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Quality in infrastructure projects: concepts and framework for explanatory and exploratory studies
KTH, School of Architecture and the Built Environment (ABE), Real Estate and Construction Management, Building and Real Estate Economics.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-1729-3933
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

There is a shift from conformance approaches of construction projects to excellence in terms of real performance. One of the major goals of today’s project is to achieve the highest level of quality rather than just meet the specified level of quality. In Sweden, approximately 25 years ago, major construction contractors replaced the traditional client/owner control system of public finance construction projects with quality assurance systems managed by the contractors themselves. Anecdotal evidence exist that shows that the quality of infrastructure projects may not be as high as before due to many different reasons, including low productivity and incentive problems. However, thorough formal investigations that evaluate the effectiveness of the quality assurance transfer have not been carried out.

The main purpose of this paper is to understand the extent and type of quality problems in infrastructure projects as a foundation for studies about what can be done to improve quality. It aims to explore the extent of any perceived quality problems that could be associated with quality assurance transfer. The type of research question issues that this paper intends to address is very complex in terms of describing what constitutes quality and what people remember about projects that they might or might not have been involved in many years ago. This entails the use of different types of research processes and approaches such as realistic research, descriptive and exploratory questionnaire as well as explanatory studies that would not only allow us to ascertain the overall quality level of infrastructure transport projects. However, it also gives us some indication of those specific concerns needed for further investigation.

The results of our survey suggest that there has not been a deterioration of the (relative) quality level of infrastructure projects after the transfer of quality assurance from client to contractor. However, the expectation that the transfer would improve the quality level does not seem to be fully materialized since almost half of the respondents suggest that the quality level remained the same as before the transfer. The lesson drawn from this is that the question of what really happened to quality and why is less important than finding ways to improve quality in the future.

Keyword [en]
Infrastructure projects, quality improvement, quality insurance, quality concepts
National Category
Construction Management
Research subject
SRA - Transport
URN: urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-47676OAI: diva2:455967
Doctoral Thesis: Performance of Construction Projects
TrenOp, Transport Research Environment with Novel Perspectives
QS 2011Available from: 2011-11-11 Created: 2011-11-11 Last updated: 2014-01-21Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Performamce of Construction Projects: Essays on Supplier Structure, Construction Costs and Quality Improvement
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Performamce of Construction Projects: Essays on Supplier Structure, Construction Costs and Quality Improvement
2011 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

The performance of the construction industry and its contribution to the welfare of society in comparison to other industries such as the manufacturing industry has lately been the focus of many commissioned reports and academic research publications. The so-called “iron triangle” of time, cost and quality have been the most important metrics of construction project performance, especially for the selection of appropriate procurement methods. The perceived inefficiencies emanate from, among other things, increasing construction costs, conflicts and client dissatisfaction, the fragmented nature of the industry, low competition, cost overruns and delays, and lack of quality improvement. There is observed disparity in increases in housing construction costs and an apparent lack of quality improvement of infrastructure transport projects. In Sweden, metropolitan regions experienced higher construction cost increases, while small regions showed less costs increases during economic booms. In order to address these perceived inefficiencies, numerous strategic and project level decisions that influenced the way that publicly owned properties and projects are procured, constructed, operated, and maintained have been made. The decision to transfer quality-related activities and quality assurance responsibilities from client to contractor approximately 25 years ago is one of the decisions that could have an impact on current quality of infrastructure transport projects. The disparity in increases in construction costs and quality improvement concerns could not only influence the performance of construction projects, but also can affect the way different actors in the sector interact with each other and achieve their divergent objectives.

The aim of this study is twofold. First, it tries to explain the observed disparity increases in construction costs between big (metropolitan) and medium/small regions. Second, it attempts to ascertain the extent of quality problems in infrastructure transport projects after the transfer of quality assurance responsibilities, and suggests measures that could improve the quality of infrastructure transport projects. Surveys and interviews were used as a means to collect data concerning both supplier structure in relation to housing construction costs and quality of construction projects. Other empirical data from a secondary source were also used.

The first part of the research offers an understanding of the behavior of contractors in specific economic situations, specifically by taking into consideration the long-run relationship between contractors and owners/developers. It ascertains that if contractors/subcontractors display opportunistic behavior during the economic boom, the result will be increased higher construction costs. We utilized transaction cost theory in exploring construction sector structures in an attempt to understand changes in the sector from an efficiency perspective. The analysis can also enrich the current understanding of the governance structure of Swedish construction firms and how they could influence construction costs.

As the response from the survey suggests, quality of infrastructure projects has not decreased after the transfer of quality assurance from client to contractor. However, the high number of respondents that indicated quality is the same as before the transfer raises a concern of lack of quality improvement. Respondents have overwhelmingly indicated that the lack of public client competence was one of the contributing factors of quality problems. It is argued that with client competence it is important to build-up through proper knowledge management, incentive systems, and training. Further, the retention of new skilled and experienced workers is an essential element for continuous quality improvement goals and objectives. A second opinion practice from independent experts and committees that focuses on the quality aspect of the projects can be introduced in the provision of infrastructure transport projects. Finally, it is argued that without client competence and a company culture that creates the right incentives, no procurement method can guarantee high quality.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: KTH Royal Institute of Technology, 2011. v, 34 p.
TRITA-FOB, 2011:3
National Category
Social Sciences
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-47448 (URN)978-91-978692-9-4 (ISBN)
Public defence
2011-11-22, F3, Lindstedtsvägen 26, KTH, Stockholm, 13:00 (English)
QC 20111111Available from: 2011-11-11 Created: 2011-11-09 Last updated: 2014-01-21Bibliographically approved

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