Jeff Cumpston was recently promoted from quality management system director for Nabholz’ Midwest offices to corporate-wide quality director. Cumpston has been with Nabholz for 22 years, starting as a field laborer, rising to a superintendent role, and finally, a program director. In this new role, Cumpston will put his vast knowledge of the construction process to work developing new systems and services that assure Nabholz offers clients only the highest level of quality work and materials. We recently sat down with him to learn more about his new role.
Construction is a game of profits, narrow margins, and overhead vs. production. Yet, our executive team has decided to devote funds and time to make you a corporate director of innovation/safety/quality. Why is this a good investment for our company?
Two words: risk management. One commonly used definition of quality is “doing it right the first time.” In construction, the unspoken addendum to this statement is “because we don’t get paid to do it the second time.”
Re-work during construction, warranty calls, and construction defect claims all cut into our bottom line. We have done the math (and so has our GL Insurance carrier), and it costs less to invest in managing quality than it does to fix the problems that result from not managing it.
Your position is a new one for our company. Why was creating your job essential to maintaining Nabholz’ status as an industry-leading firm?
Shrinking profit margins, increasingly aggressive schedules, inadequate designs, and a shortage of skilled labor all impact Nabholz’ ability to complete jobs AND meet our company criteria for a successful project — delivered on time, under budget, to a happy customer, with no one hurt and zero defects. As Nabholz’ workforce, revenue, service lines, and geographic reach continues to grow, execution of our quality (risk management) processes become increasingly critical. Having a central point of contact in the company that knows both the details and broad overview of these processes can marshal available resources towards achieving this consistency.
We offer arguably the most diverse service line of any firm in our region. How will you handle the challenge of implementing learning materials and ideals across several different crafts?
Not easily. Our quality processes, to this point, have been focused on our construction management operations. However, a lot of what we have learned through our experiences on the big jobsites can be applied to our other service lines, albeit in specific ways.
We have made significant improvements in quality processes for our specialty services team by adapting construction processes to their quick-turnaround model.
The civil and excavation team has started using some of the software our construction branch utilizes, as well as processes outside general contractors successfully implemented on jobs where our group was a subcontractor.
Our increased staff will be a huge factor in our ability to serve the non-GC/CM operations more consistently. Stay tuned.
Who is your professional role model?
I’ve had a number of important mentors over the years, from cranky carpenters and steady-handed foremen to salty superintendents and whiz-kid project managers. If I had to pick one, though, it would be former Nabholz President Roger McDaniel (retired). Roger plucked me from the field in 2003 to become his assistant while he was a superintendent. He is the combination of a natural leader, a demanding teacher, and a construction savant. Loyal to a fault, he knew how to make others successful and quietly did so. I quite literally would not be in this position without his mentorship, and many others at our company can say the same.
How did your passion for quality develop?
To be honest, my passion is for problem-solving. Working previously as a quality director and superintendent provided a venue for that passion. I find that my education, construction experience, time as quality director, and most importantly, my commitment to making Nabholz better, come together in this role. I have received extraordinary support from Nabholz’ leadership. I aim to make good on their investment.
What are your plans in this position for the next year? The next five years?
I was given this opportunity based mainly on my proposal to increase the direct engagement between Nabholz’ quality staff and our project teams to implement quality processes that will impact defect risk mitigation significantly. I am hiring new folks, so there will be a strong focus this fiscal year on getting them trained on these processes, as well as on our existing QMS.
Starting from this base, we will continue to improve our processes by using more accurate data and metrics, promoting innovation, and aligning our goals and practices with the rest of the operations support groups at Nabholz.
How do you plan to reach our craftworkers? How will you make them care about innovation/safety/quality when they are working against a deadline?
Our teams have many plates spinning in the air. Our job is not to give them more plates to spin, but to help them handle what tasks they already have more efficiently. We do this by providing tools (process improvements; software; training) that make them better at what they are already doing.
It does no good to meet a deadline if we have to come back and fix things later. Our continuous engagement with our project teams in these preventative processes will be a constant reminder of this.