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The Definition, Perceived Barriers and Benefits of Quality Management at Abu Dhabi Ports

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The Definition, Perceived Barriers and Benefits of Quality Management at Abu Dhabi Ports
Table of Contents
  1. Abstract
  2. Introduction
  3. Literature Review
  4. Research Methodology
  5. Data Analysis
  6. Results
  7. Conclusions and Recommendations
  8. References


This paper discusses the problems of defining quality in the development of ports and industrial zones in the United Arab Emirates. Quality management has been extensively adopted by Emirati companies with the purpose of solving quality problems and meeting the evolving needs of the final customer. At the same time, quality implementation implies overcoming certain barriers some of which are universal for Emirati businesses and some are unique to a particular corporate environment. This interview-based qualitative study uses unstructured data collected during interviews administered at Abu Dhabi Ports, UAE to expose common themes and topics related to benefits and barriers to quality implementation. Results show that managers and employees at the selected company are aware of the potential benefits of quality implementation but are also concerned about existing barriers. The paper describes various developments that could help Abu Dhabi ports overcome the identified hurdles.

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Today, the construction industry has to keep up with the evolving needs of its clients that prioritize safety, high quality of service, better performance, and innovative technologies. In a search for new solutions, the construction industry has turned to the manufacturing industry that has long benefitted from approaches such as TQM (total quality management) and Lean (or Just In Time) production and engineering. Abu Dhabi Ports, also commonly referred to as AD Ports, is the primary developer of ports and industrial zones in Abu Dhabi. AD Ports controls all commercial ports in the region and propels the economic growth of the UAE. In 2017, AD Ports’ quality management systems were certified with ISO 9001:2015, an internationally recognized standard of quality management (Abu Dhabi Ports, 2017). The company’s commitment to quality implementation is compelling to analyze from the standpoint of perceived barriers and benefits of quality management.

Literature Review

Quality can be defined as a degree of excellence in one or more aspects, often based on non-arbitrary standards. Drawing on this definition, quality management is the implementation of standards with the purpose of maintaining the existing degree of excellence and improving it further to meet the changing needs of the market (Oakland & Marosszeky, 2017). In relation to quality implementation, Bravi et al. (2019) point out two types of companies: developmental and non-developmental. According to Bravi et al. (2015), non-developmental companies are companies that approach quality implementation in a formal manner. They do not act from the place of genuine commitment; instead, they do the bare minimum to receive necessary certifications. Developmental companies, on the other hand, understand the benefits of quality management and seek to reap them for long-term sustainable improvement.

It is not exactly easy to find the precise definition of quality in the construction sector. Hoonakker et al. (2010) provide an amalgamation of different researchers’ opinions on what constitutes the concept of quality for construction companies. Hoonakker et al. (2010) were able to identify characteristics such as meeting expectations of the customer, few to none defects, conformance to ISO 9000 criteria, and completion of time and on the given budget.

After interviewing numerous companies in the construction industry, Hoonakker et al. (2010) compiled a classification of benefits of quality implementation. Firstly, companies pointed out formal recognition of their efforts in the form of quality awards and certifications such as ISO: 9001. According to the findings made by Hoonakker et al. (2010), quality implementation helped with increasing the quality of work staff through training and education. Lastly, quality implementation was associated with gaining a competitive advantage as customers were more likely to return to businesses that were adhering to the highest quality standards.

However, delivering results at the optimal quality is often compromised by barriers to quality implementation. Some of these barriers are universal while others are characteristic of a particular business environment. Through their empirical study, Wee et al. (2016) were able to identify a multitude of barriers and group them into several categories. The categories that arose from the data analysis were human resources barriers, strategic barriers, and contextual barriers (Wee et al., 2016). Human resources barriers included but were not limited to the lack of employers’ commitment, proper training, and education. In terms of strategic management, quality implementation was impeded by the lack of upper management support and strategic planning. Lastly, contextual barriers manifested themselves through inappropriate organizational culture and poor, ineffective communication.

Lodgaard et al. (2015) report that two out of three organization change programs targeting continuous improvement fail to yield expected results. Continuous improvement is a concept related to quality management that can be defined as a culture of sustained improvements. Lodgaard et al. (2015) write that while the majority of companies realize the benefits of committing to continuous improvement, not many of them can reach their quality implementation goals. Lodgaard et al. (2015) report that top managers and employees have different opinions regarding the factors that impede continuous improvement. According to top managers surveyed for the study, the main barriers are subpar information systems and chosen methods of organizational change. Employees, on the other hand, saw the problem in ineffective management characterized by limited support. Aside from that, employees were self-critical: they admitted that it is workers’ lack of involvement, engagement, and commitment that prevent companies from meeting their quality management goals.

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Research Methodology

For this study, we implemented an interview-based qualitative design. Qualitative research relies on unstructured data and forms of data analysis that are not numerical. This type of research enables a deeper understanding of human reasoning and motivation – insights that are typically non-retrievable from numerical data. This study relies on convenience sampling: the method of sampling that prioritizes the proximity of the studied objects. The scope of the current research is limited to only one company – Abu Dhabi Ports, UAE. For this study, we recruited respondents from three levels: top management, middle management, and regular employees. Since the interview method is considered to be fairly time-consuming, the total number of respondents was limited to 15 – five of each group. For this study, we were not able to achieve equal gender representation as 11 out of 15 (68%) recruited respondents were male.

The chosen method of qualitative inquiry is a semi-structured interview that implies a pre-defined list of questions that, however, allows for digressing and unexpected development of discussion. The administration of interviews was ethical as all participants were informed about anonymity and confidentiality. After learning about the objectives of the study, all participants provided informed consent. The primary three questions that were posed to each respondent were:

  1. How do you define quality and quality management?
  2. What do you think are the benefits of quality implementation at Abu Dhabi Ports?
  3. What do you think are the barriers to quality implementation at Abu Dhabi Ports?

Data Analysis

Since the current study is interview-based, it was important to select a data analysis method that would be appropriate for unstructured data. We chose content analysis that is used to identify the presence of certain words, themes, or concepts within the corpus of data such as responses to interviews. The text data was processed and encoded using software for qualitative analysis NVivo that allows for creating nodes for important themes found within the investigated corpus. When possible, themes were grouped into categories to make the results more conclusive and enable easier comparison between different groups of interviewees.


Table 1. Responses from the top management

Interview question Themes identified through content analysis Percentage of instances (percentage of people mentioning the topic)
How do you define quality and quality management? Being excellent in your sector 100%
Having formal certificates 80%
Controlling others, pushing them to do their best 80%
What do you think are the benefits of quality implementation at Abu Dhabi Ports? Longevity of business 80%
Competitive advantages 100%
Having a good reputation 66%
What do you think are the barriers to quality implementation at Abu Dhabi Ports? The slow transformation from obsolete to new approaches 80%
Insufficient digital penetration of the company 80%
The trade-off between time and quality 66%

As seen from Table 1, all respondents from top management agree that quality means being excellent in one’s sector. Top managers emphasize the importance of controlling others in their definition of management and formal recognition of their endeavors. Every respondent from the top management group mentioned that quality management provides competitive advantages. 80% of respondents highlight the increased longevity of the business, and two-thirds value having a good reputation. The majority of top managers are unhappy about the speed of organizational change and digital penetration. Two-thirds mentioned that quality implementation often means a trade-off between time and quality.

Table 2. Responses from the middle management

Interview question Themes identified through content analysis Percentage of instances
How do you define quality and quality management? Doing one’s best within a limited budget and timeframe 100%
Meeting international standards 80%
Meeting the requirements of the customer 80%
What do you think are the benefits of quality implementation at Abu Dhabi Ports? Sustainability 80%
Competitive advantages 100%
Customer return 66%
What do you think are the barriers to quality implementation at Abu Dhabi Ports? Poor communication between different levels 80%
The trade-off between time and quality 80%
Ineffective human resource management 66%

Table 2 demonstrates that middle management is customer-focused when it comes to its definition of quality. The majority of respondents also show regard for formal proofs of excellence such as international certificates. Like top managers, all middle managers are aware of the competitive advantages that quality implementation provides. Another similarity is the top managers’ focus on longevity and middle managers’ focus on sustainability. What is different, however, is middle management’s attention to more concrete metrics such as customer return. Both top and middle managers concur that quality implementation often poses a dilemma between time-efficiency and quality. Contrary to the top management group, middle managers pointed out the human factor as one of the barriers to quality implementation.

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Table 3. Responses from employees

Interview question Themes identified through content analysis Percentage of instances
How do you define quality and quality management? Doing one’s best within a limited budget and timeframe 100%
Being committed to higher goals 80%
Optimizing every process 80%
What do you think are the benefits of quality implementation at Abu Dhabi Ports? Few to none defects, less rework 80%
Clarity regarding guidelines and instructions 100%
Personal motivation 66%
What do you think are the barriers to quality implementation at Abu Dhabi Ports? Poor work-life balance 80%
Lack of support and communication 80%
Not being educated enough to meet the highest standards 66%

As seen from Table 3, employees narrowed down the definition of quality and quality management to meaningful contributions at a personal level. The benefits were both customer-focused (meeting all requirements, experiencing few to none defects) and personal (clarity regarding guidelines and instructions). All the barriers mentioned by employees had something to do with the human factor, be it communication or motivation. Employees were more self-critical than other groups of respondents.

Conclusions and Recommendations

The findings of this study are consistent with the existing research on the topic. Managers and employees of all levels at Abu Dhabi Ports are well aware of the benefits of quality implementation and express concerns about existing barriers. The first recommendation draws on the definition given to quality and quality management by different groups of respondents. While the top and middle managers focused on formal achievements and the large-scale picture, employees were more concrete and down-to-earth in their understanding of quality management. The same goes for the perceived benefits: managers were thinking big and listing long-term advantages while employees were more inclined to point out how quality implementation helps them with day-to-day work. The two sides of quality management – philosophical and practical – should be weaved into the company’s mission and vision.

A similar situation is observed when it comes to barriers to quality implementation at Abu Dhabi Ports. Top managers are prone to analyzing the state of the company on a large scale: they are concerned about the rate of transformation and digital penetration. While these concerns are valid, they are detached from more concrete aspects of quality management that middle managers and employees are more aware of. Both middle managers and employees would prefer better human resources management that would include education and promoting a healthy work-life balance. Therefore, a valid recommendation that could enable the mutual understanding between different levels of the company is introducing procedures that would facilitate communication. Firstly, it could be regular meetings that would include individuals from different levels and departments. Secondly, job satisfaction surveys and simple feedback forms could be reflective of the state of the company and suggestive of necessary improvements.


Abu Dhabi Ports. (2017). Abu Dhabi Ports’ quality management systems certified with ISO 9001:2015. Web.

Bravi, L., Murmura, F., & Santos, G. (2019). The ISO 9001: 2015 quality management system standard: companies’ drivers, benefits and barriers to its implementation. Quality Innovation Prosperity, 23(2), 64-82.

Hoonakker, P., Carayon, P., & Loushine, T. (2010). Barriers and benefits of quality management in the construction industry: An empirical study. Total quality management, 21(9), 953-969.

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Lodgaard, E., Ingvaldsen, J. A., Aschehoug, S., & Gamme, I. (2016). Barriers to continuous improvement: perceptions of top managers, middle managers and workers. Procedia CIRP, 41, 1119-1124.

Oakland, J. S., & Marosszeky, M. (2017). Total construction management: Lean quality in construction project delivery. Taylor & Francis.

Wee, W. C. W., Baskaran, T. L., Woon, K. K., Chow, P. Y., & Mangalam, A. M. J. (2016). Total quality management barriers: Malaysia’s SME perspective. International Journal of Modelling in Operations Management, 6(1-2), 88-111.

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