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How to Make your Punch List a Done List

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Let’s face it, punch list items are simply rework. 

Every time somebody doesn’t do something right, or there’s a foul-up after the work is finished, it goes on the list. Simply put, the punch list is nothing more than a list of mistakes you’ve got to correct before the project closeout. Every industry has the equivalent of a punch list, but none have the variables you find in construction. Here are the 6 top strategies for making your punch list a done list.

1. Free the Specifications 

If drawings show how things go together, specifications tell what things to use. However, specifications often simply live in the minds of people on many projects. They may be the specifications someone remembers from the same kind of task on a previous project. Or, maybe they come from someone who learned the wrong methods. 

But, specifications shouldn’t live in the minds of people. They should live right beside the plans, the work packages, and the schedules.

Let’s say the specification calls for wall protections during construction to save the walls from damage while flooring and ceiling work progress. The appropriate contractor installs the plastic protection product, but they make a mistake. During the installation, they use the wrong tape to seal the seams. When the protection is removed, the tape tears the drywall’s outer paper. Oops, that’s gonna be a punch list item.

Maybe, the specification for the tape wasn’t included in the project specifications. Or, someone might have seen the specs but reasoned the tape they had on hand was good enough. Then you’ve either got a specification problem or a quality control problem.

Just consider all the ways you can get the specs in front of the people doing the work in order to avoid the problems stemming from the lack of specifications. Like adding the specs to a briefing at the start of the shift. Or using an audio recording pushed out to mobile devices. 

One of the most surefire ways your specs will be managed effectively and successfully is through a solution like Procore’s project management platform. Procore’s spec management allows field teams to access specs and plans on a mobile device from anywhere. They can link specifications directly to their RFIs and submittals, compare in real-time and use it as a reference point to categorize deficiencies.  Whatever method you opt for, it’s only good if people start seeing and understanding the specifications before they do the work.

2. Get Transparent with Quality

It’s amazing how much beauty, or lack of beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. When you finish up a task or project, and you’re admiring the perfection you’ve managed to create in 3D, someone else might look at it and point out its flaws. Or, when you do a quality inspection, the inspected party might be genuinely surprised at the mistakes you point out.

How does this difference of opinion in quality happen, and is there anything you can do to prevent it? The answer isn’t an easy one. Nevertheless, if you start back when you are estimating and bidding, you can nip much of it in the bud. 

Bid packages and requests for quotations can be notoriously brief on specifications. In some ways, it makes sense. After all, a wood-framed wall is a wood-framed wall, and there are widely accepted standards for how you build them. These traditional assemblies often rely on the phrase “generally accepted workmanship” as their specification and measure of quality.

However, the specifications and the quality expectations change if someone intends to build a super-insulated structure. Then, the wall needs to be built differently to allow insulation that improves thermal performance. To complicate matters, there are at least two ways to do it right. Option one, you build what’s called a wall with advanced framing. Option two, called High R-Value or Double Stud Wall, delivers greater thermal advantages. 

That’s where you get down to the real issue of quality: knowing exactly what the client expects. If you don’t know the answer when estimating and bidding, then the stage is set for disagreements about what constitutes quality.  

And, those disagreements will crop up throughout construction, not just at punch list time. Be thorough and precise with specifications, and tell the client beforehand what constitutes acceptable quality in your opinion. Then listen as they tell you what quality means to them.

3. Activate Technology to Improve Your Punch List Processes

Throughout your quest to make your punch list a done list, consider all the digital tools that can help you. The punch list has always suffered from delays and headaches because there are so many moving parts that require so many people to react. When you start to use punch list software to improve the process, you remove roadblocks, reduce errors, and speed up approvals. And ultimately, get more done, sooner.

When using Procore’s Punch List, you gain fine control over your punch list process. Your dashboard shows your punch list items, who is assigned to fix them, and the status. You can even see a graphic showing the percentages of punch list items closed, in dispute, started and completed. You can also see the average response time as well as a running tally by assignee as to the number of items that are open, closed and overdue.

4. Getting to a Near-Zero-Item Punch List 

A near-zero-item punch list program is part of your quality control program that aims to reduce the punch lists items to just accidental damages. By eliminating all the punch list items that arise from mistakes in interpreting specifications or mistakes in delivering the correct quality, you are not only reducing the size of the closeout punch list, but you’re also reducing rework throughout the project. 

After you’ve put the specifications and quality expectations into the hands of the people doing the work, you can round out your near-zero-item punch list program by asking simple, relevant questions as people finish tasks and activities. Does it meet the specifications? Does it meet the expected quality? Try a post-task checklist in the hands of foremen and team leaders. Or, push the questions out to mobile devices the morning of scheduled completion. One caution: remember to keep your questions specific and realistic. 

For example, if your end-of-task question for drywall finishing doesn’t reference the level of finish and it doesn’t specify how to get that finish, then you’re relying on the person’s knowledge to determine if the spec was met. They may be able to competently finish drywall without ever knowing the specifics of what constitutes a certain level of finish. They might have simply learned how to “do it right” according to the work’s location, and so that’s what they do. 

However, if they had learned that two coats of joint compound over fasteners “was plenty,” they’re not finishing the drywall to level four or five specifications. The drywall finish could easily fail the quality standards if the room has critical lighting or lightweight wall coverings with limited patterns. Trouble is, you are unlikely to notice any problems until the final finish is applied. Then, you’ve got an expensive rework job. 

People need to understand the specifications and the expected quality before doing the work. Then, if they must certify the work meets specific criteria upon completion, you stand a good chance of avoiding a problem down the road. And that moves you closer to a near-zero-item punch list at project’s end. 

5. Improve Your Punch List Process

Here are some surefire steps you can take to streamline the punch list process.

  • Get specifications into the hands of the people doing the work. People often only know one way of doing something. If that way isn’t in line with the specification, that’s more rework for you and more punch list items.
  • Know and communicate the client’s quality expectations at the activity level as specifications fulfill only one part of the client’s expectations. You might need to include more detail on expected quality for activities that rely on “generally accepted workmanship” as their specification.
  • Add a near-zero-item punch list program to your quality controls.
  • Use inspections to flag potential problems early. On the schedule, highlight activities that are prone to mistakes or have unusual specifications, and then pay closer attention to them as they are done.
  • Use photos to better convey what work is considered substandard. Procore’s Project Photos feature allows you to upload and link photos to your punch list. This way, people have an image to help understand both the problem and the fix. There is a bonus to using images to describe punch list items. People who can consult an image before they head out to fix the punch list item are more likely to arrive with the right staff, tools, equipment, and materials.

Improve Change Management

Change creates a lot of punch list items. An ineffective and inefficient change order process will balloon your punch lists and add a lot of delays at closeout.

There are at least two ways in which your punch list drama is similar to your change order drama. Both are greatly impacted by substandard quality and inadequate specifications.

When you get a handle on those two culprits, you improve your chances of reducing change orders and in the longer term, you’re moving toward a near-zero-item punch list. Interestingly, the very same actions used to improve quality and define specifications for punch lists also reduce change orders.

Review your change order processes and remove unnecessary steps, approvals, or reviews that can slow it down. By making your change order process a digital one, you can reduce errors and stop the repetition. Talk to people and find out the change order pain points so you can further adjust your processes and remove them.

The punch list as a done list is really all about making quality a hallmark of your daily project management efforts. Once you do that, you’ll be surprised at how the lowly punch list can become the catalyst for improved performance.

If you want to streamline your construction punch list by keeping a clear list of punch list items, track them in real time, and create and assign punch lists directly from the field, request a demo of Procore’s Punch List Solution.   

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