Implementation and effectiveness of the ISO 9001 quality management system in the construction sector in the UK and Ireland

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The construction industry in the UK and Ireland has long suffered from endemic quality failures. Formal quality management systems have been proposed as a tool to improve construction delivery. The ISO 9001 standard is the result of research and incremental development. If implemented fully it should lead to continual quality improvement. However, it can be inferred from the continuing quality problems in the construction industry that something is wrong with its implementation.

In this context, this study aims to investigate the extent of implementation of the ISO 9001 quality management system (QMS) in construction organisations, the effectiveness of implementation, and the mechanisms behind the operation of the system. ISO 9001 implementation in three case study organisations is studied using observation, documents and thirty four interviews which are analysed using an abductive grounded theory approach. Synthesis of the interviews generates causal loop diagrams which represent the response of construction managers to their quality management systems. Based on this output, a questionnaire survey is developed.

In all three case study organisations, regulatory decoupling between the operations of the companies and their ISO 9001 systems is taking place. Disconnection of the QMS to quality ‘on the ground’ is evident. This is reflected in the 146 eligible questionnaire survey responses. Deception, backdating signatures and making up paperwork to meet QMS requirements is widespread. Reasons vary between respondents and include time and cost pressure, the administrative burden imposed by QMS paperwork, social contagion of a culture of fudging, the unlikelihood that deception will be detected in an audit and the lack of penalty for deception. The picture of compliance is complex and continually evolving.

The study concludes with recommendations for industry to act to minimise regulatory decoupling of ISO 9001 quality management systems, and to reconnect these systems to delivery of quality ‘on the ground.’
Date of AwardJul 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorJoseph Gunning (Supervisor) & John P. Spillane (Supervisor)

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