Quality Management Key to Prospering in a Slow Market
Builders struggling to find areas in which they can change their business operations in order to thrive in today’s housing slowdown should learn at least five effective lessons, all of which can be demonstrated by adopting a quality management system, according to Quality Matters, the official newsletter of the NAHB Research Center's National Housing Quality (NHQ) Program:
- Stand out from the crowd. Builders need to differentiate themselves from the competition. In the current market, methods that focus on price, quality and value stand out most to buyers, according to Quality Matters. “If you have a quality management system (QMS) in place for your company, especially one that is supported by an independent third-party certification like the National Housing Quality (NHQ) Program, then you have a marketable benefit that can be used to influence customers and demonstrate your commitment to quality.”
- Keep it simple. To be effective, any program to manage quality must be simple to understand and implement. “The home building environment is already overflowing with complex components and requirements — an additional roadblock to success is not needed. Whether you implement a program like NHQ, or simply modify your existing quality management plan, process improvements are as simple as: plan, do, check, act — the basic components of any effective QMS.”
- Learn from the past. The focus should be on prevention rather than the cure. “It’s frustrating to see the same mistakes being made time and again on job sites. How is it that we rarely have the time to do it right the first time, but we always have the time to do it over. There is wisdom in the statement, ‘it’s always cheaper to do it right the first time!’
“Develop a process for identifying your top 10 ‘problem areas’ — the ones that are creating the highest service costs to you; or causing the greatest amount of customer dissatisfaction. NHQ refers to these as ‘hot spots.’ Take each, one at a time; drill down to the root cause of the problem and develop a new process to eliminate the cause. Work on identifying and resolving one hot spot per month. Think of it — over the course of a year you will have driven 10 of your most frustrating problems out of your operations, increasing productivity and your margins as well."
- Stay on track. Builders should first decide what is really important to their business, and then track it. “It has often been said, ‘what gets measured, improves; and what gets measured and reported, improves dramatically.’ So establish the metrics that make your business successful and develop a method for capturing, analyzing and reporting that information. Establish the benchmark for each metric that indicates success so you will have a clear understanding of when it has been missed. When needed, be prepared to take swift and immediate corrective action.”
- Plan to succeed. Finally, builders should always have a plan to improve their business. “According to J.D. Power and Associates, if you are doing what you did yesterday — you are going backwards. Because of the power of the Internet among other things, the home construction business has changed forever. Customers are arriving at job sites armed with more information about how homes are constructed — or should be constructed — than ever before, and often know more than the builder. That must change, and to prevent it, builders must stay one step ahead of the customer — always. A builder should be viewed as an expert and a trusted source of information on the construction of a buyer’s new home."
“Survey your customers and survey your trade partners to gain an accurate understanding of what their expectations are. Go back to some of the basics you used earlier in your business to improve quality and build relationships with customers. By doing this consistently, you will gain the knowledge necessary to take next steps in the right direction.”