Part 4 of a 4 part Series
For our fourth article on the construction drawings series, we move from internal forces to possible solutions to the current issues with construction drawings.
As a reminder, the quality of construction documents impacts a project’s schedule and cost. A well-developed drawing establishes goodwill and trust among the project teams. It also frees up time for project team members to focus on other issues, advancing the project more effectively.
Today, we will examine the possible solutions for improving construction drawing quality in the architectural, engineering, and interior design professions.
Establishing Definitions of Quality
Defining what quality means in construction documents is not an easy task because there are no established standards within the industry. However, there may be customary practices and levels (though they may vary from region to region.) Here are some good starting ideas for defining quality:
- Having plans with concise details and minimal contradictions, such as dead ends or circular messages that might confuse someone. (For example, stating to “see sheet five” when nothing on sheet five provides any relevant information.)
- A quality set that is organized and formatted well, containing readable graphics for symbols, lines, objects, and words.
- Providing dimensions that add up with details and sections properly referenced. If a wall is eight inches wide, it is drawn to scale as 8″ wide.
- Specifications that are coordinated with the plans. Specifications are included for all materials, products, and systems.
The Decision to Increase the Level of Quality
This is an important decision that leadership in the A/E fields must make; it comes with realizing that the work product needs improvement. Identifying areas of weakness is the first thing that must be done. The big problem with implementing overall quality is the cost and payback time. By the time a project is built and closed out, and the client has realized that they had a quality set of plans, the next project with that client can be years away. This monumental obstacle will not change; thus, deciding to improve quality is a painful one. With that said, once the word on the street is out that your firm produces a quality set of well-coordinated drawings, the clients will come calling.
Finding Quality People
Construction Drawings are about how things work together. Finding people interested in that concept is vital. Hands-on experience with materials and time spent in the field is usually part of the training process when people enter the A/E professions. Thus, the key is mentoring. Developing a mentoring program beforehand, including taking young professionals on job walks and scoping meetings, is a start. Of course, training seminars in the office at lunchtime can also help and encourage high quality work.
Perhaps the design profession industry will incent universities to include more technical and field training for engineers and architects. The private sector might also open courses at trade schools on how to create good construction drawings.
Creating Clear Quality Standards and Reference Materials
Creating quality documents pays off in the long run, not just in returning clients but also in the speed and accuracy in which documents are produced. When the goal is clearly defined and the tools are in place, the project team can create a work product that will have quality. A/E design firms can achieve this through:
- Graphic standards: To fix the poorly drawn drawings, a simple graphic library is a start. Reviewing the existing standards, upgrading them to easily readable ones, and expanding the library must be done occasionally.
- Creating standards for conveying written Information: Line weights, spacing, and association of information issues crowding, overlapping, and crossing should all be addressed in an office manual that can be referenced. This can be as simple as having a basic example sheet.
- Information Trails: Having clear communication with team members is vital to fixing quality plans with dead-ends or circular information trails. This includes identifying what the information is, which drawings have repeated information, and conveying the details to team members so that the plans have consistent logic in delivery and display information.
Performing Quality Control
Some firms have a quality control process or a team to perform plan reviews prior to bidding or at established phases. This is effective to a certain point because project managers and job captains can let things slide and think that the quality control team will catch problems.
An effective way to create quality and have it circulate through the firm’s culture is to have all project managers perform quality control on a rotating basis. This encourages workers to improve. It expands the knowledge base and creates buy-ins from all project designers and managers.
On smaller, less complex projects where a junior or intermediate staff member has completed the work, having someone at a similar experience level review the project produces rapid growth in that person.
Some clients outsource their design team’s plans to consultants to provide reviews. If a client includes that practice, the design team should not rely upon it as the total quality control portion of the project.
Quality Assurance is a program that implements and tracks ongoing quality control. Most firms already have weekly meetings to review project progress, burn rates, submittal status, and completion dates. This data is usually compiled on a spreadsheet. Most often, quality control is not on the spreadsheet. Simply adding a column for quality control brings quality discussions into the spotlight and gets leadership thinking about it. Who is doing the quality control? When will it be completed? What was the magnitude of the corrective work necessary to produce the level of quality that the firm desires? Why was quality control not achieved? These are all questions that can be reviewed and discussed by leadership. Thus, these will bring quality into the firm’s consciousness, culture and processes.
I’m confident that the A/E profession can increase the quality of construction documents by first recognizing the value that it brings to the industry, individual projects, and ultimately the public. Implementing the necessary processes to achieve higher quality will match the quality valued in the industry and customers today.