Quality Construction: A Celebration of Workmanship
Why is a zero-punch project so elusive? STO Building Group Executive Chairman, Jim Donaghy, discusses the ins and outs of delivering a top-quality project with a BCCI Construction team that recently completed a zero-punch move-in on a 111,000 sf headquarters: BCCI Studio Director & Quality Manager, Lisa Dunmeyer, BCCI Field Operations Manager, Matt Ludwig, and Principal with AP+I Design, Meera Agrawal.
Jim Donaghy: Hello and welcome to the Building Conversations podcast. I’m Jim Donaghy, Executive Chairman of the STO Building Group. I’m joined today by a few members of our California-based team: BCCI Construction’s Studio Director and Quality Manager, Lisa Dunmeyer, and BCCI Field Operations Manager, Matt Ludwig. Also joining us is BCCI design partner, Meera Agrawal, a Principal with AP+I Design. Lisa, Matt and Meera recently delivered a zero-punch project for a technology client in Mountain View, California. Today, we’re discussing BCCI’s approach to quality and how their process played out on that job. So, first I’d like to get started by getting some introductions out of the way. Can you all tell us a little bit about yourselves and how you were involved in that recent project? And we’ll start with Lisa, then Matt, and then Meera.
Lisa Dunmeyer: Thank you, Jim. Again, my name is Lisa Dunmeyer and I’m the Studio Director in BCCI’s San Francisco office, really focusing on directing the quality control staff, recruitment and training programs, and obviously the execution of quality assurance and QC on all of our projects in Northern San Francisco. I joined BCCI in 2017 and specific to the project we’re talking about today, worked closely with Matt Ludwig and my colleague, Matt Cabral in the Mountain View office who was working closely with Matt in the field on all of the quality issues.
Matt Ludwig: I’m Matt Ludwig, Field Operations Manager at BCCI. I’ve been in the construction industry for over 21 years, at BCCI for almost eight. And I was the superintendent on the project.
Meera Agrawal: Well, my name is Meera Agrawal. I’m a Principal at AP+I Design, an architecture and interior design firm in Mountain View. And for this specific project, I was the project manager from beginning to end.
Donaghy: So why don’t we get right into the podcast here, the meat and potatoes. Can you describe BCCI’s approach to quality who owns the process and what’s the goal?
Ludwig: I would say the focus on quality is a combination between safety and quality because you really can’t have one without the other. I’ve experienced that everybody on the project team really takes quality and safety seriously. Everyone takes ownership. So anytime anything gets priced by a PM, they’re always asking, okay, are we going to need any money for our safety team to do any inspections, any safety provisions in place. We want to make sure that they go hand in hand. One of the big things that I think has helped with our quality is we have our superintendents actively giving our estimators feedback to include items in subcontractor scope letters to make sure they meet our quality and safety standards. For example, depending on the site, there might not be any lay down areas. So, we will include that we have on-time deliveries, so we don’t have excess material in our way that we’re trying to dance around unsafely. That way it gives people enough elbow room to perform their work. Tegular ceiling tiles is one that I added to my scope letters – if they need to be cut and painted that they’re done with table saws and painted if they’re visible. So just a couple of examples of ways we use our best practices to ensure the quality and safety.
Dunmeyer: Really, it is an incredibly collaborative process. BCCI’s approach to quality is really simple. It’s to meet the highest quality standards in the industry and then surpass them and to do that, there’s a lot of collaboration. Everybody takes part and through the quality process at BCCI, we’re able to grow and mentor a lot of our future leaders. Many of us, myself and Matt included joined BCCI as quality control coordinators and it really builds an extremely strong foundation of quality.
Donaghy: Great. Thanks, Lisa. How does this approach differ from the way other contractors handle quality control and why does BCCI do it this way? Let’s start with Matt on that. And then we’ll, again, go to Lisa.
Ludwig: As a former subcontractor for BCCI who has worked with several other GCs, I’ve never seen a whole team of people assembled onto a jobsite, combing it from floor to ceiling looking for quality deficiencies and interacting with the site foreman, reaching out to PMs to rectify any issues that are found. BCCI’s developed a unique program around quality control, and it acts as a development tool for our quality control coordinators to become excellent superintendents.
Dunmeyer: You know, I think in the industry, the traditional assumption of quality control is that it’s focused on documenting the field conditions pretty late in the construction process. And the truth is the quality starts at the very beginning with the inception of the team, the early conversations with the client, and it’s very much more than just the documentation. Clearly, documenting where you’re at and tracking progress is very important, but it’s also about the accuracy and the access to that information for the whole team to work together, to find solutions all the way along from the scope letters to the early budgeting, the preliminary schedules all the way through to that finished architect walk, where we really try and have zero defects.
Donaghy: Terrific. From your perspective, what are some typical pinch points and causes of quality issues in construction?
Dunmeyer: I think first and foremost, a good pinch point to talk about is just who’s on the team and that consistency of leadership and planning for people’s vacations, making sure that we have coverage in case somebody’s sick. You know, people are living their lives. We’re not just on construction 24/7 and making sure that everybody’s really clear on who’s on the team and what are our contingency plans to support each other during absences. So, getting that built in from the beginning is critical. Obviously, procurement and materials is huge from understanding whether there’s an option that has a really long, problematic lead time or perhaps another material that could still meet the design intent that does not have a strong lead time for. So, getting on top of procurement tracking the submittal logs, and again, communicating as accurately and seamlessly with the entire team is keeping that going and avoiding that pinch point. It really is about building a very strong relationship with the client and then open partnerships so that when there are pinch points that are potential risks to the project, the whole team can speak openly to those pinch points and really try and find the best solution as early on as possible. And those are three key pinch points: relationship building, team building, and the procurement and selection of materials.
Ludwig: I would say from the field side of things is due diligence, understanding the drawings, identifying any potential limitations due to existing conditions is huge. I always tell everybody – my little quote or words of advice is that quality starts with layout. So not just looking at your MEP and your frame lines on the ground, but really get in there, lay out our finish lines as well as frame lines, get an idea of where things are landing inside and outside of rooms. From there, you can build the project kind of more multi-dimensional. Communication and daily morning huddles is a big thing that I do on my projects with all the trade foremen, understanding what their scope is for the day, where they’re going to be working, having everybody in one area to understand if anyone has any constraints, one trade to another. So just planning ahead, because if you’re not planning ahead, you’re not planning for quality.
Donaghy: Terrific. Matt, Lisa, I appreciate your construction perspective on this, but I’d love to hear our design partner Meera’s perspective on kind of a bigger picture view on zero punch. Meera, why is zero punch so elusive in the AEC industry?
Agrawal: They’re very few and far between as far as my experience goes. To achieve this, you really need to have a couple of things. One, I think Matt had talked about this, but within his own team is open communication between all parties: the client, the architectural design partner, the GC, the subcontractors, MEP team. Understanding the design intent. You know, what is a priority versus something that can be modified or let go based on certain field conditions. And how you work together to resolve issues. It’s huge to be able to work well as a team and to be on the same page. Not all projects perfect these things, and if any one of them is not there, the project outcome is affected.
Donaghy: That’s terrific. Thank you, Meera. Just to switch gears a little bit, Matt, can you explain how BCCI’s quality program is put into action on-site and how does it help field teams manage unforeseen challenges?
Ludwig: Yeah, absolutely. How and when kind of depends on the size and scale of each individual project. Generally, our quality control coordinators come into the project two to three weeks prior to the architectural punch walk to identify any quality issues, generate that list, send it out to all the project managers and foremen on-site. On this particular project that we worked on, we did not have permanent power from Pacific Gas & Electric, which added quite a bit of extra challenges to the project. So, for this particular project, we had them come in about little over a month early, comb the jobsite, looking for any issues with a battery powered flood lamp. But what this process really does is it takes the pressure off the superintendent, who’s worried about getting their finals, talking with a lot of the client subcontractors, and it gives the subs another person to go to to correct these issues. So, it really assists the superintendent while they’re trying to focus on completing the project.
Donaghy: Thanks Matt. Back to Meera. Meera, having just completed a project with BCCI, how does the BCCI quality program impact you and your team as a design partner?
Agrawal: Well, I have to say it was really nice to work with a contractor with the same focus on QA/QC as we do for our drawings. There are a lot of things going on in the background during the entire project along the way in terms of quality control, but our team generally doesn’t see BCCI’s program in action until the end of the project during the punch walk. BCCI creates a pre-generated list of items to be completed or fixed, which they’re already working on or in progress of assigning someone to work on before we even get there for the final punch. This shows foresight and initiative. And, you know, by the time we get to the punch walk where the client is involved, it really makes the entire project team look good as far as the end result and the quality that’s being delivered.
Donaghy: That’s great, thanks Meera. Back to Matt. Matt, what about the subcontractors? How do you gain buy in from them?
Ludwig: Well, our subcontractors are really trade partners. We all have to be a team because one person can’t do it alone. Creating an environment is what I try to do to make people feel heard. So, I allow subcontractor foremen to speak up at safety meetings. Once again, back to our daily morning huddles, identifying those constraints and making the individuals feel supported and allowing them to talk together. Kind of creating that environment makes it easier for people to be more willing to work with you than against you. Back to scope letters, they are contractually obligated to complete the pre-punch items. So, including that in those scope letters, again, in the contract also helps. We discuss it at our subcontractor coordination meetings, our QC team, when they come on-site, actually have separate on-site meetings with the foremen, tracking all these items. So, kind of keeping them honest, keeping them on their toes, and making sure that these items are getting closed out prior to the architectural punch walk. So, it’s a combination of things. I like to think it’s the environment in combination with our quality control coordinators on-site.
Donaghy: Thanks, Matt. How important is subcontractor prequalification and the teammates that you have in the office that have to do with everything from safety to payment and quality of the bid process and things that are not necessarily always in front of the superintendents. You know, how important is ultimately the prequalification process at BCCI to your quality control program out in the field?
Ludwig: Oh, it is of utmost importance. Luckily BCCI is very transparent. They send out who is prequalified, they have their EMR rates posted, but I would say most importantly is during pre-construction the superintendent who’s poised for that job actually gets to talk with the estimators and give their two cents on who they would like to see for this job. And a lot of times it comes down to numbers, but it also comes down to the right sub for the job. So, it’s nice to have such a collaborative environment when selecting our subcontractors.
Donaghy: Thanks, Matt. Lisa, so what tools do you use to make sure quality never lapses and how do they fit into the process?
Dunmeyer: Scope letters come up quite a bit, but it’s again, really more of a buildup of culture and these are just tools along the way that you use. The creation of the team who you are going to be working with, what needs to be in their scope letters is standard. So, at BCCI our quality control process is formalized. And our subcontractors not only understand that about our program, but are really truly partners in trying to minimize any items that are quality item leading up towards the architect work. But even before we’re on-site, getting ahead of it and completing preconstruction surveys, communicating existing conditions to the client so that they understand that it may be an area that they didn’t have in their scope, but that will ultimately affect the outcome of what they do intend to do in this space. So, preconstruction surveys are absolutely critical to setting an expectation for quality. The permit services and getting ahead of understanding what are the current delays and communicating back to the architect and the client team so that our construction schedules are realistic and that we can plan accordingly and preliminary construction schedules that are informing the budget are related to that permit services.
And once we’ve settled on a budget and we’re a go, the project kickoff with all of the team members, the project manager, the estimator, the superintendent, and the subcontractor labor foremen to review that preliminary construction schedule really get started very quickly on the submittals, the submittal logs, seeing if we’re running into any roadblocks with lead times. And another physical piece that we tend to do on the larger projects is seeing if there’s an opportunity for mock-ups. And this could be anything from an area of room that uses a grouping of finishes that are really standard and completing that area ahead of time to set up the opportunity to walk with the architect and see if that mock-up is meeting the highest quality standards. From there, the mock-up sets the tone for the quality for the rest of the space, and it serves as a physical example, so that if your labor foreman from one site needs to leave and another personnel comes on board, they understand what they’re aiming for. So, the mock-ups are critical. And the weekly subcontractor meetings, the pre-punch reports, the closeouts, and just the general comradery that builds as you’re working towards the completion of the project.
Donaghy: Thanks, Lisa. And back to Meera. Meera, how does focusing on quality make a difference to the client?
Agrawal: Well, Jim, the best part of the job is seeing your client’s positive reaction to the space you’ve created for them. I think this is why we all do what we do. Working as a team to get a positive outcome enhances the experience and the telltale sign if the client is happy is if they would recommend us and our team moving forward.
Donaghy: So true, you’re only as good as your last job. I’ve been hearing that my whole life. Matt, your input on that and then Lisa, please comment as well.
Ludwig: Absolutely. Very much agree with what Meera said. Quality is just not the finished product that the office space or the lab area or the building that the people are walking into every day. It’s the entire experience throughout the life of the project for the client and the architect. And having the entire project team being quality-focused really provides a positive experience for both the design team and the client. And with the quality control program that BCCI has, it really takes out the headaches and streamlines the process.
Dunmeyer: I think to build on what on your end, Matt, were saying is that we’re in business. We’re in the construction business and it lends itself well to transactions, lots of paperwork, but at BCCI the GC, client, and architect relationships are far, far more than transactional. And I think the success really stems from the relationship that’s collaborative, it’s built on trust, and it extends well past the delivery of the project. Many of our clients have worked with BCCR for over 20 years and every client knows that they can pick up the phone and ask us any question. And it doesn’t matter if it is a very small detail. We really celebrate the workmanship that goes into each one of our projects. And it shows in the quality of the teams that get a chance to work together.
Donaghy: Thanks, Lisa. I’d also like to add just when it comes to the client. My experience has been over many years is they remember the last 5% more than they remember the first 95%. So, knowing that you’ve got to finish strong is really something you work towards throughout the entire project and to leave the client team, the whole team with the impression that we were there as a partner from beginning to end and not as a contractor is another reason why they ask for you back. Because people like to give work to people that they like. And sometimes, it’s just that simple. And they like folks who added value throughout the process and had their back and things of that nature. And you know, the other thing all team members tend to remember is that you resolve issues early, or you don’t. And it’s night and day when a project has a team that resolves and addresses issues, identifies issues, addresses them and resolves them early, versus letting them build up, having activity slide to the right, and then there’s a mad rush at the end. And it goes back to that last 5% factor. So, resolving issues early, that’s just my two cents on the same question. So next question, how will technology and data analytics continue to improve the QA/QC process and project outcomes?
Agrawal: So, Jim, you were just talking about resolving issues early in the process. For us, I’d say software compatibility and using Revit, for example, is extremely beneficial. This works best when the entire team, including the MEP, is also using Revit, because what this does is it creates a coordinated set of drawings, from the beginning to avoid conflicts early in the process prior to construction. Now, I think we’ve all worked on enough projects to know that it’s totally impossible to avoid all conflicts because you get on-site, you open something up and then there’s something there that you just didn’t know was there, right? But when we’re working off of the same software, this makes it extremely easy to collaborate and resolve issues as a team. And that is sort of the biggest factor as far as the technology side is being completely compatible and using the same software that speak to each other.
Dunmeyer: Yeah. I really think that ideally technology and data analytics promise to improve the communication and the efficiency of the team, in an ideal world. And certainly, as projects become more complex, the collaboration between all of the different players is key, not to mention the access to the most current information is critical 24/7 as we work around the globe. And it’s been interesting to see that it’s not always the newest or hottest technology that becomes the most effective. I think I’ve been seeing more and more that use of QR codes, which is a relatively old technology, have a huge impact on jobsites so that any team member can walk up to a room with a QR code, scan it, and immediately see what are the active quality items for that area. And that’s tremendous. They don’t need to check in with the superintendent. They don’t need to check in with the quality control coordinator. They certainly can, and they probably are, but that QR code really helps everybody access the information in a timely way and really helped to integrate the teams, to find the solutions faster. And I agree with what Meera was saying about BIM, and many other technologies, whether it’s scheduling or project management or construction tools.
Ludwig: As I mentioned earlier, if you’re not planning ahead, you’re not planning for quality and there’s technologies coming out that tremendously help planning ahead. BIM is a great technology, understanding that not every project has the budget for it, but there are things like OpenSpace and Matterport that are cameras that scan the space. So, they’re extremely beneficial during pre-con surveys to help understand the environment you’re working in. Matterport, you can pull dimensions off of, you can also verify your BIM modeling using that tool as well. But like Meera was saying, working on the same software helps our subcontractors as well. When we’re all working off the same platform, it’s so much easier to overlay coordinated shop drawings, or even incorporate things into models.
Donaghy: Great comments. And this is a topic that’s near and dear to my heart as we undertake a massive data transformation project and hiring data scientists in our company and things of that nature, which are going to really transform the way we use analytics and gain insights, but in the very near future, creating a subcontractor portal where we can really interact together, sharing data, instead of looking for data or requesting data, having data in a real-time basis and garnering those insights, so we can really understand the way a project should be man unloading. And then seeing actual against that, to understand how a project may becoming manpower deficient, which might then change the necessity to turned around decisions faster and etc. You can really get out in front of some of the challenges on a project. Sometimes project issues build up slowly and all of a sudden there’s a mountain in front of you and you didn’t really see it happen, right?
But analytics really makes catching the modeling early. And I think I heard a couple of you say the word modeling, and I think we’re going to get a chance to use a lot of our historical experiences all the way down to activity levels when it comes to productivity and schedule and costs in a way that in the future, we can really see these issues early and catch them early and resolve them early. Also provide much more detail and backup to clients and client team members to help them make decisions. One of the biggest challenges we see across the industry, it’s not unique to our organization, is the speed to which clients are making decisions. And you usually can go back to the data that they’ve been given to help them make decisions, so I think we’re going to really see a lot of enhancements and improvements.
You can’t, you know, the old saying, is you can’t manage it if you don’t measure it. So, imagine what we’re going to be able to do when we’re using this treasure trove of data we have in our industry to measure. I think you’re going to see a lot of productivity enhancements, not to mention catching lots of issues in the very early stages. So next onto the next question. STO Building Group has its own organization-wide quality program known as Quality 360°. Why is it important that we invest in building and maintaining our culture of quality? Let’s start with Lisa on that. And then I might add a couple of comments myself there.
Dunmeyer: Yeah. Thank you. It seems simple that we all want quality and the way we approach it is really vast. And what is exciting about Quality 360° as an investment is that the benefits of a culture in quality have economic, humanitarian, and environmental benefits. It’s a very broad benefit. It’s a no brainer, quality drives business demand. It’s an obvious economic benefit, but it’s also an issue of the team, right? Quality is an outcome of workmanship and it can attract top talent who want to be part of teams that define, meet, and surpass the industry standards and be an innovator, not just a delivery the mechanism for construction, but really being able to define what’s possible in construction and maintain that highest level of quality that drives people to want to work for the company. It’s also a cultural benefit from a human resources point of view because it’s much easier when people want to work for you. And it goes hand in hand with efficiency. If you have top notch talent, excited to deliver on quality and define what that means for the industry, it has a huge impact on efficiency, whether that’s construction waste management, energy use, and ultimately the long-term impacts of the construction on the planet. So, it’s a big deal. There’s many, many reasons why investing in quality is so important.
Donaghy: Well, I can’t add much to that. That was a great response. What I would like to add is just as an organization grows and any good construction management firm will continue to grow, you had said it best quality does drive demand. And that repeat customer experience that we look for is really key to our growth and our sustainability in the future. But as an organization like Structure Tone, being a private company which is maintaining the brands that have merged in over the years, it’s really key that we do have some common ground across the platform where everyone is kind of bought into the same concepts and ideas of what quality means, whether it’s our lingo or it’s our training programs, or it’s our software platforms. Not that we’re the same software in every region or every sector, but that there’s a lot of consistency and that the expectations are kind of understood that we’ve got a very high bar for quality, not just internal to our organization, but also external, down through the subcontractor levels and out to the suppliers and manufacturers and across the industry with the architects, engineers, landlords, and our clients as well.
And there’s a real synergy there and consistency that you can depend on and that consistency comes from the culture. So, giving it a name like Quality 360° is kind of simplifying this very complex effort to strengthen what is so important to our core business. Delivering quality, on time and on budget but the quality piece is the trickier component of the three, in my opinion. So, lots more to discuss on that for another day, but what’s next for construction quality?
Ludwig: I think as far as what’s next is technology. I think keeping up with technology, whether those are tools that are used by project managers or superintendents in the field is what’s going to improve our quality experience and the finished product overall.
Dunmeyer: I definitely think that technology allows for more complex construction and it’s a blend between physical construction and how integrated technology is in our buildings and everything that we do. Not to mention the working tools that we use to achieve the construction. I really think that the way that we use technology to collaborate, to problem solve on those more complicated issues around construction is really where things are headed and being able to achieve the highest standards of LEED, WELL certification and lean construction, I think are all definitely empowered by the new technologies coming for construction industry.
Donaghy: Meera, we’ll give you the last word on that, but I’m also going to make a remark or two on this one because the future of our industry excites me more now than ever before, but Meera, please give us the design view of this.
Agrawal: Sure, it is an exciting time, you know, I think I’m going to basically add on to what Lisa and Matt were saying. Compatible technology is definitely top of the list, but for construction quality, I’m going to also say for the entire project experience, I would say clear and open communication is key. Compatible technology, creating efficiencies and a team synergy. I think those are definitely key factors in the outcome of the quality and the experience for everybody involved.
Donaghy: Thank you, Meera. So, my take on the future and we’ve covered some of the ground, it’s really technology driven, but I heard Lisa say the word collaboration. A construction management firm like ours being able to go upstream and collaborate in a much, much more meaningful way where we can build structures, improving means and methods upstream in advance of the construction documents, in advance of the bid documents and incorporating bringing subcontractors and suppliers upstream with us, and using these new virtual design tools and thinking about where 5D and 4D BIM is going to bring us. You know, it’s exciting to think about the supply chain, no longer being that secret world behind the curtain, but actually pulling the curtain back and creating much more transparency upstream in the planning stages and how that’s going to create value for our design partners and for our clients.
And thinking about the ongoing operations after construction is complete and how that also adds value, where we can stay on board for day three – we all have day two, but how about day three? Why do we ever leave the property? Why not use technology and with our supply chain in a much more transparent way, join us in staying on board and providing the maintenance required and the upkeep required for many, many more years, certainly the life of the lease or the length of the building lifecycle itself. And then there’s also machine learning and artificial intelligence and modular construction, and these other ways of delivery and creating insights and value throughout the construction process itself. And we definitely see the traditional design, bid, build process becoming viewed as kind of antiquated and melding those together and finding savings in time and joining forces, thinking of the world around us as more of an opportunity to partner as kind of all comes out of the idea that data becomes much more insightful to us.
And the supply chain becomes much more transparent. I think the barriers drop when we go upstream and collaborate on the design side. We’re really partnering together and I think creating more value for the clients. So that’s some other ideas I have for the direction our industry is heading and where we’re heading in it. So that wraps up all of our questions for today’s podcast. I can’t wait to do another one of these with BCCI. As a company, BCCI is leading the way for quality in the STO Building Group so, thank you, Lisa and Meera and Matt for your time today. We’ll see you again soon.
Ludwig: Thank you, Jim.
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