Minimize Risk - Maximize Performance
January 2014

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Importance of Defining Quality and Expectations








Defining the expected level of quality is extremely important for both the Client and design firm. In many situations quality is defined differently between the parties, which leads to problems on the project, unsatisfied Clients, and lawsuits.


Both the Client and the design firm usually have preconceived perceptions of how quality should be defined for the project. These perceptions develop into expectations for both the Client and the firm. If the two perceptions are consistent, understood, and agreed upon by both parties, you are on the road to a successful project. If they are not fully defined, this leads to problems and possible claims.


Clients usually measure project quality in terms of the impact to the schedule, budget, and/or deliverables. In their eyes, if these are not met, or poorly managed or communicated on progress, or methods used, or a milestone missed, this leads to the perception of poor quality.


Design firms definition of quality:

  • Conformance with requirements
  • Conformance with industry standards
  • Design suitable for the project and intended use


Client’s definition of quality:

  • Design firm understands my concerns on this project
  • The firm will develop creative solutions
  • The firm will meet my project objectives


When planning the project, it is essential that quality is defined from the client’s perspective. Discussions should take place early on in the project. Technical details should be specified in the contract, and well-defined contract language can mitigate the differences in quality from a technical perspective.


Many project problems arise over communication methods, and the relationship between the firm and the Client, usually between the Project Manager (PM) and the Client. Based on industry claims data, the majority of problems are not usually driven by a technical error, or omission of the design, but by incomplete and ineffective project communication and documentation. This lack of focus on poor quality of customer service leads to most project problems and litigation.


Before the project kickoff meeting, it is important to discuss with your Client their expectations and quality for the project. A detailed list should be developed and how the project expectations will be accomplished and communicated to the Client. This discussion should include:

  • Date, time and location of meeting
  • How often meeting(s) will occur
  • Methods and frequency of communication and documentation
  • Identify prime project objectives from Client perspective
  • Discuss methods, challenges and agreement on objectives
  • Critical dates and milestones for the project
  • Discuss and outline how project problems will be addressed
  • Discuss and outline how change orders will be handled


Document the meeting(s) discussion and the Client’s quality expectations. It is important that this information is reviewed with the project team. Ensure everyone is made accountable for meeting these expectations. A PM should routinely review this information at project meetings and reinforce the importance with his/her own actions.


There is a great business case that can be made for effectively managing project quality.

  • A focus on quality usually yields to higher financial returns on projects
  • A lack of focus on quality can cause lawsuits that lead to higher insurance costs
  • Proper concentration on quality is important for your firm’s reputation, keeping Clients satisfied and attracting new ones


You are welcome to forward this newsletter to others who may be interested.

Thank you.

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SmartRisk is a leading risk and practice management consultancy for design and building professionals. Through firm specific risk assessments, training and consulting, services focus on improving overall performance, profitability and reducing insurance costs through tailored risk management solutions.

If you have any questions about our services, or would like dicusss how we could assist your efforts, please contact us.

Thank you,

Timothy J. Corbett, BSRM, MSM, LEED GA
Founder & President

Copyright and Information Only. This newsletter is for information purposes only and should not be construed nor relied upon as guidance, regulatory or legal advice. Readers should consult with appropriate counsel regarding their specific situations and circumstances. SmartRisk shall not be liable for any errors in content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon.

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