Deconstructing Quality

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If everyone in each organization in the entire residential construction industry strives to produce quality products, plans and homes, what prevents it from occurring in every home on each job site every day?

January 01, 2004

 

Heather McCune, Editor in Chief

 

Every builder, each architect and the universe of building product manufacturers all aim to produce quality products for one simple reason — money. Every employee and each trade contractor arrives at work with the goal to do a quality job for the same reason.

If everyone in each organization in the entire residential construction industry strives to produce quality products, plans and homes, what prevents it from occurring in every home on each job site every day?

The simple answers:

  • People make mistakes.
  • New home design and construction resemble art more than science. One person’s right way might be another’s wrong way.
  • The criteria of quality differ from one individual to the next and often between the buyer and seller as well.

This list could go on and on. You’ve heard every reason in the book — and probably offered a few as well — each time you’ve confronted a problem and asked or been asked, “Why did this happen?”

Answers to that question identify the reason for a specific situation but entirely miss the goal of creating a quality product. Responding to specific situations and fixing problems may well deliver a quality product in the end. However, that outcome results from hope more than confidence — knowing the outcome at the outset.

This month’s special report explores the answers to the question, “What is quality?” The last “s” in answers isn’t a typo missed by our copy editor, for that question yields different responses from the only group that matters — your buyers — at different times. Quality expectations differ for home shoppers, home buyers and homeowners. Understanding what matters when to each person and then delivering it creates in consumers’ minds what every builder claims — that it is a “quality” builder.

Here’s a sneak peek at the data. Among home shoppers and home buyers, quality of the physical product — the home — matters most. Among homeowners, customer service — a measure of the quality of their relationship with their builder — ranks highest.

Want to deliver on the term quality builder? You must get it all right at every stage. “You can’t achieve a reputation for quality unless you exceed customer expectations at every stage — consistently,” says Alex Roqueta, president of Eliant, a Newport Beach, Calif.-based customer satisfaction measurement firm.

The next logical question: If quality resembles art more than science, and the criteria that define it change all the time, how do you deliver it? Follow the lead of companies such as Grayson Homes and managers such as Cindy McAuliffe. This Ellicott City, Md.-based builder is the winner of a 2004 National Housing Quality Silver Award. It joins a list of past NHQ winners that includes builders big and small: Neumann Homes, Shea Homes Colorado, The Green Co., Simonini Builders, K. Hovnanian Enterprises, etc. Not one of these companies — not even Grayson — defines quality today as it did when it won, or even last month or last year. What each possesses is the process that keeps its organization in tune with the quality expectations of its home shoppers, home buyers and homeowners.

Why invest the mental energy, time and resources to achieve quality in your organization, to create an ever-evolving process that produces consistent outcomes? Simple: money. In “The Cost of Quality” article, author and expert Ed Caldeira documents just how much money builders waste in reworks — and how little it really costs to deliver quality the first time.

Programs such as the NHQ Award and industry education efforts such as those at the NAHB Research Center exist to help you make real your claim as quality builder. Don’t wait.

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