Precision Workmanship

Quality management practice has a simple goal: customer satisfaction.

May 31, 2000

Quality management practice has a simple goal: customer satisfaction. One way to measure that goal - at least from a technical, construction standpoint - is by tracking the amount of warranty work a remodeling firm has to complete. Quality construction means the project is built right the first time; mistakes arefound and fixed before the final payment. Perfect quality not only means the client will have no reason to make a warranty call, but it also means the client should have no reason to put technical items on a punch list.

Ultimately, a zero-defect remodeling project will bring repeat and referral business. The recipient of such quality will be delighted to share the story. For the remodeler, zero-defect means reduced or eliminated warranty expense, a cost elimination that directly boosts net profit.

Frank Webb, president of Coventry Construction in Slingerlands, N.Y., says his company has attained near-zero warranty performance. The systems he's implemented ensure that defects are detected and corrected as quickly and painlessly as possible. His systems stand out as an industry benchmark for the NAHB Research Center. In 1997, Coventry won a National Remodeling Quality Award.

Webb minimizes warranty items by paying close attention as the project unfolds, and by building partnerships with his trade contractors that ensure that they, too, will take care of the little details.

"I work on the job myself," Webb says. "Anything that's defective we fix right away. At the end of the job, you don't have any problems." Webb says in his small firm, he functions as the lead carpenter. Any larger firm would use the same strategy: the lead is directly responsible for making sure everything is done right.

Anything that isn't right is fixed before the next stage of the project. The lead also makes sure the trades function in the same manner, Webb says. "I walk through when they come in and then again when they go out," he says. "We'll walk through [with the trade] to make sure we don't miss anything if their work is complicated. It's easier than calling them back."

By taking the time to walk the project beforehand and again after the work is done, Webb says defects are prevented. In the event a problem surfaces after the trade contractor has completed his job, Webb calls them back and the problem is made right. That wouldn't happen without solid partnerships.

Trade contractors work and perform for Coventry because the company is systematized enough to pay on time and schedule accurately. "I pay when they bill me," Webb says. "Nothing motivates like that. We're also organized. We're ready when they get there. I have all the material ready to go. They appreciate that.

"We do quality work, and everybody wants to do quality work," he says. "If they don't, we have to get somebody else who does." All Coventry jobs are warranted for one year, and that holds his trades responsible for their work, too.

Webb says Coventry's warranty and call-back numbers are "next to nonexistent."

"We can do a $60,000 job and never have a call back." He does, however, have a system in place to track and prioritize such incidents. In fact, he uses the system now to prioritize the work day. Each day, he prints from his computer a listing of all the current jobs. "Everything I have to do is listed in the order I have to do it," he says.

These days, that list rarely includes warranty items.

Webb can be reached at (518) 439-6042.

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