From Formula One to Construction: Driving Quality at DPR

This article is included in the Great Things: Issue 7 edition of the DPR Newsletter.

In both the Formula One (F1) motorsport and construction industries, quality is paramount. One small oversight can mean project delays, cost overruns, safety issues, reputational damage and in the worst case, even be a matter of life or death.

A basic definition of quality is that a product or service is free of defects and an end-user is satisfied. However, ensuring something so integral and important to any process and final product can actually be quite complicated and difficult to achieve without the proper framework and quality mindset in place.

Ellie Holland, an aerospace engineer by training, is DPR Construction’s quality manager in Europe, facilitating “Building Quality Builders,” workshops aimed at developing the skills and mindset teams need to successfully identify risks and stakeholder expectations so they can avoid project surprises and rework. The goal is to educate project leaders on the benefits of incorporating quality into a project’s lifecycle, from the pursuit phase through the closeout process.

Prior to joining DPR, Holland spent years as a quality and reliability engineer for F1 racing teams, an industry that is arguably one of the most fast-paced and high-pressure to work in where female engineers are rare. The smallest defect can cause an F1 car to break down, sometimes due to the most unexpected detail. Applying outside-the-box thinking and considering potential risks before they might occur prepared Holland to share her quality mindset with people and projects across DPR’s European business.

Ellie Holland headshot
Prior to construction, Ellie was a quality engineer and reliability engineer for F1 racing teams. Courtesy of Andy Hone

“F1 is a team game because behind every individual driver is a group that works closely together to ensure every car safely reaches the finish line in the fastest time possible,” said Holland. “The same is true in construction. At DPR we are a team comprised of various roles through which quality has to permeate to ensure we exceed our customers’ expectations.”

Quality is split into two distinct sub-categories. Quality Assurance, which happens in a project’s planning stages, is a proactive approach to applying a framework of processes and procedures to assure customer satisfaction. Conversely, Quality Control is the reactive approach for measuring, checking and detecting defects. In construction, the end functionality of a building is of paramount importance, including its structural composition and adherence to local regulations.

“Quality encompasses the service given to all parties internal and external, so it should not just be one person’s responsibility, but that of everyone involved,” Holland said.

DPR aims to ensure quality is at the core of its work and is committed to maintaining incident-free environments on all our projects.

“We empower our people to have a quality mindset and build with passion, striving to provide excellence to our customers and culminating in a superior grade building and experience,” said Holland. ”We want our culture to set an example and inspire other businesses, customers and trades in our network to help us achieve the highest quality infrastructure. Quality is like any habit, that initially takes continuous persistence, quickly becoming self-sustaining and ingrained in our mindset.”

A strong quality framework sets project teams up to complete highly complex and technical projects with predictable outcomes. If quality is planned for at the outset, risks are identified early, innovations that improve efficiency are put in place and a collaborative spirit is fostered among stakeholders. In other words, problems that could jeopardize success can be tackled before a shovel hits the ground.

It also helps achieve the goal of zero rework at completion not only realistic but the norm.

DLR Fra13 Rooftop, exterior shot of building.
A strong quality framework sets project teams up to complete highly complex technical projects with predictable outcomes. Courtesy of Adam van Noort

“Quality kick-offs happen on each DPR project to get teams thinking about how they will record quality and ensure it remains implemented throughout. For example, we talk about project quality plans, responsibilities, benchmarks for quality, the process of snagging and inspections, building close-out both physically and documentation-wise, as well as using our previous experience and recording lessons as we go along,” says Holland.

Another way Holland finds the construction industry similar to Formula One is how it incorporates data, technologies, and ingenuity in its processes. For example, DPR leverages data and virtual design and construction (VDC) to positively affect quality outcomes on projects.

Holland also notes how she feels DPR has fostered an impressive set of high achieving women and male-to-female ratio: “At Formula One, I thought about the fact I was a woman on a daily basis - in my behavior or communication or even subconsciously. At DPR it is extremely rare for it to cross my mind. We are people, we are equal, we all have a job to do and we work together to do it.”