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How To Close an NCR in Construction

By far the best way to close an NCR in construction is by following up the actions that have been agreed and then make sure they have been implemented.

This obviously sounds easier than it is in reality, as there might be several different teams involved and even several different companies in many cases that may or may not have an opinion on the closure of an NCR.

Even worse, there might be cases where the Client may want to have a view of the NCR itself.

But let me explain more.

Download the Inspection & Test Plan Template (ITP) for Construction Projects – in Excel Format

What is an NCR in construction?

NCR stands for “NonConformance Report” and it’s one of the most fundamental (and required) tools for an ISO9001-certified company and a construction project, as it basically allows the teams to correct their failures and make sure they won’t happen again.

It’s the ultimate “Lessons Learnt” tool but at the same time it is also a report that can generate as much fuss in a construction project as nothing else, as in many cases it is used like a finger-pointing exercise, for the teams.

I have personally been instructed by a Project Director in the past to go audit a Designer and don’t come back unless there are 3 NCRs raised. Of course, I didn’t follow his instruction but he wanted to use those as ammunition to his commercial battle with them at that point.

An NCR in construction is basically a form that usually consists of the following parts/sections:

  • Identification of the nonconformance (what happened, where and when)
  • List of Requirements that have not been met
  • Correction (the immediate actions the teams took in order to make things right)
  • Corrective Action (measures that have been taken in order to make sure this won’t happen again)
  • Actual Closure (final sign-off with evidence that both correction and corrective actions have been implemented)
ncr in construction stages

Who decides what is a nonconformance?

It should be nobody’s opinion actually what is a nonconformance (or simply NCR) because it should always be based on facts. The good thing about NCRs is actually that they are “black or white”, meaning that a requirement has either been met or not. As simple as that. So, it should be no Client’s or Designer’s or Contractor’s opinion if a situation is actually a nonconformity or not. If the requirement has been then there is no NCR, but if it hasn’t then it should be recorded as an NCR.

However, I should highlight here the fact that construction teams should always be practical and pragmatic and not create additional administrative work and bureaucracy just for the sake of it.

How To Close an NCR in Construction

So, in order to close an NCR that has been opened in a construction project the following steps must be followed (almost religiously):

1. Make sure that the NCR has been identified, described, recorded and documented properly

This is probably the most important step of the process. When a nonconformity occurs in a construction project, all evidence must be collected (photos, documents, videos etc) so that everyone is on the same page as to what happened. Most importantly, the people who are involved must issue the report itself, making sure that all the relevant information are recorded properly on the NCR Report.

2. Make sure the requirements that have not been met are clear

This is another very important part of the NCR process as it is very important to declare what the requirements are and why these have not been met. This list must be very specific and mention the exact document that specifies that requirement e.g. “Concrete ITP No. 1234, Item 15, Hold Point not met” or “Design Drawing 54321 – Section ABC”.

3. Identify the people who actually need to review the NCR and give an opinion on it

It is not uncommon for a nonconformance to demand a change in a design drawing or a specialist’s review. This is actually standard practice when we are talking about structural nonconformances or durability nonconformances or even architectural finishes and materials. What I actually mean here is that you may definitely need to ask your Structural Designer if the nonstandard couplers that were used by mistake in the concrete can actually do the job or your Architect if the slight discoloration of the exposed concrete is fine or not. In my experience, you are always on the safe side if the Designer reviews the NCRs but this may either cost more money (usually they are not that easy to spend time because of someone else’s fault without getting paid extra) and it will definitely delay the whole process as some NCRs may have to go through several people and teams. Sometimes the whole process can even take months or years to go through everyone who needs to review it.

4. Make sure a correction is applied ASAP if needed

There are many cases in construction where a quality-related NCR is actually jeopardizing the health and safety of the teams on site. In this case, and to be fair in every case where an NCR can actually get repaired easily on site a “Correction” must be applied. “Correction” is the term that is used in quality management to basically describe something that has been fixed for that particular item that failed but it is an action that is not necessarily fighting or eliminating the root cause of the problem. To make this simpler, imagine a factory production line that produced red boxes. If a box comes out blue, then the correction would be to paint that specific box red. Problem solved? For that particular box, yes. For the next boxes that are supposed to be red, not so much.

5. Make sure the Root Cause has been identified and recorded

The Root Cause is the single most important thing you should be researching once an NCR has been identified on-site. It is not a simple thing to be found and I have to admit that only very transparent and honest companies in construction are really determined to find the real root cause of the issues that occur in a project. It requires a lot of courage and honesty to declare the real problems in your teams, especially when these involve miscommunication, lack of leadership, micromanagement or even time pressure and poor project management. The best and easiest method to identify the root cause of an NCR is by the “5-Why Methodology” which is exactly what it sounds: you ask 5 times “why x happened” and you must end up with a proper answer after a few why’s. Identifying the root cause of a nonconformance is extremely important and if it’s not done, then any corrective action applied would simply be ineffective or even worse not even true.

6. Agree on the Corrective Action

Once the root cause has been identified, then the “Corrective Action” should be a fairly straightforward process to be agreed. By the term “Corrective Action” we basically mean an action that once taken it will basically eliminate the root cause of the nonconformance and make sure that something similar won’t happen again. Once the corrective action has been implemented than the NCR should be considered closed a there is nothing else to be done, really.

7. Closure of the NCR

Once all the stages of the NCR have actually been completed and there is clear evidence of implementation for each one of the stages, then there must be a final sign-off at the end of the form by the Client, the Project Director/Manager or even the Designer that tye are happy with the actions and they give their approval for the final closure. This should be a fairly simple process and basically a formality if all the evidence is there. Sometimes, a final inspection on site might be required by the teams that are involved in order to verify the closure itself and close it once and for all.

A few caveats to the process

As you saw, closing an NCR can be a lengthy and heavy administrative work with lots of evidence and documents to be collected if it needs to be done properly.

So what happens in many cases, is that the teams in a construction project avoid raising those NCRs because it is actually additional paperwork that nobody actually likes.

Moreover, even Quality Managers or QA/QC Managers avoid raising them many times because they can be a pain to get closed as several people need to be chased up for months or even years.

So, the easier and simpler the whole process is, the better it is overall and with the use of electronic forms or even digital platforms with steps and designated signatories/accounts the process can be streamlined a lot today. However, not that many companies in the construction industry engage modern technology unfortunately and they still prefer pen and paper.

There is nothing wrong with pen and paper and in many cases, it is better, simpler and faster than any other digital tool, as long as it does the job and keep people happy.

Another thing that I should highlight is the fact that not every NCR in construction needs an actual Corrective Action. There are millions of smaller things in construction that require a quick fix on the spot, a quick photo and a quick approval of a repair material. The wise thing to do in these cases is to record all those items an identify if there are any trends that can actually become a worrying thing for the project.

What I basically mean, is that yes, a scratch on a wall can definitely be a one-off thing and probably nothing to worry about at the end of the day (as long as it can get fixed quickly) but if a similar scratch on that wall happens every day, then it’s probably time to take some more drastic actions because it is a trend that could lead to loss of time and money after all.

But…at the end of the day why shall we bother raising NCRs?

This is the million-dollar question.

If a team, a company or an organization is determined to improve they must know, record and analyse what is wrong in their performance. It’s the only way moving forward.

Download the Inspection & Test Plan Template (ITP) for Construction Projects – in Excel Format

Conclusion

So, this is how to close NCR in construction. As I mentioned earlier Nonconformance Reports are an extremely valuable tool for construction projects and their Clients, even if it is really just a document that nobody enjoys filling out or spending time with. If there are lessons to be learned from a particular bad situation in a construction team then this is the best way to manage those mishaps and failures and basically make sure they won’t occur again. This is what a successful organization should strive for to achieve the holy grail of quality management called “Continuous Improvement”.

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AUTHOR
Pavlos Inglesis
I am a Chartered Civil Engineer (CEng-MICE) and a Chartered Quality Professional (MCQI CQP) working in the construction industry for about 20 years. My specialty is Quality Control and Quality Assurance Management in Construction Projects. I have worked on projects in the Middle East, and Greece and am now based in the UK.

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