Quality …4

What we did to enable quality..

One of the first changes we at VDB did was to make one huge difference in the way we worked in the construction side of our business model.  This took a bit of doing as our architects were not used to this method of working. On receipt of the sanction to construct, instead of jumping into construction immediately, we decided on an alternative. We told the Architects and consultants that we needed 95% of the drawings before we started construction. This was something the Architects and Consultants were not used to.

The main fear they had was whether we would make payments, once their drawings were ready. So, we worked out the payment structure in such a way that we paid for their drawings in advance and only left their supervision charges pending. We convinced them that in this manner, they would be rid of our work, to a large extent, in a few months, depending on how large the project was. It would also give them fees at an earlier stage. Once done with our work the architect in charge could take on other jobs. The key to this working well was that we, as the Property Developers, would not resort to changes in drawings as construction progressed. 

From our side, the benefits were numerous. One, we had the drawings to enable us to get accurate quotations from contractors and finalise our costs. Two, due to this system the contractors would not need to carry out any rework on account of changes in drawings and hence we would not be saddled with huge costs on account of rectifications. Three, the constant excuses by contractors for slow progress was the lack of detailed drawings. That would not be an excuse anymore. Work, once started could move steadily, provided we arranged the funds.

The effects of rework – Rework is one of the main reasons that buildings have poor quality finishes. Rework brings about demolition of existing work and very often it’s effects stand out as a sore thumb. We have had issues, in the times before we implemented this scheme, that architects would suddenly want a change in some design/ layout. As such a change did not pinch their own pocket but set us back they always convinced us that the change was necessary. The cost, time delay and effect on quality were never accounted for. With our system such arbitrary changes ceased to happen.

Areas we concentrated on – While finalising drawings we ensured that the sizes of all openings were uniform and that all levels were maintained. We also ensured that electrical points were located properly and sensibly. Two way switches were there in places where they were required. Plug points were in positions of convenience to the equipment it served.  I remember, in our first project, the electrical contractor losing his shirt with me when I pointed out and verified that the various electrical points were not in alignment. The difference was very little but to the trained eye they stood out. One thing I learnt in my years in this field was to stand at the right place and look at work to enable me to see if there were errors.

This ability to notice errors could be a pain or a boon depending on which side of the table you sat. I am grateful for this ability and people who have worked with me have learnt to be able to spot mistakes too.

Important areas – I have always believed that two areas needed special attention in a residential unit. One was the Kitchen and the other the toilets. Why? Well, these are the two places where we spend most of our time. Kitchens, in the earlier days before women had non home maker careers, were where they spent most of their time. Toilets, are where we spend time with nothing to do except what we went in for. This gave us time to see all the flaws. If the water did not drain properly, you got mad every time you showered. Toilets have become more modern and swanky. Kitchens have moved into a different realm. They are both areas you show to guests or visitors as your show pieces. Today, people spend the equivalent of an apartment in the older days, on upgrading the kitchens and toilets.

Leakages – The most frustrating part of construction for both the developer and the client is when leaks occur. From the time I was working with Si to my stint in the Middle East and now at VDB, we do not embed the drain pipes in toilets, into the slab. Instead we drop them down and have a false ceiling on the toilet of the floor below. In such a case, if there is a leak, all that needs to be done is the false ceiling panel is to be lifted and moved, the upstairs toilet not used for half a day and the damage repaired. No breaking of slabs or damaging anything.

However, my greatest success has been in Nusa Dua, in Whitefield, where we live. We have a slab with a length of over 200 meters and at various points it reached 10 meters in width, on which we have gardens with planters, trees, water bodies and extensive lawns. The entire parking area is under the slab. It is eleven years since people started living here – there is not even a single leak so far. I still recall the landscape consultant from Singapore saying this was fraught with danger of leaks. I wish I could show him the place like I do every visitor who comes home. I do not have as much pride in what else I did as with the slab that does not leak.

We are possibly the only ones who have built a building in Bangalore where each of the ten apartments has an attached swimming pool. Eight years later, no complaints of leaks 🙂

I have spent years training people who worked with me about the importance of good quality work. Some have taken it in, some haven’t. I am glad the former is more than the latter as many of my staff have been well placed in good companies when they left me as the downturn hit us hard. I hope to have a new team soon and train them as long as I am capable of passing on what I know. One thing is for sure – Quality doesn’t go out of fashion.

( There is no substitute to Quality…believe me. Unless and until we Indians learn that lesson and imbibe the ability to translate quality intentions into outstanding results, we will never be the first class nation we deserve to be..)


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