Designer quality control plans


    (Left) The Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati links its guideline manual to consultants’ design contracts as a requirement to follow when preparing QC Plans. (Middle) QC checklists ensure consistent plan formats. (Right) Members of the QC team sign off on a form after completing their tasks.

    A ship’s captain is responsible for the vessel and all hands on board. Despite careful planning, the captain may encounter the perfect storm where nothing seems to go right and the ship sinks. This is similar to project management. Often, the project manager kicks off a project with only the best intentions to later go down with the ship like our fearless captain. What went wrong and how can we avoid these problems in the future? A well-defined project-specific Designer Quality Control (QC) Plan is your answer.

    Obviously, very small projects may not justify a comprehensive QC Plan. As a general rule, when construction costs exceed $1 million its time to start considering a QC Plan. Even for projects less than $1 million, you can still select components of a QC Plan such as a plan checklist.

    As a project becomes more complex and construction costs increase, also consider other types of plans. A Risk Management Plan helps reduce or eliminate certain types of events from impacting the project. The decision to include a Risk Management Plan would be the same as a QC Plan (with $1 million in construction costs). Also consider other plans such as Communication, Change Management, Contract Management, Team Procedures, and Public Relations. All of these plans (and others) fall under a general category of a Project Management Plan; however, a key element of a Project Management Plan is the QC Plan.

    The first step in developing a QC Plan is to start with a template. A QC Plan template provides a powerful tool for project managers to create project-specific QC Plans. This template is defined either at the corporate level or by the client. Maintaining a QC Plan template will help establish a metric by which all QC Plans will be measured. Lessons learned can be incorporated easily into the QC Plan template as they are discovered.

    A good QC Plan template

    For nearly 20 years I’ve been a project manager for civil/structural projects. I’ve worked for smaller engineering firms that incorporated QC Plan components but did not emphasize preparing a comprehensive QC Plan. Looking back, I realize now how valuable it would have been for me to prepare a project-specific QC Plan for some of my larger projects. However, clients also need to see the value in a QC Plan and provide a budget in the design contract for this work.

    As the quality assurance (QA) manager for planning and design projects for the Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati (MSDGC), my first order of business was to create a QC Plan template for our design consultants to prepare their QC Plans. MSDGC has a high volume of work, and this template not only helps me in the review of QC Plans but also helps our design consultants prepare their QC Plans, which ultimately contributes to the success of our projects. Initially, the decision to include a QC Plan was set at the $1 million construction cost limit, but the benefits of the plan were quickly realized. QC Plans are now required for nearly every project.

    The template provided to our consultants — Designer Quality Control Plan Guidelines — is updated periodically as a result of lessons-learned submittals, staff interviews, consultant project audits, and insight gained from change order reviews. The guideline manual is linked to the consultant’s design contract as a requirement to follow when preparing its QC Plans. The QC Plan requirement is the same for all consultants and project types. This has greatly streamlined our organizational processes such as internal QC reviews and consultant project audits.

    The Designer Quality Control Plan Guidelines includes the following key components:

    · Project description provides a general overview of the project and the various disciplines involved in the design. A reader who is unfamiliar with the project can be brought up to speed quickly without contacting the project manager, design consultant, or reviewing agency.

    · Lead consultant’s QC organization provides identification, responsibility, and authority of design consultant’s corporate QC officer/manager and an organizational chart describing the consultant’s QA team/manager’s interface with the project team. This is particularly useful to identify lines of responsibility and how the subconsultants report to the lead organization.

    · Project team provides a list of the key personnel on the project for the prime and subconsultants. The list includes originator (designer), checker, back checker, corrector, verifier, CAD manager, QA manager, and engineer of record. A brief resume shall be provided for personnel listed. All team members are identified so that everyone knows their roles and responsibilities. Resumes are reviewed to make sure the person identified for a particular role has the appropriate experience. If a personnel change occurs after initial submission of qualifications and resume, an amendment to the QC Plan shall be submitted to Document Control including required information.

    · List of deliverables, responsible persons, completion dates provides a list of design submittals, individuals responsible for specific roles, and completion dates. This helps the team members schedule their time properly for their role along with the projects they are currently managing.

    · Plan design review process provides all necessary detailed elements of the design review process including report, calculation, design, and specification checking protocols. Specify a detailed procedure for checking, revising, and reviewing markups and describe the manner by which the plans will be checked — for example, red markings by the Checker, blue by the Back Checker, yellow by the Corrector, and green by the verifier. Maintain and organize all plan markups for future audits. Complete the QC Check Process Form for each deliverable. It is not necessary to submit the QC Check Process Form with a design deliverable.

    Project audits have revealed inconsistencies in plan markups among members of the same design team as well as from firm to firm. Informing the consultant of the likelihood of an audit helps assure compliance with the plan. A well-defined plan design review process will help streamline the review process and ensure no information is lost during the QC Plan review.

    · Document control includes design consultant procedures for document control, including management of project files (and emails) for all members of the project team.

    · Subconsultant QC describes the subconsultant’s QC process. Describe the design consultant’s process to review the subconsultant’s work and maintain a QC log of the review. Project audits have revealed that at times subconsultants do not check their work and the consultants may not check their work either. This has resulted in errors that are not found until later in the design when it can have devastating impacts to the project budget and schedule.

    · CAD management describes the CAD Management Strategy to coordinate the work of the prime and subconsultants so that CAD Standards are followed. Project audits have revealed that the proficiency level for Autodesk AutoCAD Civil 3D varies from firm to firm. Developing a set of plans in Civil 3D is complex and coordinating this effort between team members and firms is critical.

    · Schedule management describes the QC process of the project schedule to ensure all project team members concur with the time required for design, estimates, review, value engineering, etc. This is important so that everyone involved in the project has provided feedback on the schedule to prevent missing critical deadlines.

    · Field survey QC describes the field survey QC process. Items to consider may include instrument calibration, crew experience, surveyor of record coordination, benchmark and datum, courthouse and monumentation research, utility research and marking, Civil 3D coordination, field book review, and basemap preparation. Errors during the field survey stage can have devastating design impacts. Specific details for the field survey requirements are contained in the consultant’s design contract.

    · QC plan acknowledgement distributes the QC Plan Acknowledgement Form to the key personnel listed in the plan to sign anddate the form for acceptance of the project-specific Designer QC Plan. This form is placed at the front of the Consultant’s QC Plan.

    · Checklists and forms includes QC checklists for plan format, function, consistency, constructability, calculations, and easements. The QC signoff form is also included where each member of the QC team signs off after they have completed their task.

    · QC check verification letter should be signed and dated and submitted to the QC or project manager with the design deliverable.

    The above QC Plan template has brought consistency to our program. Don’t be like the captain who goes down with the ship. Chart your course with a project-specific QC Plan and set sail to calmer seas.

    Download MSDGC’s QC Plan template at and customize it to your organizational and project specific needs.

    Ray Schork, P.E., is a quality assurance manager for planning and design projects with the Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati.