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Since the adoption of the ISO 9000 certification scheme in Singapore in 1991, local construction companies are beginning to implement the ISO 9000 Standard for their quality management systems (QMS). The ISO 9000 Standard is used as a guideline either to establish a new quality system or alter an existing system to meet the requirements of the Standard. Since then, the Singapore Government has made it mandatory for the larger construction and consultancy firms to achieve ISO 9000 certification by 1999 as a pre-requisite for public sector building projects. This requirement has spurred many construction-related companies to implement QMS for their organizations. By 31 October 1995, a total of 71 organizations (including public agencies, engineering consultants, contractors, developers and property services firms) had been certified (CIDB, 1996).
This number does not, however, necessarily indicate that the significance and importance of an effective QMS is clearly understood. It must be emphasized that the strive for certification should not be the only reason for a company to start a QMS. If this is the predominant motive for certification, there is always a tendency for old habits to surface. This is because of the overemphasis on the development of procedures and tools at the expense of neglecting the socio-cultural aspects of developing human behavioural skills. Certification should therefore be viewed as a reward for employees' effort and evidence that the minimum level of quality management is achieved.
Apart from the above, the QMS must constantly be dynamic to improve the quality of both the company's internal and external services. This calls for proper maintenance of the QMS. Proper maintenance includes constant monitoring, controlling, assessing and improving through both the technical and non-technical (or socio-cultural) approaches (Stewart, 1995). It was also reported that the focus of contractors when improving the QMS is on the technical and instrumental tools rather than the socio-cultural (or nontechnical) aspects (Low, 1993; Seymour and Low, 1990). Spekknink (1995) argues that to maintain a QMS effectively in construction, a balance of the technical requirements and theoretical approach, which has already been used effectively in the manufacturing sector, is necessary. Spekknink's (1995) concept is illustrated in Figure 1. In this case, the theoretical approach highlights that an effective maintenance system requires the application of an integrative approach in an organization rather than the segmentalist approach. While the integrative approach has a structure and culture that advance towards an egalitarian and meritocratic ideal, the segmentalist approach, on the other hand, has a structure which insists on traditional bureaucracy isolating labour from management and on focusing uncrossable boundaries between functions for effective management. It appears that segmentalism is currently prevalent in many construction companies because of their conservative attitude towards change and innovation. The management of change and innovation should be an integral part of the building process (Tan and Low, 1991).
As noted above, the number of construction companies certified to ISO 9000 has increased since 1991 in Singapore. Many research studies have discussed the implementation stage of a QMS (Low, 1994, 1995; Low and Goh, 1993a, 1993b, 1994). Although there is as yet no record of withdrawal of certification, the importance of maintaining the QMS effectively must be highlighted. Hence, the objectives of this paper are to:
* highlight the maintenance approaches (namely, the technical and non-technical approaches) available to ISO 9000 certified construction companies;
* study the need for and the problems associated with maintaining an effective QMS;
* study the degree of application of the non-technical approach to maintaining a QMS in construction as well as its effectiveness;
* make recommendations to improve existing systems for maintaining a QMS.
In highlighting the various maintenance approaches available, this paper will discuss the technical requirements of the ISO 9000 Standard as well as the nontechnical framework proposed by Professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter of Harvard University. By means of a research project (Omar, 1996), it will exemplify Professor Kanter's theoretical framework using empirical studies of companies in the construction industry. Finally, recommendations on how maintenance systems for QMS can be improved for construction companies are proposed.
ISO 9000 quality management systems (QMS)
In a highly competitive marketplace, an organization can stay competitive by satisfying clients' needs and requirements for quality. The incessant demand for quality necessitates the implementation of a QMS. A QMS helps to improve quality and productivity through the elimination of the causes of non-conformance in every activity in the company. Thus, an effective QMS allows the client's requirements to be understood and met first time, every time and at minimum cost. In the process, the client receives value for money. The implementation of a QMS based on ISO 9000 should achieve the following benefits:
* common language for communicating quality assurance;
* provides a general guideline for an organization in any industry to develop a QMS;
* facilitates and promotes third-party auditing and certification;
* increases in clients' confidence;
* time savings as the burden of assessing by clients is forgone;
* increases competition for better quality products and services;
* increases clients' satisfaction on quality;
* reduces quality and corrective costs;
* greater clientele base.
While an effective QMS can gain for the organization a competitive edge, there remains a critical need for the system to be continually maintained, assessed, controlled and improved for the following reasons:
* Withdrawal of ISO 9000 certification. Certification has a short-term validity period. Most systems would need to be audited once in every three years. In addition, a QMS is checked and monitored by an assessor half-yearly to ensure that the system continues to comply with the standards. This is the surveillance visit period. During this period, only parts of the QMS are checked. A Corrective Action Request can still be issued when new areas of non-conformance occur. If this Corrective Action Request is not complied with, certification may be withdrawn.
* Demand for quality and value for money. The demand for better quality at lower costs and shorter completion time is not uncommon in construction projects. There is, however, always a compromise in the quality-cost-time relationship. A balance in these three elements is therefore needed. This consequently creates a burden on contractors to deliver value for money. Eventually, continous monitoring and improvement of the QMS gives one the assurance of quality and value for money.
* Change and innovation. Quality is intangible and dynamic. For a company to remain competitive, it must always improve its quality. Thus, the QMS adopted must be an evolving one with improved organization design and human resource practices, new practices, new methods, new products and market opportunities, new structures, new policies and new government regulations. It should have a mechanism which allows for change and innovation in line with social, economic and technological changes of unprecedented magnitude and variety which are impossible for past practices to accommodate. An effective QMS should have innovative responses and the flexibility to cope with such changes.
* Maintain benefits of ISO 9000. With ISO 9000, a company establishes a good reputation for delivering quality goods and services. It becomes more competitive and has the ability to reap greater profits in the long run. Continuous monitoring and improvement to the QMS will increase quality standards and productivity. The company can continue to enjoy the benefits of ISO 9000.
On the other hand, there are also problems associated with the maintenance of ISO 9000 as an effective QMS. The problems which may arise from a need to maintain QMS include the following:
(1) Organization structure. Improvement and changes to QMS can be stifled if over-emphasis is placed on the traditional management style of routine, habitual action and over-reliance on top management approval. In the traditional management structure, there is over-segmenting of boundaries between …