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Lean Building Blog: Should the National Housing Quality Award survive?

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Lean Building Blog: Should the National Housing Quality Award survive?

March 27, 2012

The NAHB in conjunction with Professional Builder Magazine launched the National Housing Quality Award (NHQA) in 1993 to encourage and recognize best practices and best builders in the continual improvement of product and process. Modeled after the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, over time the NHQA has become the gold standard of awards in homebuilding.

Not to take away from any other industry awards, but the NHQA has the most demanding application, the most broad-based criteria and is the only one that requires a team of industry-expert judges to make a site visit to confirm the content of the application. The NHQA criteria also serves as a guide for continual improvement and the final report that is written by the lead judge is invaluable, providing an unbiased evaluation from a 3rd-party regarding the builder’s strengths and opportunities for improvement.

I was an Examiner for the Baldrige award back in the early 90’s at its inception, and have done several stints as an NHQA Judge. I can personally attest to the impact of the NHQA on multiple clients of my firm, TrueNorth Development. Done right, the NHQA can be a superb catalyst for bringing your people together to focus on what counts across a broad spectrum of criteria from Marketing to Construction to Customer Satisfaction to Employee Development to Strategy to Results. But therein lies the challenge. This award is not a “sit down at the kitchen table and write it on Sunday night then submit it Monday morning” type of process. It requires a lot of thought, considerable involvement and a great deal of participation from your people. Similarly, the judging process is arduous. The applications are first sent out to a judging panel. Conference calls follow to sort the applicants down to those who require deeper scrutiny. The judges then meet in person and the “Lead Judge” for each applicant makes the case as to whether the builder has earned a site visit. If so, a team of 3 judges travels to the builder location and spends two days thoroughly reviewing the operation, to confirm or deny the assertions in the NHQA Application. What follows is a series of conference calls to determine who receives awards and at what level.

In short, it is virtually impossible to “fake” this award and even the best application writer will be exposed should they claim achievements that cannot be backed up. Yet, all of this effort takes considerable time both from applicants and judges.  The great majority of time is donated by the judges, but not all of them can shoulder 100% of the airfare and hotel expenses. There is also considerable time and expense in managing the entire NHQA process.

The only way this works, is for builders to apply for the reward, and for the continued support of key industry suppliers. And how can we not support it? In these times, more than ever we need to recognize those builders who have continued to fight the good fight. They press on in their efforts for improvement in product and process knowing that this is the route to not just surviving, but thriving during the recession. As one friend put it to me on the phone last week, “It wasn’t long ago our industry was rated below used-car dealers on the consumer trust scale. We have to keep pushing forward to lift our industry in the eyes of the consumer.” The NHQA is perhaps our best vehicle for doing that.

Having said all of that, applications are down this year. Are we willing to let a nearly 20-year tradition of recognizing excellence in homebuilding die? What would be the consequences? So let’s begin a discussion. Whether you agree with me or not that the NHQA plays a vital role in our industry, go to www.LinkedIn.com and if you have not already, join our Lean Building Group. You will find this blog also posted there and let us know what you think.  The National Housing Quality Award – grow or die?


written by

Scott Sedam


Scott Sedam, president of TrueNorth Development (www.truen.com), spends most of his time working in the trenches with builders, suppliers and trade contractors. His Lean Builder blog appears weekly at HousingZone.com. He welcomes your feedback at scott@truen.com.

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