen to convey that sense of culture.

There’s also safety. If you convey its importance wrong, your workers will equate urgency with speed, and accidents will follow.

You need a culture of urgency in order for sustained Process Improvement to work. Here’s how to do it in the construction industry:

urgency in construction process

1) Visit the Job Sites

Construction is planned at the office, but it happens at the job site. That’s where hammer meets nail, and where a sense of urgency makes the biggest difference.

You probably visit your sites regularly anyway. Turn that up a notch. Get more face time with the teams working each job. Don’t commit to so many visits that it’s unsustainable in the long run, but make sure they see more of you.

Your presence on the job site will have a bigger impact than you might think. To start, your presence will bring a sense of urgency with it. Nothing like the captain on deck to make the crew snap to attention.

Your visit will also remind the workers that their job site matters. A reminder to take pride, double check their work, and get it done on time.

It’s also an opportunity to hear them. Gather them around and ask for their feedback. Catch up to them one on one, make an effort to get to know them, and ask about the small inefficiencies that bug them. Recharge them out of complacency and back into urgency.


2) Turn Your Foremen into Advocates

You can’t change your business’s culture from your office. You need boots on the ground, butts in the lunchroom seat, and eyes on the details.

You need to inspire. Giving employees the “how” of Process Improvement won’t do it. “How” comes later. Start with “why.” Tell them why this is so urgent for the business and get them on board (spoiler alert: if your “why” is to raise the bottom line 10%, find another one that involves the employees more directly).

Your Foremen are your mouthpieces at the site. Spend time with them. Empower them with what they can do. Give them permission to make the right call in the moment.

When they have feedback: listen. That is, actually listen and get back to them later with a follow up. Preaching Lean involves making good on needed process improvements. Give them ownership and make them advocates.

When foremen are empowered, they bring a sense of urgency back to the job site. Combine that with your more frequent visits and everyone will understand that you’re not only serious, more consistent.


3) Make Sure Urgency is Safe

There are 2 kinds of urgency. There’s the running place-to-place, always-busy-never-focused, working-harder-but-not-smarter urgency. It’s unproductive, and can even be dangerous in a construction environment.

Productive urgency is being driven to work smarter, not harder. Faster is dangerous. As you discourage reckless speed, remind people that it’s not necessary.

Urgency is the opposite of complacency, not slowness. It’s about doing things right the first time, and being deliberate in your actions. If anything, a culture of urgency in construction should make the site safer.


productivity types construction

Promoting a sense of urgency is really about promoting a sense of accountability. When people care, they care about getting the job done efficiently and properly. Once a team gets a sense of what they can achieve, that sense of urgency can evolve into a culture of excellence.


“I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.”

Leonardo da Vinci

Lean Leadership in Construction

Lean Leadership in Construction

lean leadership in constructionConstruction is an industry of tight timelines beset by on-site realities. What’s planned on paper rarely materializes at site, and foremen need to adapt quickly to maintain margins.

Change leadership is about the leader inspiring his or her team to sniff out waste and destroy it. As leader, you can’t be on every site at all times, and you have a million things to worry about. It can’t be your job to make sure enough lumber has been brought in or to see if a bathroom pod can be pre-fabbed at the shop. You need empowered crew leaders.

It’s a cultural shift, and it’s neither easy nor fast. You’ll need to articulate a vision that inspires, be visible on site, and divert your focus from managing logistics to coaching your team.


Inspire Before Bulldoze

Change Leaders need to articulate their vision clearly to themselves (don’t skip that part), and then to their team. But what about those who are comfortable just the way things are?

if you bulldoze them with your vision, it taints the process from the beginning. When you encounter the “but we’ve always done it this way” crowd (often referred to as the old guard), you need to erode the resistance with your vision. Here’s how:

change leadership in manufacturing


Looking bigger picture, your construction firm is probably only one of many stakeholders on a large project, and it becomes more complicated when the “old guard” are other contractors.

Establish a culture of process improvement in your business first, and then (if you’re ambitious) you can begin to inspire other contractors that you commonly work with. It’s inspiring that some large projects are now entirely Lean, with contractors all working together towards a common goal that thrills the client and increases margin.



If you’re a quiet leader who likes to keep to yourself, that will need to change. Change Leadership is about building people, and that takes advanced communication skills. If you lack these, but want to become that leader, don’t be ashamed of reaching out to a professional coach or other mentor to help you.

communication change-driven construction



Change Leadership begins with authentically asking your team for their ideas. But it goes on from there.

Ideas aren’t worth much without accountability-driven execution. You’ll be spending more of your time coaching and developing your team, but your other pressures aren’t taking a holiday.

Delegation is the natural evolution of empowerment. Invest in your team, build processes for them to execute their ideas, then learn to step back. Your stress level will decrease as your employees’ new responsibilities become routine, and their ideas become part of systemic change.


360 Reflection

Process improvement will wilt without reflection and measurement. In construction, waste is often lurking systemically in your processes. Root it out. Don’t let failed jobs accumulate because you didn’t get rid of process problems.

Be transparent with your KPIs for delivery, cost, safety, etc. Do a post-mortem for every job with your team and see how they did. Don’t let that conversation devolve into a finger-pointing session; keep it about constructive feedback for the last job and proactive action items for the next.

Start the whiteboard during the job, so that foreman and workers alike can post ideas that occur to them in real time. Make it easy to give criticism, especially if a job goes south and all we want to do is forget about it. As Seth Godin says more eloquently than I, failure is our best and perhaps only teacher.


It’s amazing what an empowered, engaged team can do. When Lean principles are properly applied, team members step up to the plate in ways you might not expect. When everyone on the crew feels a sense of ownership, it becomes everyone’s job to push projects into better, faster, more efficient territory. You’ll feel the difference when you arrive at work every day—and that’s the kind of culture that lays a solid foundation to build upon.


“The pessimist complains about the wind. The optimist expects it to change. The leader adjusts the sails.”

 John Maxwell