Formulated by a cross-disciplinary working group and feeding off pan-industry consultation responses earlier this year, the Quality Tracker addresses many long-acknowledged problems in the construction industry, writes Nigel Ostime

Nigel ostime

No one wants to produce a bad building and yet we have witnessed the scandal of the Edinburgh schools, significant and well-publicised failures by some of the major house builders, and of course the Grenfell Tower fire. There is a clear need for something that will shine a light on quality - at a bare minimum regulatory compliance - to bring it out from the shadow of the pressures of time and cost.

In response, the RIBA, RICS and CIOB’s Building in Quality initiative has launched a Quality Tracker, a free-to-download digital tool for project teams to use on developments. It comes with a template Memorandum of Understanding, a quality checklist, and a guide, and the whole toolkit will be piloted on real projects over the next six months. Clients and their project teams are invited to take part .

Formulated by a cross-disciplinary working group and feeding off pan-industry consultation responses earlier this year, the Quality Tracker addresses many long-acknowledged problems in the construction industry. Its ultimate aim is to improve the quality of built outcomes consistently and reliably for the benefit of users and society as a whole.

While this initiative may not quite be the unified theory of everything that we all hunger for, it does tie up a number of loose ends that have remained tantalisingly disconnected for too long.

For decades we have gnashed our teeth with a general sense of frustration that the problems of our industry, so obvious and long-standing, seem so resistant to getting fixed. Critical reports have come and gone – Egan, Latham, and, more recently, Farmer – and yet improvements have been glacially slow.

In March 2018, RIBA president Ben Derbyshire, RICS president John Hughes, and CIOB past-president Paul Nash signed a joint Memorandum of Understanding confirming their commitment to work together to crack the quality nut.

The resulting Quality Tracker sets up a chain of custody for quality through the project life cycle, a tangible ‘golden thread’ connecting the originating client to the completed building’s users. Because it is designed to be shared with outside parties, it can also help prospective new project team members to cost their risk in getting involved more accurately.

The Quality Tracker is not just a quality management tool. Clients who adopt it will also demonstrate their focus on good long-term quality, allowing them to differentiate themselves in the market. The professional institutes expect their members to encourage its use, driving up the quality of outcomes and the industry’s reputation with it.

The accompanying guide does more than explain how the system is designed to work. The theoretical background to the whole notion of quality has come in for some long-overdue re-examination, picking up on where CABE left off.

If members of project teams are not singing from the exact same hymn sheet, problems will inevitably arise. The guide includes potted interviews with representatives from all parts of the development lifecycle revealing that what we mean by good quality, and where the pinch points are, varies depending on our point of view.

The guide calls for an agreed cross-industry definition of good quality that goes far beyond health and safety, regulatory compliance and defect-free workmanship to include good functionality and aspirations for long-term positive impacts.

The guide also diagnoses other missing pieces of critical information that, together, will help to give good quality more visibility and credibility: evidence-based validation of what causes good quality; ways to measure all the dimensions of quality; benchmarks; and better ways to acknowledge and control risk and uncertainty.

Getting such unequivocal collaboration between institutes whose members do not always see eye to eye is rare and symbolically important. Sprinkled with a dose of professional integrity, it gives hope that the industry might be at that tipping point where quality, always the poor cousin to time and cost in the value equation, might finally gain the recognition it deserves.

Download the tracker and trial it on your project to take part in this important initiative.

Nigel Ostime, Delivery Director at Hawkins\Brown and chair of the Building in Quality Working Group