2011 NHQ Awards: High-end designs, delivered consistently by Haseko Construction

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Haseko Construction Inc., Honolulu, put its quality management system to the test when it rolled out 22 neo-traditional models as part of its foray into single-family home building. Read about the 2011 National Housing Quality winner.

October 18, 2010

PHOTO: Haseko Construction executives Richard Dunn and Adam Sutton, left, directed the implementation of a total quality management program for its resort community near Honolulu. Photo by John Demello

      

When you live on an island almost everything required for daily life — from food to fuel — must be shipped in. The same goes for building materials, which presents an inherent challenge to developers and builders who operate in Hawaii. Long supply chains necessitate additional planning, systems, and controls. Purchasing errors, when they occur, are magnified causing extended delays that ripple through production schedules hurting the bottom line.

That is partly why Haseko Construction Inc., a Japanese company with operations in Hawaii, has always emphasized a quality management system in conducting its business. The company’s focus on quality management is also a byproduct of its Japanese roots. Even though an American, W. Edwards Deming, is widely recognized as the father of quality management systems, total quality management (TQM) first took hold with Japanese firms beginning in the 1950s.

During its initial years in Hawaii in the early ’70s, Haseko developed hotels, condominiums, and other high-rise buildings. That changed in 1998 when it opened its Ocean Point master-planned community in Ewa Beach, Oahu, about 35 miles west of Honolulu. When the project is complete in 2020, Ocean Pointe will be home to 4,500 attached- and single-family homes. Today about half that total has been built, several hundred in a resort community within Ocean Pointe called KaMakana at Haokalei.

Opened in 2007, KaMakana at Hoakalei offers 22 one- and two-story homes, each available in multiple exterior elevations. As they shifted into home building, Haseko Construction delved into housing quality programs like those put forth by the NAHB Research Center, which helped spawn the National Housing Quality Awards. The company was looking for additional ways to improve and execute their residential offering, says Richard Dunn, executive vice president of Haseko.

“It has a lot to do with our long-term commitment to our Ocean Point community,” Dunn explains. “Up until 1997, Haseko was not known for building single-family homes. We had a great track record for building high-quality condos, high-rises, and other projects, but this was our first venture into single-family housing. Given the name recognition, we looked at this project and said we really need to create a management program to assure long-term value, satisfied homeowners, and to provide a path to future success.”

Implementing a host of best practices and creating many new ones in response to their specific challenges and goals, Dunn along with Adam Sutton, vice president of construction, created a quality management system specific to the build out of KaMakana at Haokalei. So far the company has achieved a high willingness to refer rate of 92.5 percent among its buyers at KaMakana, which has resulted 28.5 percent of their sales being based on referrals, which helped the firm garner a coveted Bronze National Housing Quality Award for 2011. Haseko’s particular focus on construction quality and excellent execution of design details put them over the top for this recognition, says NHQA lead judge Serge Ogranovitch. “Haseko is a very unique builder that has combined great design, state of the art construction, and good management practices in order to deliver high-quality homes to its customers.”

National Housing Quality Award applicants, like Haseko for the management of KaMakana, are judged in eight areas: leadership, strategic planning, performance management, customer satisfaction, human resources, construction quality, trade relationships, and business results. The company excelled in the construction quality segment of the award program, three aspects in particular — its use of ‘Hot Spots’ memorandums to communicate and fix persistent issues that arise, an ‘industry best practice’ of assuring design and construction quality via detailed pattern sheets, and the creation and operation of an onsite mill to support its construction quality goals.

Pattern Sheets: What’s Old is New

As both developer and builder for KaMakana at Hoakalei, Haseko executives realized early that more than any previous development, it had its reputation on the line, particularly because the build out will have taken 13 years when it is finally completed. Located on arguably the best site within the Ocean Point master-planned community, it was determined that KaMakana’s success in selling hundreds of homes priced from the high $400s to $1.2 million hinged on great design executed consistently well. Toward this end, they were drawn toward the concepts being expressed in the New Urbanism movement. They liked the sidewalks and alleys that allow for the use of traditional Hawaii beach designs like Island Craftsman and Coastal Craftsman. These types of homes include porches and authentic architectural details in front, with garages located in back.

“One of our goals with this community was to carefully script the streetscape with a number of architectural styles and details,” says Sutton. “In order to do that, you need to plan the street carefully with all of the architectural details that work together arranged to maximize visual interest and avoid repetition.”

Authenticity and variety were so critical to project success, says Sutton, that each of the 22 model homes were designed with two or three different elevations, but the sheer volume of home styles with so many architectural elements created a challenge of consistency during build out. As a solution, Haseko pushed its architects and designers to include an extraordinary level of detail in its plans for each home. Specifically, it asked for pattern sheets to be attached to each set of house plans. In making this request, Haseko literally borrowed a page from a bygone playbook, where correctly proportioned corbels, brackets, braces, and rafter tails are carefully drawn and put on a single page that is part of a pattern book.

“We had heard of New Urban developers culling ideas from old ‘pattern books’ dating from as far back as the 1870s to use as fodder for designs in their communities,” says Sutton. “So we decided to use the concept as a tool to create design guidelines. We wanted fully detailed patterns for our entry-level products. And we wanted another set of patterns for executive- and larger-sized homes. We found that pattern sheets allow us to move the scale more carefully and to develop our own style.”

Ogranovitch and the other NHQA judges felt that this was truly an innovative step. Instead of leaving the execution of such crucial details to trade contractors who might have literally drawn rafter tails, columns, and railings on the hood of their trucks, everything was spelled out. And, in the end, the use of pattern sheets not only facilitated perfectly proportioned homes, but also benefited the larger community with carefully scripted streetscapes.

Communicating, Planning and Creating a Mill

The desire for design consistency took another step forward when Haseko collaborated with its primary framing contractor, Coastal Construction Inc., to build an onsite mill to churn out all of those corbels, brackets, balusters, and railings. The collaboration highlights the best of what is possible when a properly functioning quality management system is put in place — trade contractor and general contractor working in tandem to improve a process. Under the agreement, Haseko provided land, power, water, and pattern sheets for the operation, while Coastal Contracting invested in equipment and the building. The resulting 2,500-square-foot facility with 3,000 square feet of adjoining storage space has four full-time staffers who are able to cut an entire trim package for a house in a few days, says Sutton. On any given day columns are being turned on one of three lathes and cuts are being made on large band saw.

“Everything is milled in a pre-cut package depending on the house that was sold,” says Sutton. “They pre-assemble hand railings, balcony railings, louvers, and shutters. We have a big, three-phase band saw that is key to the scrollwork that you see in many of our elevations. In all, we have 11 different rafter tail designs. All of this variety lends authenticity to the Hawaii beach architectural theme.”

The creation of the mill is just one example of Haseko’s collaboration with trade contractors to improve its process and design execution. Highlighting the importance of supply-chain pre-planning, particularly in a location as remote as Hawaii, Haseko went to extraordinary means to ensure that more traditionally styled half-round gutters were installed. The problem: no such gutter machines seemed to exist on the island. Well in advance of construction, Haseko located a half-round gutter machine in a garage in Los Angeles. The firm had it refurbished and shipped to the island.

“We wanted half-round gutters in order to get the authenticity we were seeking,” says Sutton. “So we worked with our trade contractor to bring one of the gutter machines here.”

As production commenced at KaMakana at Hoakalei, so too did a standing set of weekly and monthly meetings where construction quality and construction safety were discussed with key trade contractors. These meetings are key to creating an ongoing atmosphere of trust and a desire for continual improvement.

Beyond the meeting structure, a system of construction memorandums called “Hot Spots” is used to document persistent problem areas and to spell out the solutions that are provided. In one example, the company’s quality program manager, Mark Kennedy, observed a lack of consistency with the sealing around pipes and ducts that penetrate the exterior of the homes. In response, Kennedy issued a Hot Spot Training memo that was circulated to all staff members and trade contractors involved. The memo includes a description of the problem, a written solution, along with photos demonstrating proper sealing techniques. Each trade contractor on the distribution list must sign off to acknowledge compliance with each Hot Spot.

“A Hot Spot is something that any person on your team observed,” says Sutton. “It can relate to anything about your process or your construction technique. It gives the contractor a little more information at their fingertips.”

Key to the usefulness of any and all communication, says Sutton, from meetings to Hot Spot memorandums, is a spirit of collaboration without blame or finger pointing.

“One of the things that Hot Spots do best is they concentrate on fixing the problem, not fixing the blame,” says Sutton. “Any kind of quality control program will only work if people who are accountable are willing to talk about problems without fear of being penalized for talking about a problem.”

According to the NHQA judging panel, a collaborative, open spirit, particularly as it relates to construction quality, is on display at Haskeko Construction’s Hoakalei development.

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