Quality Assurance Strategies for Your HVAC Business
The topic of quality assurance (QA) in HVAC covers a lot of ground. Are we talking about process, adherence to regulatory requirements, rules to ensure a safe and productive job site, or the steps required to drive a great customer experience?
Is having clear quality controls in place enough to get the job done? Or must you develop a culture of accountability that makes each of your people feel both responsible for, and committed to, quality at every phase of service delivery? How can you even do all that and still run an efficient, profitable business?
To make the discussion a little more palatable, let’s break quality assurance down into component parts:
- Clarifying the difference between control and accountability
- Defining a standard job process that needs to be QA’ed
- Exploring manual and mobile-first methods for doing so
1. Control vs. accountability
Let’s begin by stating the difference between quality control and accountability.
Control is the set of processes we put in place to ensure that each job is completed in a consistently high quality fashion. When control is clearly established, everyone knows the process like the back of their hand. In the same way that we use tools to do installs and repairs, we often will tools to manage, communicate, and measure the control process (more on that below).
Accountability is a factor of how we ensure adherence to quality. It starts from the top down (read as: you set the tone). To hold people accountable, they must know what exactly what they are accountable for, have the means to meet those accountabilities, and receive clear and immediate feedback when they fail to do so. Sometimes, a staff member’s or subcontractor’s compensation is tied to meeting their accountabilities on a given job, or over a period of time (e.g., an annual bonus).
So, where as controls are hard ‘you can point to them’ methods for doing something a certain way, accountability is really an intangible—a culture you create that everyone on your team buys into.
2. Defining a standard process
There are many moving parts associated with defining specifications and establishing quality controls for the process of completing any given HVAC job, but for our purposes let’s agree that a standard approach is comprised of the following, often overlapping, phases of activity:
You must accurately estimate project costs and plan the work, list acceptable materials and equipment, and define how they are to be installed and tested. Drawings are a must for ‘bid-on’ work.
Set a schedule
Project schedules must consider out of season construction, access to required equipment, out-of-sequence construction and other inefficiencies. Even slight deviations from schedule can significantly increase the cost of service delivery.
Order materials and labor (purchase orders and work orders)
Material orders must address the general requirements of materials and equipment that will be incorporated into the work, including delivery requirements for packing, shipping, and acceptance. Labor orders must contemplate specific task accountabilities for all workers and services, and account for inefficiencies in site access, sequencing, etc.
Manage performance and monitor work quality
At a minimum, ensure all regulatory requirements, including building codes, mechanical and electrical codes, and zoning requirements are adhered to, and account for any permits, ancillary fees, etc. Also, have a detailed plan to monitor and enforce labor and vendor qualifications, inspection procedures, and air quality requirements.
Seek feedback from clients and relay to employees/sub-contractors
Routine on-site monitoring provides immediate feedback and control of any substandard work or quality infractions. Employees or subcontractors receive clear direction and have an established means of voicing concerns re: any perceived violations or quality shortcomings. Clients are kept apprised of developments and have the opportunity to review all work and provide their own feedback to the contractor in a timely, recorded and measurable manner.
Tweak process for future optimization
Record, analyze, and incorporate gathered learnings and feedback from the jobsite and back office into future jobs. Tweak your quality control process based on these learnings and update staff education where necessary. Ensure the total impact of incorporating changes is understood and accounted for in future business planning.
3. Managing it all: manual vs. mobile
Referencing even this very narrow definition of standard process, above, it is clear that there are many potential stumbling points along the path. So, in order to successfully navigate the QA process of a given job, a good deal of organization is required. A bit of research will tell you there are basically two ways of going about things: manually (clipboards, paperwork and mostly off-site admin), and via mobile (smartphones or tablets and software like Jobber with integrated quoting, scheduling, communications, invoicing, payment options, and CRM).
In the manual scenario, once you define specs, negotiate subcontracts, order materials, and set a schedule (all separate paperwork), you build a job manual (think: a binder). This binder becomes the gospel for managing a given job. Unfortunately, it’s usually held in one place, by one person, and in any event cannot be updated in anything near real time. Nor can it typically be notated by multiple parties, thereby eliminating the opportunities afforded by collaboration.
Because of this, manual approaches are at loss to adapt to unforeseen job-site inefficiencies or breakdowns in the quality control process, and fail to educate workers of their specific accountabilities, leading to breaches of protocol, sub-optimal workflows, and reduced profit.
The mobile approach is much more efficient and cost-effective. Smartphones or tablets paired with cloud software, like Jobber, with controlled viewing and editing access provide all employees, sub-contractors and admin personnel with immediate access to every specification and protocol.
Changes in sequencing, delays in material deliveries, and missed task assignments are apparent to all in real-time, allowing for quick adaptation to shifting conditions on and off the job site. You can instantly update schedules, re-assign labor, understand total impacts to efficiency and profitability in the moment. You can take, give, and record feedback very easily, and closed-loop communications become the norm.
Ensure employee and sub-contractor work is up to your standards every time with a function like Jobber’s job forms feature, which allows you to create custom forms and checklists that can take your team through each step of your process.
Periodically reviewing and improving your processes and quality assurance controls ensures that you’ll stay up-to-date with best practices, continue to impress your customers, and not fall into bad habits (that waste both time and money).