Documentation: The Key to Getting the Quality You Want

5 minute read

In our last Cost of Quality survey, builders and developers said that “Documentation” was an area in which they are looking for best practices, tools and insights. Here we talk about how documentation impacts a builder’s business, and share some insights from Dave Evert, Production Manager at Veridian Homes, and Bill Rectanus, VP Homebuilding Operations at Thrive Home Builders.

 

Documentation can be used to prove something, to make something official, or to provide written instructions. Why should documentation be so important?

QUALITY IS THE RESULT OF YOUR PROCESSES, AND DOCUMENTING YOUR PROCESSES IS THE KEY TO GETTING THE QUALITY YOU WANT.

This rings true with everyone involved in the homebuilding process:  your employees, trades, vendors, and even your customers. According to quality guru William Edwards Deming, “If you can’t describe what you’re doing as a process, you don’t know what you’re doing.”

Although creating and maintaining good documentation initially might seem like a hefty upfront investment, it’s a path that leads to efficiency and improved quality. In turn, improved quality leads to greater customer satisfaction and ultimately eventually profitability.

FUNCTIONS DOCUMENTATION CAN SERVE

Here are just a few examples:

  • Part of a “Plan-Do-Check-Act” System. Documentation fosters a culture of continuous improvement because it allows you to track and measure what is being done, fix any problems, and then take steps to prevent future problems from occurring. A well-documented and preventive process enables you to stop playing “whack-a-mole” with issues in individual homes.
     
  • Manage expectations. Documentation manages expectations because it tells people what to do and how to do it, ultimately improving productivity.  It can even help with managing buyers’ expectations, resulting in more satisfied homebuyers.
     
  • Provide consistent training. Well-defined documentation enables consistent training of any new personnel or new skilled trades that may step into a project midway or may be unfamiliar with unique processes.
     
  • Facilitate communication. As communication tool, documentation lays down a feedback loop to correct issues and keeps all team players following the same game plan.
     
  • Reduce liability. Good documentation can decrease the risk of future liabilities because it clearly specifies what you are doing and then you later can prove that you’ve done it. 

 

BEST PRACTICES

Here are some best practices in leveraging documentation:

  • Use Tools. Tools such as software or process flow charts can make it easier to document processes and systems and to track defects or warranty service items. They enable you to collect data and to make measurement an integral part of your processes. One favorite saying at Veridian Homes is “If you don’t have data, it’s myth.”
     
  • Turn Issues into Action Items. Compile completed checklists at your office, and then turn any issues needing attention into action items that then can be forwarded to the parties that should correct those items.
     
  • Get Buy-In from Trades and Vendors. Involve them in the planning process by sharing schedules with them in advance, and showing them how their lateness can impact other trades and what work will be done simultaneously.
     
  • Specifically Specify. When requesting bids, specify as much as possible, and avoid saying “or equal” for materials. Don’t leave material choices up to the bidders.  Require the bidders to ask questions before bidding and to let you know early what they think will not work, rather than during construction. Then the architect can make any necessary changes prior to the start of construction. 
     
  • Always Include Due Dates.  Any tasks should have projected start and end dates, including due dates by which any problems should be resolved. Otherwise, according to Dave at Veridian Homes, “If you want anything to last forever, form a committee and don’t give it a due date.”
     
  • Document with Photos. Take photos of good and bad practices, record corrections to the bad behavior, and work with vendors to stop the problem from recurring. It’s even more effective if the person doing this task is not involved in day-to-day construction, whether they are on your internal team or from an outside assessment organization.

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