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Building 101: What’s the Difference Between Quality Assurance and Quality Control in Construction?

Building 101: What’s the Difference Between Quality Assurance and Quality Control in Construction?

How would you rate the quality of your last construction project? Good, fair or poor? Quality, although at times subjective, is an essential measurement in a construction project. In particular, clearly defined quality expectations, measurements and processes are vital to ensuring a project is completed at an acceptable level and all parties can go home happy. To measure quality in construction, both quality assurance (QA) and quality control (QC) are critical and ensure a project is executed according to standards.

Even in your personal life, a quality assessment can feel more like opinion than a real fact. For instance, one of your colleagues might think that the iPhone is of utmost quality for a smartphone and practically the greatest device known to mankind. On the other hand, your Android-fanatic colleague might be on the opposition and think that all Apple products lack even a basic level of quality. Who wins? No matter where your loyalties fall on the age-old Apple versus Android debate, without a distinct set of quality measurements–there’s never going to be a clear winner.

In construction, the assessment of quality can be a tricky matter. For example, one contractor might complete a project to a certain level of quality they deem acceptable while the owner might have another level they are expecting and are disappointed in the outcome. As a result, changes might be requested, relationships could sour and even a legal dispute could be on the horizon if the quality is not defined and managed carefully.

When implemented properly, QA and QC services help prevent projects from falling below expectations. Nonetheless, quality assurance and quality control are easy to get confused but they are two very different processes. However, the combination of them is necessary to ensure and measure overall end-quality of a project. In our latest installment of Building 101, we’ll dive into the essentials of quality in construction and how and when it’s measured. If you’re looking to improve quality standards on your projects, you’ll want to read below to learn what the differences are between QA and QC, how they are implemented as well as why they are necessary to a successful project from start to closeout.

What Is Quality in Construction?

While it’s important to know why quality assurance and quality control are measured in construction, it’s also necessary to understand what quality means in general on a project. Primarily, quality in construction means that the project or project components were completed in compliance with what was defined in the Scope of Work. Generally, the Scope of Work gives a clear idea of what the owner’s expectations are and how they should be carried out to ensure standards are met. Most commonly, there are a few factors that typically determine the quality of a project:

  • Completing the project on schedule
  • Meeting the owner’s requirement within budget
  • Fulfilling the specification mentioned in the contract
  • Avoiding disputes claims
  • Ensuring facilities/final product performs for its intended purpose

What Is Quality Assurance (QA)?

With a basic understanding of what quality really means in a construction process, let’s dig into how quality is measured specifically. First, quality assurance isn’t about the end product itself, but it’s process oriented. According to Building Professionals, QA is, “The planned and systematic activities implemented in a quality system so that quality requirements for a product or service will be fulfilled.”

QA services are primarily used by owners, owner’s representatives and developers to evaluate how likely a contractor is achieving specified conditions and design standards. Quality assurance is either measured before a project begins or while a building is undergoing construction.

What Is Quality Control (QC)?

Whereas quality assurance is process focused, quality control is product oriented. QC looks into the final product and determines whether it has been built or implemented correctly. Designing Buildings defines QC as, “Quality control is the part of quality management that ensures products and service comply with requirements. It is a work method that facilitates the measurement of the quality characteristics of a unit, compares them with the established standards, and analyses the differences between the results obtained and the desired results to make decisions which will correct any differences.”

While QA ensures all the processes are following standards, QC is the final quality check of the result and is conducted after the product has been completed.

How Is Quality Assurance and Quality Control Measured?

As quality control and quality assurance are also measured in distinct ways and by different project stakeholders. For QA, examinations and testing are mainly determined by owners or owner reps. Some owners will measure QA more diligently than others, while some may not even want to measure it at all, especially if finances are a concern.

On the other hand, QC services are mandatory due to contract requirements and are used by contractors to ensure their work achieves the designers’ specifications. Quality control may even include activities like qualifying subcontractors, reviewing subs’ bids and submittals and providing thorough jobsite supervision. In some cases, an owner may feel like a contractor is not suitable for conducting quality control services and they would require or hire an external inspector to measure QC.

Why Is QA and QC Important?

We can’t say it enough–construction is complex. With so many process and personnel involved, quality standards need to be set and measured to ensure the project is completed and the whole team is satisfied with the end result.

In addition to determining if a project is just constructed completely and correctly, quality assurance and quality control are both essential to enforcing safety standards on a project. In particular, QA will test equipment, materials and processes to help safeguard against any major hazards. Proper quality assurance should also involve comprehensive training for workers to further mitigate construction risks.

How to Improve QA and QC in Construction

To improve overall quality on a project, it’s essential to have both a quality assurance plan and a specific set of standards for overall quality control. Even forming a dedicated QA team will help to ensure a project’s results meet expected and needed quality. Finally, your project needs a system to track and manage quality from design to closeout. Construction technology, like mobile productivity software, can help keep your whole team updated and on track as building progresses.

A project’s end quality means way more than personal pride. Poor quality means delays, rework and cost overruns, not to mention the potential to damage your company’s reputation and legal disputes. With a comprehensive quality plan with the right processes and tools to measure it, your project is more likely to be successful.

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