Quality Control and Management in Power Industry Capital Projects

Owners must manage capital projects well to keep costs under control and ensure a high-quality product is delivered on time. Good communication, sound procedures and processes, and high-tech tools can help jobs go smoothly.

For a capital project in the power industry to meet quality goals, it must fulfill its intended purpose, be executed safely, and meet budget and schedule requirements. If quality benchmarks are not met, the project will not be a success.

But quality doesn’t just happen—it must be intentional. Quality control and quality management are essential aspects of the project execution plan.

Quality is closely tied to reliability, and in recent years the concept of the “say-do” ratio has been used to quantify reliability. Inc. magazine defines the say-do ratio as: “The ratio of things you say to the things you follow through on and do.” In a perfect world, your say-do ratio is 1:1, meaning you have done everything that you said you would do. Despite good intentions, however, complex processes and deliverables—such as those inherent to power plant construction or retrofits—can make follow-through a challenge.

Power Plant Construction Project Quality Management

To achieve high quality, construction companies must create and maintain a quality management system (QMS) that identifies both internal and external risk. An effective QMS requires documentation, an auditing process, and continual improvement of the system. Having a QMS is especially critical in the ever-changing construction environment.

Foundational needs, such as proper facilities and equipment, as well as employee training programs, must be put in place first. These support optimal processes and procedures. For example, early planning processes must be adapted for each specific project.

In establishing documentation, each company must determine its own process and procedural needs. It is generally beneficial to create documentation in the form of:

    ■ Fully stated policies and procedures.
    ■ A defined scope of the QMS.
    ■ A process map or flowchart.
    ■ Checklists of audit requirements.
    ■ Defined objectives.
    ■ Work instructions.

After the documentation phase, the key to success is ongoing measurement, recordkeeping, and commitment from management. These steps help a company meet its quality goals. They also assist in identifying ways to improve in areas where the company may be falling short—a fundamental aspect of the QMS. The end goal should be continuous improvement of all production processes.

Engaging the Team

Communication, training, and frequent engagement are the necessary ingredients for keeping the project teams engaged (Figure 1). And while many construction companies understand the importance of initial communication and training, it is often the recurring touchpoints that provide the most benefit in terms of ensuring the company’s quality approach is understood and achieved.

1. Good communication is key to high-quality outcomes and successful projects. Well-structured organizations conduct productive meetings that keep all team members engaged and aligned. Courtesy: Graycor

Training for new hires is critical—but keeping seasoned employees up to speed is just as important and this involves ongoing effort. Companies should remain diligent with annual training, and project-specific process and quality training. Employees need to fully understand their roles and responsibilities, including specific guidance on how their tasks relate to overall project activities and the scope of work. It is only when individuals fully understand what is expected, and how their role supports and interacts with other positions, that a team can have a focused momentum with one common goal.

Having a formalized routine, even for small-scale items, ensures that quality stays top-of-mind. For example, a company can issue a regular monthly message that focuses on one specific process or activity, such as document management, material receipt, or punch lists, to name a few. A company’s process and procedural goals and expectations should be explicit, with documentation indicating what tasks need to be performed; when, where, and how those tasks need to be performed; and who will perform them. All documentation should be user-friendly and easily accessible.

Alignment Among All Stakeholders

Construction companies can best align with client needs and expectations by developing a teamwide understanding of the contract documents (such as specifications, codes, and drawings). Quality should be initially addressed during a project’s proposal phase, identifying and clarifying ambiguous contractual language where it may be difficult or costly to achieve compliance. The proposal phase is also the time in which to identify elevated quality requirements. When a thorough initial review is conducted, it can be used to support the project team’s understanding of client expectations and deliverables.

Because this upfront, early planning phase is so important, industrial construction companies should have a formalized system of engagement with each project team. Throughout the project timeline, regular meetings with clients, along with open lines of communication, should be used to manage day-to-day issues. At the end of a project, customer satisfaction surveys help a company learn from its performance.

Goal alignment among all team members is one of the most essential pieces of the puzzle. Aligned goals allow individual team members to work toward, and achieve, common project outcomes. Power owners, contractors, and other stakeholders must work together to clearly define roles and responsibilities. Doing so ensures they will avoid issues, collaborate productively, and share risk.

The Construction Industry Institute (CII) has long provided a useful tool that enables owners and contractors to clearly define roles and responsibilities. Known as the Owner-Contractor Work Structure (OCWS), it provides owners with “a decision-making process to identify project competencies, determine whether these competencies are core or non-core to the owner, and decide upon the most effective approach to outsourcing different project competencies.” An updated and simplified version of the OCWS, the Core Competency Toolkit, was issued in 2005. The Core Competency Toolkit provides a practical framework for allocating various project activities among contractors. It also guides hiring and outsourcing decisions.

In addition to the complexity of power construction projects, CII cites another industry change that has driven the need for greater collaboration among all stakeholders: “Owner companies are increasingly shifting project responsibilities to contractors, which may result in inadequate staffing to develop and execute capital projects.” With more decision-makers involved in any given project, there’s an increased risk of gaps or duplication of effort. Fortunately, current technologies and strategies can help address the increased risk.


To remain nimble and competitive, every construction company must continuously look for ways to maintain optimal efficiency. Quality control is a key area where technology can impact project outcomes. A severe skilled labor shortage has challenged quality in the construction industry and makes efficiencies, whether achieved using automation, prefabrication, modularization, or another method, even more of a priority.

Antiquated means and methods are particularly ripe for disruption, especially those associated with mechanical work and advanced welding applications. Efficiencies can be gained when a company develops formal quality programs, improves its processes, invests in new equipment, or phases projects so that portions are eligible for progressive turnover of assets (which not only alleviates bottlenecks associated with construction resources, but eases the schedule for the operations teams’ testing and commissioning).

An example is improving welding processes by using semi-automatic or mechanized equipment that can decrease the amount of time a welder spends “under the hood.” The time saved improves all upstream and downstream activities associated with welding, such as material preparation and staging, pipe fit-up, weather protection, and fitter-to-welder ratio, among other things.

Another example is reducing redundancy—and improving accuracy—by supporting progressive turnover with the use of tablets. Logs used via tablet interface can capture quality verification inspections (such as material receipt inspections, requests for information, nonconformances, and general inspections) and replace individual forms (Figure 2).

2. Paper documents are, and will continue to be, important on most projects, but incorporating new technology using tablets and other mobile devices can allow capturing information, and making it available to decision-makers and other stakeholders, in a more-timely manner. Courtesy: Graycor

Additionally, having a workflow that involves clients early in the process will simplify turnover. When the client is involved during the install phase, acceptance inspections can occur as installations are carried out instead of waiting until the work has been completed. This can result in dramatic benefits including the avoidance of client inspection points being missed. Furthermore, when the client is involved as the installation unfolds, it fosters inherent confidence and trust. The end result is a more seamless process.

Quality Checkpoints

Regularly scheduled “health” assessments of implemented processes (such as document control, materials management, and construction work package execution) by site quality personnel will verify that processes are working as intended. In addition to these focused assessments, personnel should conduct broad-based health assessments of the implemented processes as they relate to the applicable scope of work. These assessments should identify programmatic non-compliance as well as process effectiveness against critical processes, leading indicators, pre-planning initiatives, best practices, and technical requirements.

Many companies track only lagging indicators, such as volumetric reject rate and nonconformances. However, tracking leading indicators (such as assessment and audit compliance) provides a vehicle for course correcting in a timely manner, thereby avoiding programmatic, product, and specification noncompliance.

Product turnover is another area that can experience quality pitfalls. Contract agreements regarding turnover, including content and format, may not always accurately reflect what the customer wants. Resolving this situation quickly can eliminate redundancy in quality verification documentation, such as inspection and test reports, certificates of compliance, requests for information, nonconformances, and general inspections. It also leads to a turnover process that is more productive overall.

Successful quality management has benefits beyond successful project delivery. It can reduce risk, eliminate waste, and make employees feel engaged and valued. Most important, quality outcomes are what define a say-do company, proving the firm’s reliability and differentiating it in the marketplace.

Shawn Buchanan is vice president – general manager with Graycor Southern.

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