No Room for Complacency: Building Quality Culture

Quality, like safety, is a constant journey of fighting complacency, human nature, and in some ways, the basic laws of physics. 

The second law of thermodynamics states that all things tend to chaos unless acted upon by an outside force. I have written on this before and it bears repeating, as it relates to quality and safety. The essence of Newton’s law as it relates to quality and safety is that it takes effort to be safe and to apply quality practices. It takes extra effort to check your PPE, to remove a tripping hazard, to make sure barricades are properly anchored.

Similarly, it takes extra effort to check a calculation, a spec, a drawing, an installation.

The challenge and the goal is to raise the bar on what is standard, expected behavior. If it “takes extra effort”, then what is the level of effort that it is extra from? What if the “standard” produced the highest quality and fewest defects? Then what?

My take is that a standard is never constant; it is either getting better or getting worse, because there are variables acting on it all the time – e.g. workload, health, personal issues, IT issues, weather, clients and co-workers, to name a few. It requires constant energy to maintain continuous improvement.

My point of all this is that not changing, not working to improve, is simply declining.

So how do you raise the bar to a new standard? One strategy we are initiating at Austin is to begin every project with a plan to improve performance and output. Everyone with a lead position on a project has an accountability to research and propose a strategy to improve performance on each job. Name ten things you will do better on this job. Determine what those things are by asking questions; reading; searching out peers, colleagues, subcontractors, BIM experts, etc. Check the progress of the goals at various milestones in the project.

Ten performance improvement items by each lead, logged into a quality database. Think of the body of work that represents over a year of projects.

And it all begins with a commitment to change, to improve, to grow. It begins with the acceptance that there is no standard – it continually changes. It becomes the force that constantly acts upon the tendency to chaos and, in fact, overcomes it to not only ensure that chaos does not take place, but also that order, in the form of better output, happens.

That is where growth comes from. Company growth, personal growth, professional growth.

“We become what we repeatedly do.”
Sean CoveyThe 7 Habits Of Highly Effective Teens

“H is for Habit, winners make a habit of doing the things losers don't want to do.”
Lucas RemmerswaalThe A-Z of 13 Habits: Inspired by Warren Buffett

“Warren Buffett is one of the best learning machines on this earth. The turtles which outrun the hares are learning machines. If you stop learning in this world, the world rushes right by you.”
Lucas Remmerswaal13 the Tale of Tortoise Buffett and Trader Hare