In any industry or company, the poor actions of a few can overshadow the good work of the majority. To combat this in the construction industry requires consistency, dedication and a commitment to getting the job done right the first time.
Just take it from McGann Construction and Trunnell Electric, two contractors that have built a reputation for consistently producing high-quality work. They’ve created a culture of quality that helps maintain positive relationships with their communities, produce work that exceeds expectations and implement high standards of completing tasks to the best of their abilities—each and every time. They might not always be the lowest bidder, but both contractors have earned a name for themselves that results in repeat business and profitable client recommendations.
Making a Statement
Trunnell Electric, based in Rockville, Md., is a second generation family-owned firm that has been in business for 80 years. Co owner Jack Trunnell says the company’s culture of quality has been integral to the firm’s success since the beginning.
“We learned integrity is key to sustaining business and relationships with clients,” Trunnell says. “It means that if you commit yourself to something, you follow through.”
That way of thinking has become a distinguishing trait for Trunnell Electric, and contractors have noticed. “When contractors have a complicated or fast-track job—or one with a lot of constraints—they know we can perform to the quality standards they demand,” Trunnell says.
To keep projects running on time, Trunnell Electric acts quickly when it comes to inspections. Three Trunnell family members are on staff with master electrical licenses, which helps the company adhere to the complex world of electrical code.
“Interpretation of code sometimes is a judgement call,” Trunnell says. “If our interpretation of code is a little different than an inspector’s, it’s key to be flexible. We have a great relationship with inspectors in our community because we are able to respond quickly.”
Getting the job done without major time delays also means collaborating with the general contractor and architect on design documents. “Sometimes just looking at an electrical drawing doesn’t tell the whole story,” Trunnell says. “We’ve learned we need to compare electrical drawings with architectural drawings because there are often additional pieces that didn’t make it across.”
The company’s reputation for efficiency and quality results in trusting, long-term relationships with clients. “The ability to finish a commercial project on time and committing resources to it is fundamental in securing repeat business,” Trunnell says. “And with repeat business comes new business.”
Repeat clients enable the company to win work with new clients based on its history of completing projects on time and on budget—saving time and money for everyone involved.
Communication is another important factor in producing quality work. By being honest and upfront with clients, McGann Construction, based in Madison, Wis., has earned many repeat clients as well. “Ultimately, our people do what they say they are going to do,” says Vice President and Principal Aaron Kostichka. “We’re upfront and do our homework on pricing and schedules to make sure they are achievable.”
To make sure McGann Construction is delivering what is promised, the company holds weekly project inspections during the entire construction process, from preconstruction to the finishing touches. It also does comprehensive shop drawings and submittal reviews to ensure the proper fit and design of all project components. These processes help McGann Construction avoid schedule delays and budget overruns.
“By having these measures in place and doing things the right way from start to finish, the project stays on track, and you aren’t stuck with a bunch of clean-up work at the end,” Kostichka says. “You also aren’t coming back a year later at the warranty walkthrough with a large list of things to fix.”
By setting realistic goals from the beginning and following through on those goals to the end, McGann Construction has built relationships with many local firms. “Repeat business actually helps us get more work,” Kostichka says. “People we have worked for vouch for us and recommend us to others, which is a big statement.”
It’s impossible to build a reputation for high-quality work without employing high-quality craft professionals. In fact, McGann Construction—which specializes in multifamily housing as well as health care and other commercial projects—self performs much of the work. Self-performing allows the firm to better control the schedule, budget and, ultimately, the final product.
“Our carpenters and laborers are all very talented and well-rounded people,” Kostichka says. “They allow us to do a lot of things a typical contractor might not be able to do.” McGann Construction employs craft workers who are experts at rough and finish carpentry, concrete, siding and other miscellaneous specialties.
“Our people have the expectation that good enough isn’t good enough. Everything has to be done right,” Kostichka says. “That standard trickles down to everyone on the job.”
Trunnell Electric believes a culture of quality starts with leadership and that employee habits are caught, not taught. “In a family, bad and good habits are caught by your children,” Trunnell says. “In a company, when you demonstrate through your own actions how you want the organization to behave, employees typically will behave in that way.”
At the beginning of a job, Trunnell Electric’s leadership team first discusses the project’s specific details with the lead electricians. “We want to set expectations ahead of time to make sure our employees have the right tools and know who they will be interacting with on the project,” Trunnell says. “Once we’re in agreement, we step back and let them run with it.”
Case in point: Trunnell Electric recently was put to the test when it was hired to install advanced lighting and electrical systems for an occupant’s space in the historic National Bohemian Brewery complex in Baltimore, on which Therrien Waddell was the general contractor.
The owner of the complex was an international design firm that soon began asking for daily project changes—without any possible schedule extensions. Trunnell Electric relied on the experience of one of its lead mechanics, Dusty Orr, to keep the job on schedule while implementing the numerous design changes.
“Dusty has an extreme ability to manage difficult projects and foresee problems without getting frazzled by them,” Trunnell says. “He has a great ability to direct our people and implement changes in a quick manner.”
Communication was a key factor in the success of this project. “Not only was Dusty on the job taking in the information, processing it and distributing it to the people doing the work, but he was also communicating back to our project manager in the office,” Trunnell says.
Trunnell Electric’s crew worked 10 hours per day, seven days per week for six weeks. In the end, the project was completed with all the requested design changes according to the original deadline thanks to constant communication and hard work.
Employees understand leadership trusts them to make decisions on their own, which is a key factor in producing quality projects. “We empower lead electricians who run a project to be able to make decisions in the field and communicate with the general contractor’s representatives directly,” Trunnell says. “This allows decisions to be made in the field to keep the job moving forward.
“Most of our technicians feel very comfortable working with general contractors and not hesitating to bring up items that could be issues down the road, which helps nip potential problems in the bud early.”
Open communication also extends to employees on different jobsites. While Trunnell Electric’s leadership is always available to help, it encourages employees to call their colleagues if a problem arises. This allows technicians to solve problems quickly without having to put the project on hold and bring in backup.
This policy of open communication extends beyond field technicians. Trunnell Electric encourages employees to feel comfortable communicating with leadership as well.
“We ask them to communicate with their team leader first, but we have an open door policy,” Trunnell says. “We have a pretty flat organizational structure that helps new apprentices, as well as those who have been with the company for a long time, feel comfortable talking to us about concerns.”
These policies have resulted in high employee retention rates. While Trunnell Electric is a relatively small company of 20 employees, many of them have worked there for more than 25 years. With such seasoned employees to act as mentors to apprentices, Trunnell Electric is able to maintain its reputation for high-quality craftsmanship.
“We try to have a team and mentoring approach by lead mechanics through demonstration and showing apprentices how we operate, as well as letting them know they can feel comfortable asking questions,” Trunnell says.
For Trunnell Electric and McGann Construction, the bottom line is earning a reputation for delivering
high-quality work requires focusing on exceeding clients’ expectations and being on time and within budget on every job. That reputation results in the return of many happy clients, recommendations for new customers and a company culture that empowers employees to perform to the best of their abilities.
ISO Clarifies Standard for Quality
Last year, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) released ISO 9001:2015, an updated version of its standard of quality for design and construction firms.
According to ISO.org, ISO 9001:2015 “specifies requirements for a quality management system when an organization needs to demonstrate its ability to consistently provide products and services that meet customer and applicable statutory and regulatory requirements, and aims to enhance customer satisfaction through the effective application of the system, including processes for improvement of the system and the assurance of conformity to customer and applicable statutory and regulatory requirements.”
Previously, the standard was updated in 2008 to address the industry’s shift to risk-based thinking, but it didn’t define specific criteria. The 2015 standard defines specific components to risk-based thinking that were unclear, according to Anita McReynolds-Lidbury, design and construction chair of the American Society for Quality (ASQ).
“In 2015, the ISO really defined the risk-based thinking and its relationship with other systems, such as management, activities and outputs,” says McReynolds-Lidbury. “It also took out the absolute, like stating a company absolutely has to have a quality manual.
“The revised standard states contractors have to plan actions to address risk, but it doesn’t give them requirements of a formal method. The standard leaves it up to the client, contractor or designer to decipher.”
ISO standards affect contractors that are ISO certified or compliant, which typically include those doing high-risk, mega-dollar work. Interested companies can choose to be certified or compliant.
Companies that are ISO certified go through a verification process during which an ISO registrar conducts a two-day audit to check various criteria required by the standard. These criteria include whether management is on board, a quality management system is controlling operations and the team members understand their roles during the construction life cycle, among other factors. The auditor also checks sources of inputs, outputs, activities and project performance life cycles. Companies are re verified every two years.
While certification can be tedious, it can be well worth it (and sometimes required) for companies that want to be players in large, complex projects.
“Contractors should get someone on their team who understands how to put a quality team together and can address risk-based thinking,” McReynolds-Lidbury says.
For more information on the new standard and for help with certification or compliance, visit asq.org.