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Forensic Techniques Reveal Conclusive Evidence in West African Pipeline Construction Dispute

by Carl Oland

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ASQ Senior member Carl Oland was retained to examine a contractor’s quality management system (QMS) and assess the extent and effectiveness of its implementation.

After numerous delays and cost overruns, the owner/client of a pipeline project in West Africa terminated the contract with its contractor to manage the completion of the project itself. The contractor claimed there was no basis for such an action, leading to a complete investigation by a group of subject matter experts.

The methodology used included forensic intelligence to collect data and integrate the results into an analysis of the investigative process, and forensic interviews to apply professional use of expertise to interview sources to determine facts of potential interest. A review of the project’s QMS and the composition and the reporting relationships of those responsible for its implementation comprised one part of the investigation.

Case Study At a Glance . . .

Forensic Techniques Reveal Conclusive Evidence in West African Pipeline Construction Dispute

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-Forensic intelligence and forensic interviews can be used to assess the level of compliance and effectiveness of a project’s quality management system (QMS).

-In this case study, the extent of a contractor’s implementation of the project’s QMS, created for the engineering procurement, and construction of a pipeline in West Africa, was disputed between the contractor and the project owner/client.

-To assess the effectiveness of the project’s QMS, data collection through forensic intelligence and forensic interviews assisted in resolving the dispute.

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West African Pipeline Case Study

Basis for Assessment

Internationally accepted standards such as ISO 9001, in part, require records that provide evidence of the effective operation of the QMS to be controlled. Nevertheless, project records proved difficult to retrieve, and thorough examination of the documents failed to provide conclusive evidence of satisfactory QMS implementation.

Forensics Case Study Image 2The situation clearly exemplified the importance for quality professionals to ensure relevant records are clearly identified and retrievable. Moreover, the records must be complete, accurate, and enable subsequent readers knowledgeable in the subject to reach the conclusion intended, especially when being scrutinized years after preparation.

Contemporary QMS standards mandate the retention of quality records, but what judgments pertaining to the planning and performance of a QMS can be reasonably deduced by an examination of those records? Objective evidence in the form of quality records provides indicators of future, as well as past, performance at any time during a project's life cycle.

The judgment criteria were ISO 9001:2008 requirements that any QMS include a quality manual that specifies the scope of the system. When planning product realization, organizations are also required to consider the need to provide resources specific to the realization of that product.

The document specifying QMS processes and the resources to be applied to a specific project or contract is commonly referred to as a quality plan, particularly for the engineering, procurement, and construction of large capital projects. The standard also requires that records provide evidence of conformity to requirements, as well as the effective operation of the system, not only by the project team, but by its corporate organization.

Using these requirements as baselines, an investigation into the contractor’s QMS and project quality plan commenced.

Contractor's Quality Management System/Project Quality Plan

A complete forensic examination of the contractor’s performance was initiated to establish responsibility for schedule delays and cost overruns on a pipeline project the owner/client deemed unacceptable. While the examination’s scope included all facets of project planning, execution, and management, the QMS investigation served to reveal not only its apparent ineffective implementation by the contractor, but the importance of preparing and maintaining credible quality-related records.

The contractor’s corporate organization had established a comprehensive system of project management methodologies for initiating, executing, controlling, and closing projects. This included a requirement to develop detailed execution plans addressing topics such as logistics and mobilization, equipment and material, procurement, engineering, construction, and health and safety.

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However, forensic examination of the available document revealed no objective evidence that any detailed execution plans, other than the contractor’s project quality plan, were prepared as required.

A chronological review of project documents determined the project quality plan was first issued as a draft, but only achieved final approval for use more than two years later. The plan required “project procedures [be] approved and in place for the performance of any quality affecting works.”

It was unclear from the documents reviewed what QMS, if any, was in effect prior to the approval and issuance of the project quality plan. Nevertheless, the contractor’s project quality plan established the quality roles, responsibilities, and performance expectations—the implementation of which were to be verified by independent oversight.

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About the Author

Carl Oland is president of Houston, TX-based Oland Interests, L.P., a consulting firm specializing in the development and documentation, training and implementation, and verification and improvement of quality management systems.

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