The most enduring issue in renovation projects is probably the question of quality. What is quality? What is quality management? To answer these questions one has to understand the underlying concepts. Let’s ask another question first: What do you consider to be a quality car? Your answer probably incudes the name of a specific brand of car, whether it is a German luxury model or a Japanese cost-effective reliable one. If you put ten people in a room and ask the same question, you will have ten different answers. The reason for this is that each person has a subjective idea of what quality is, based on own experience and expectations.
Furthermore, we often confuse quality with grade, and perhaps this is the core of the majority of issues when it comes to renovation projects. People easily talk of “quality” when what they really refer to is grade. At its most basic level quality refers to the degree to which the product meets the requirements it was designed to meet. Grade refers to products that have the same functional use but different technical requirements. High grade does not imply high quality. This is where it often gets hazy, because the grade has not been defined properly and the different stakeholders have different ideas of what the end product should look like.
Let’s take a practical example. You appoint a contractor to remove a toilet and the existing tiles in the toilet, and then retile the floor and walls and replace the toilet with a new one. He does that. Objectively, the product conforms to the requirements. We can say that the product is of high quality. However, the tiles are cheap, third-grade ceramic tiles and the toilet a close-coupled design bought on a sale for R 499. This relates to grade, not quality. The product is low grade. If first grade, polished porcelain tiles and a wall-hung, hidden cistern-type toilet were used, we could say that the product is high grade. If your and the contractor’s expectations were different at the start of the project, then obviously there would be a major problem here. The technical specifications have to be defined and agreed to beforehand to avoid such problems.
But then, of course, there also is that other nagging issue of subjective view. Let’s go back to our example of the toilet. The contractor is ready to sign off on a high quality, high grade product. The porcelain tiles and the concealed, wall-hung toilet have been installed. However, you say the quality of the product is poor. You see cracks in the grouting between tiles and some corner tiles that are not entirely straight. Quite often, the contractor does not see these things the same way that you do. For him, it is okay, for you, it definitely is not.
What, then, can we all do to come to a better understanding regarding quality on a renovation project? The following guidelines may help:
· More is better. The more information that is included in the specifications, the better the project will run and the less quality issues (and subsequent rework) there will be. Quality in renovation projects is more about preventing and avoiding than assessing and fixing poor quality outputs.
· Manage quality from the start. Quality management is not an event, it is a process. It starts before the project starts. It entails ensuring that during planning, the expectations of the client are specified, and that during execution, these expectations are met. This implies consistently ensuring that the desired quality is achieved.
· Ensure alignment of expectations. We spoke about the subjective view earlier. Although it seems virtually impossible to do so, we have to endeavour to align these subjective views to an inter-subjective reality. If these views are too far apart, the problems will persist.
Customer satisfaction is a key measure of a product’s quality. If the customer is not satisfied, the quality is poor. But, is the customer always right? All people differ, and everyone has a different view on what is poor, acceptable or exceptional, and what is not. That is a reality that faces all endeavours every day. The closer the renovation contractor can get to meeting or exceeding the expectations of the customer, the fewer problems there will be. The secret lies in communication, reasonableness and give-and-take.