TrueNorth Development
President

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.

10 steps to mastering field quality – A positive indicator for a recovering industry

The 5th article in my series on Quality Management was just published by Professional Builder Magazine and appears concurrently on www.HousingZone.com. It is titled “10 Steps to Mastering Field Quality” and at the end of the piece I offered a PDF with all 5 of the articles in a single document. I have since been deluged with more than 30 requests sitting in my mailbox just this morning. In my 15 years writing monthly for the building industry, this is the most requested article or series I have ever done with more than 100 requests to date. I think it means something beyond the usual thrill of reading my pithy observations and marveling at my ability to aggravate people in all corners of the homebuilding world (especially the AIA.)

Until this year, residential construction was down and substantially so each year since 2007 – in some markets since 2006. Something north of half of all builders folded and a similar percentage of suppliers and trades followed them down. Although sales have softened a bit this summer in some markets following the frenetic pace of last spring, most of our clients are up 20% - 50%, with a few up 80% - 100%.

Many trades have left the industry and labor shortages are cropping up in some locations. This means that there are fewer experienced trades to build our homes and many now coming into the industry are less qualified than previous workers.

Aggravating this condition, countless senior field staff left or took early retirement during the housing bust and builders are highly reluctant to hiring new people, preferring to work their current staff overtime (paid or not.)  Those that do hire are not yet willing to spend money to train new people. (We know this as TrueNorth was easily the largest firm doing homebuilding training with more than 10,000 students in our classes in 2005. The traditional training business today is virtually nonexistent.)

The net result is a huge concern about quality and hence the demand for the Quality Management Series. The requests have come from every size and type of builder from small locals to nationals and from every position from field superintendent to CEO.  Requests have also come from supplier & trade contractors and even a few from architects and engineers. What does it tell us? Something has changed.

There were those years that the only thing that mattered was short term survivability – and that was understandable. When so many builders did not even know if they would be in the game in 6 months, it was hard to put much attention on quality. Bid price was the only thing that mattered for both labor and material, customer service reps went away as field superintendents took on that additional role as many builders abandoned their customer satisfaction measurement efforts and hoped for the best. I am happy to say there were those builders who held the line, but I am not overly critical of those who simply had to put all of their efforts into short-term financial survival. What industry in America ever dropped more than 80%? This was new and frightening territory.

Sales are up, cash flow is up, most of the bad land is history and builders are figuring out how to do more with less, leading to increased margins. Builders can finally breathe again, and with each breath they seem to be caring more about quality. In 1979 Phil Crosby penned the term “Quality is Free” although Drs. Deming and Juran had been preaching that decades before.  They were – and still are – right. Quality is better than free if you learn how to apply Lean methodology to the process of building your quality systems. I am encouraged by this trend and I expect it to continue.

If you too want to get back into this game, here is the link to the latest article in PB:  http://www.housingzone.com/business-management/10-steps-mastering-field-....)

For a copy of the 5-article Quality Management Series in a single PDF, email your request to me at scott@truen.com, put Quality Management Series in the subject line and please give me a sentence or two about who you are and why this is important to you.

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