Building in Quality initiative: achievements

The quality challenge

8 October 2019

The Building in Quality initiative, a partnership between RICS, RIBA and the CIOB, has recently concluded. What did it achieve?

Poor practices lead to poor outcomes: inappropriate procurement can lead to unreasonable risk allocation, and it is often the member of the supply chain least equipped to take on such a burden that ends up doing so. This, understandably, results in a poor-quality outcome, and dissatisfied clients and building occupiers. Considerable costs are also incurred due to the need for unnecessary repairs and renewals during the lifespan of the asset.

In March 2018, the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) and RICS signed a joint memorandum of understanding to tackle these problems and establish a system for tracking quality in construction projects. The project, part of the Building in Quality initiative, was completed recently after around 18 months’ work.

The initiative defined quality as:

  • build quality: performance of the completed asset
  • functionality: how useful the asset is in achieving its purpose
  • impact: how well the asset adds social, economic, cultural and environmental value and improves human well-being (see Figure 1).

Seeking to ‘manage the persistent headline issues highlighted by numerous reported construction and quality failures in housing developments, the Edinburgh schools inquiry and the Grenfell Tower fire’, the project introduced a straightforward system for documenting and tracking risks to quality through a construction project’s life.

Using Dame Judith Hackitt’s idea of a golden thread of information that enables building owners to better manage buildings’ safety, and instead applying it to long-term quality, this system took the form of a quality tracker.

The 5 reasons for using the tracker were cited as fragmented procurement, unpredictable quality outcomes, undifferentiated aspirations, hidden project risk and compromised reputation. The 5 requirements were, therefore, a common definition, a better ability to predict future quality, methods of measurement, benchmarks, and risk control and handling uncertainty.

The tracker’s risk reduction indicators were grouped into 6 risk categories: likelihood of development proceeding to construction, attitude to maintenance and longevity, attitude to cost certainty, attitude to programme certainty, likelihood of obtaining competitive tenders and attitude to collaboration.

Figure 1: More overlap in the opportunity to consider the three aspects
of quality should lead to better chances of achieving good-quality outcomes

Figure 1: More overlap in the opportunity to consider the 3 aspects of quality should lead to better chances of achieving good-quality outcomes

The tracker was designed for use throughout the 8 RIBA work stages, and intended to be used on a monthly cycle, such as at site meetings, in conjunction with the RIBA Briefing Toolkit or a suitable alternative briefing process. The tracker criteria were filtered to indicate which was applicable to each project stage.

The tool was piloted by clients and their advisers between October 2018 and April of this year, and the feedback provided was then analysed by the working group, which has summarised its findings in the Building in Quality Initiative: Summary Report and Next Steps.

On the whole, those who trialled the tracker were said to be ‘enthusiastically supportive’ of it, finding it reasonably clear and flexible. The tracker will therefore continue to be freely available for use. Feedback praised the fact that:

  • risks are tracked to achieve target quality
  • the head client is required to lead the tracker process by making professional appointments conditional on signing up to specified collaborative behaviours in a memorandum of understanding
  • barriers to quality from the initial client to the end user are disclosed transparently
  • adopting the tracker should specifically exclude the need to add extra contractual liability to any of the quality custodians.

However, negative comments highlighted that there are too many different procurement routes, project sizes, client types, building typologies, construction methods and sectors for 1 size to fit all. The connection between the system and other processes involved in development was noted as a weakness, while process ‘fatigue’ and ‘bureaucracy’ were cited by some as roadblocks to adoption.

There are now 3 focuses: integrating processes with digital technology, developing the evidence base, and educating and wooing clients

The group therefore identified 3 focuses for development:

  • Integrating processes with digital technology: smart digital technology could help to integrate the tracker with overlapping in-house quality assurance, project management software, and other systems, standards and procedures to automate the tracking process. The cloud will make the system more effective.
  • Developing the evidence base for predictive metrics: while the 3-part definition of quality was generally approved, it was noted that not all parts of the definition can be measured or predicted. Practical new predictive measures must therefore be established, perhaps through research.
  • Educating and wooing clients: supply-side professionals advised that they do not have enough influence to ensure adoption, so the benefits of the system must be directly promoted to the client.

The Building in Quality initiative as a whole was warmly received, and the partnership between RIBA, the CIOB and RICS was widely praised. Concluding the initiative, the 3 bodies have set a challenge for the industry: ‘to unify all quality initiatives under 1 collaborative governing framework [and] coordinate research, evidence and ideas for a common, integrated practical approach to improve quality in construction’. Best get started now.

Steven Thompson is associate director of the built environment at RICS

Further information