ORIGIN: Starting the Conversation

Quality Control

07.21.14 by Matt Gebhardt
1 Comment

I recently gave a presentation on quality control policy. During preparation, it dawned on me that as engineers we often miss the boat as to our overall purpose and settle for a canoe which we then paddle furiously upstream. (I like analogies, I’ll explain.) Just about every QC presentation I’ve been to starts with a picture of some structure that has failed, catastrophically, and we all sit there smugly thinking, “Well, that’s what you get when you don’t do proper QC.” And we go back to our desks and doggedly review our projects for oogly-booglys in the calculations.

Engineers can really work hard looking for errors when reviewing a job at the end. It gives one that sense of satisfaction in working right up to a deadline only a true connoisseur of procrastination can appreciate. But that is not the path to a truly successful project for the client.

Often times, the only workable solutions to a problem found at the eleventh hour do not include the optimal solution. Time constraints, budgets, even embarrassment become barriers at that point.

The boat we should be taking sets out a lot sooner. It starts when the project does, and its goals are much broader than error chasing. Good quality control focuses on making the project successful from start to finish and involves the whole team, not only the reviewer. Yes, catching our errors along the way is integral, but so are things like coordinating with other disciplines in a timely manner to help prevent their errors and laying out drawings in a logical manner. Quality doesn’t just mean my work is right, it also means those who use it are more likely to produce good work.

We don’t strive to minimize errors, we strive to produce successful projects. The quality control policy at Wallace Engineering is based on that mindset. I’m not a big fan of mission statements just for the sake of mission statements; I generally don’t even like them. But I am wholly behind ours: “Dedicated to the art of engineering; helping our clients succeed through the artful application of engineering principles.”

Here’s a few of the things that Tom Wallace and the other Principals of Wallace Engineering determined years ago would make up that art:

  • Quality control starts when the project does. Everyone on the team is part of the quality control. Review your own work before handing it off to the person designated to review it. Two sets of eyes are better than one.
  • Use checklists. Human memory and attention span can hinder, a checklist helps.
  • Final review should be of the final product, not models or intermediate stages.
  • When reviewing, put yourself in the place of the end user. In our case that’s the contractor, so mentally build the project from the drawings.
  • A good choice of reviewer is someone who is experienced with the type of work and capable of doing it, but has not actually been “in the weeds” on that project. It’s less likely that they will miss something that they assumed made it into the final product.
  • Beware of “assembly line” processes. If the one who does the work never corrects it, they’ll never learn not to make the mistake.
  • Finally, be diligent to follow the process you’ve determined best fits your organization for every project.

One Response

  1. Tom Wallace says:


    Thank you for your insight and thoughtful comments. I have never expressed our collective philosophy regarding Quality Control as well or as concisely. Well done.


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Matt Gebhardt, PE, SE


Matt received his Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering, Bachelor of Science in Economics and Master of Science in Civil Engineering degrees from the University…

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