News & Insights

Behind-the-Scenes: Building Quality at Every Scale

Not a line item to be crossed off, assuring the high quality of Consigli-built work is the result of a deeply integrated process through the full life span of each project. At Consigli, our quality management process is not only the responsibility of the project team, but is one that actively leverages the collective experience and knowledge of other experts and tradespeople from across the company, bringing benefits to clients and project partners alike.

A room full of intent senior construction managers—listening, questioning, recommending—provide an in-depth review of a proposed construction plan for the high-end renovation of an occupied, centrally located university facility.

A jobsite superintendent and his foremen study their milestone schedule, looking ahead six weeks, assuring that their crews, materials and each sequence of work is shipshape, propelling the construction of a new school forward.

These scenes are windows to the layered ways Consigli’s teams assure a project’s quality—each an example of the firm’s Quality Assurance/Quality Control program in action.

At the center of this effort is Consigli’s Quality Manager, architect Ken Amano, who guides this integration, company-wide.

Amano explains, “The truth is no project’s design documents or specifications can really ever anticipate every single construction detail. Our Quality Assurance program is about shaping a mindset and an investigative process that addresses this reality, and provides the solutions for each team to build the very best project possible.”

Peer Reviews Create Foundation for Project Quality

On a hot spring day, a group of Consigli’s superintendents, project executives, managers and engineers gathered in Cambridge, Mass. for the peer review of a complex renovation project for Harvard Real Estate. While each Consigli project team is built of staff with directly comparable building experience, as Consigli Project Executive Ryan Jennette explains, “Our Peer Review process is another way we minimize an internal ‘silo-experience’ and make sure we’re sharing our incredibly valuable knowledge base with each other. At this early point in a project, ten heads are definitely better than two.”

Scheduled early in the life of a project, once the project team develops their initial construction schedule and logistics plan, this structured, half-day review session brings in a parallel team of Consigli staff experienced with the same type of project. A vital early step in Consigli’s proactive Quality Assurance process, this review is part of Consigli’s Quality Management for projects of all scales.

The peer review for Harvard’s Smith Campus Center project—the extensive renovation of this iconic building in Harvard Square, originally designed by architect Josep Luis Sert—began with an in-depth presentation of the project team’s construction plan, then, the reviewers dove in. Together they examined every conceivable aspect of the work ahead—from the core areas of schedule and logistics, to identifying top risks and opportunities, to assuring the best qualified subcontractors are part of the procurement process and identifying topics for the upcoming whole-team partnering session.

Jennette, who has been instrumental in developing guidelines for the review process, explains in more detail, “Our peer reviews also follow, ideally, our team’s early, in-depth involvement in a project. Ideally we’re onboard during the design process, and we’ve been building a partnership with both architect and owner, and building a comprehensive plan for the design’s construction. When possible, it’s invaluable—for everyone involved—when we’re on board at the schematic level of design or shortly after. With early involvement we are building the construction plan as the design is completed, this enables us to develop cost certainty through proper planning and also ensure the plan is agreed on and it’s deeply understood and supported by everyone involved.”

Another recent peer review was of the construction plan for a corporate client’s new facilities. Jennette describes some of the areas the reviewers focused on, “There is a lot of high-end millwork and feature space in the architect’s design. We know we need to get it exactly right. To help ensure this, we have begun to review installation details prior to issuance of construction documents as well as reviewed in great detail the potential subcontractor list for millworkers. We are developing a bid list for all scopes that we’re confident will help us build the product that our client is looking for. Also, in general, we discussed subs coverage and sub market, to involve a broader sub base to maintain competitive pricing and ensure value to our client, in a busy market.”

Jennette continued, “This peer team included our Senior Project Manager, John Lehane—he was invaluable in his review of specialty ceilings which incorporate the use of millwork and ‘NewMat.’ This system involves fabric stretched over a framework, lit by backlighting—it’s a complex system and needs to be designed properly to allow for building maintenance over time and carefully installed to deliver the highest level of quality in construction details. Lehane recently finished installing similar ceilings for Kendall Square’s Cambridge Center and MIT’s new Morris and Sophie Chang Building. We discussed the details of those, we discussed attaching the NewMat and how it’s built. John had a number of helpful insights.”

The reviewers also examined further ways to customize the Lean approach to the project, with input from the firm’s Director of Lean Strategy, Cynthia Tsao. One tool discussed were Constraint Logs—which help teams track who is resolving an issue, and when it will be cleared up. Jennette noted, “In this case, we’re already using one—sometimes the value in the Peer Review is the reaffirmation of our strategies.”

Partners in Quality: Building Holbrook’s PreK – 12 School

Talking with Project Manager Tim Vautour and Superintendent John Laperle—Consigli’s tag team for the Holbrook, Mass. PreK-12 school project—about what distinguishes Consigli’s quality management process, you understand just how integrated Consigli’s quality management is with—well—Consigli’s construction management. While each Consigli project has a customized Quality Assurance/Quality Control plan that identifies both pre-construction quality assurance processes, and construction phase controls and inspections, the truth is, in some ways it is hard to talk about the quality control process as a separate management effort, because it is so deeply embedded.

Vautour gave a quick overview of the dovetailed-relationship of construction management and quality assurance, “Quality is the end result of a properly planned and managed project. It is not just enough to identify, plan for, manage, and resolve quality concerns/issues for, say three-to-four key construction activities. All pre-construction, construction, and close-out processes—the  development of the quality plan, sub pre-qualifying, procurement, pre-op meetings, schedule summit meetings, submittals, RFIs, deliveries, daily stand-up meetings, safety, contracts, changes, T&M, deficiency log, punch list, etc.!—have an impact on quality and need to be managed. If each of these processes is not managed properly, issues will cause delays, which will compress the schedule and negatively impact the quality of any project.

“The best construction managers plan each process of a project’s life cycle, identify clear roles and responsibilities on the team, and properly manage each process. And by manage I mean that the team member responsible defines the goals and flow of the process, defines responsibilities of those who impact the process, communicates expectations, identifies potential problems, creates plans to execute the process (including how to prevent/resolve problems), develops relationships with stakeholders in the process, communicates deadlines, guides/teaches/follows up, holds people accountable and identifies and resolves issues quickly,” Vautour explained.

In planning the construction and the quality assurance processes for Massachusetts’ first-ever inclusive PreK-12 school, opening in Holbrook in the fall of 2017, Vautour and Laperle worked closely with Boston-based Flansburgh Architects and SMMA, Holbrook’s Owner’s Project Manager, to fully understand the design for this new 217,000-square-foot, two-story building. Designed to host 1,095 students, it combines two distinct building areas, each with its own entrance, administration and facilities, one dedicated to the PreK-5 grades, the other for grades 6-12.

Among the many aspects of the project that the team homed in on, are the project’s one-of-kind architectural details, to fully understand the architect’s vision and to determine exactly how these details would be constructed. Two central architectural details identified as needing particular planning and attention are the distinctive exterior copper panels that will grace the semi-circular façade of the school, and the focal point of the auditorium—a curving construction of laminated veneer lumber (LVL) slats—which is both part of the auditorium’s acoustical design, and a dramatic architectural feature.

For the curving copper wall panels, building a mock-up—a full scale prototype—at the panel fabricator’s shop helped explore and simplify a few unresolved design issues, resulting from an active dialogue that also included the Project Architect and Consigli’s carpenter foreman during a recent off-site team review.

Helping guide the process was Consigli’s Quality Manager, Ken Amano, who explains Consigli’s approach to mock-ups, “We identify what we will mock-up as early as possible. Especially when we get involved in the pre-construction phase, we make suggestions and work with the design team to come up with what gives the entire team and owner the most value. One advantage that comes from our ability to complete aspects of our projects with our in-house trades staff (to “self-perform” them)—is that we can expedite complex mock-ups.”

This inherent advantage that Consigli has is both critical and integral to the firm’s ability to closely control—and therefore even more readily assure high quality construction—Consigli’s deep team of in-house trades staff, including carpenters, masons and laborers, numbers over 350 skilled craftsmen and women. In the case of Holbrook’s new school, Consigli’s own carpentry team will install both the exterior copper panels and the delicate acoustical slats. And, before beginning construction of either of these building components, they are building full-scale mock-ups of each, confirming material quality and construction techniques.

Laperle, who with Vautour also teaches a course to Consigli’s field staff called “Managing the Project Life Cycle,” explained, “The biggest thing to assure consistent, project-wide quality, is setting expectations together. If I get buy-in from the foremen, and they understand what my expectations are upfront, then they’re onboard. This is a big part of our daily stand-up meetings with all the project foremen. I also can’t stress how important daily stand-up meetings are. They are the best way to communicate everything—quality, sequencing, roadblocks. Everything.”

A key management approach that Laperle uses are monthly “Summit Meetings” with all the trade foremen, where together they review the project milestones for the next six weeks of work. “We go back and forth and work through issues. We end up compromising, we develop buy-in on how to best approach the next six weeks.

“This creates quality,” said Laperle.

Another way that Superintendent Laperle assures a trade team is fully engaged and committed to a project is to have them participate in the project’s weekly milestone meeting once a week for the six weeks before they will be on-site to build their part of the scope. This way, by the time they begin, they know all the project’s players, they know what’s going on, and they know what the expectations are.

And, in talking more about the evolution of construction management on a macro level—and its corresponding impact on quality management—Laperle elaborated, “When I came into this field as a carpenter, about 25 years ago, it was just yelling. Everything was yelling. You were doing something and you were yelled at not to do it, or you weren’t doing something, and you were yelled at to do it. As an industry, we’ve come far. At Consigli we know that our relationship with the architect and building buy-in with our subs, makes a huge difference at every level.”

Vautour added, “It’s all about respect. It’s all about treating people fairly. And yes, sometimes there are hard conversations. But what we focus on—and the only way to do it—is to properly manage and communicate.”