Achieving True Project Completeness with
Construction Punch Lists
September 15, 2022
When you’ve worked for any amount of time on capital projects, you know something is bound to be inadvertently left unfinished, damaged during construction or found to be missing. Luckily, these items tend to find their way onto the construction punch list, the traditionally late-stage process when all that is incomplete becomes complete just before handover. So much hinges on this list as it is often the final step before contractors and subcontractors get paid and owners take possession of their projects.
And because there is normally a lot to manage on a punch list, there can be confusion over item status. The consequences of such confusion?
Among the most impactful is the withholding of retention payments. For the client, contract retention acts as a guarantee that their project will be delivered according to the contract requirements and with all incomplete or incorrectly done punch list items addressed. Construction punch list items that are improperly or inconsistently documented or even overlooked can jeopardize the contractor’s ability to confidently prove the substantial completion necessary to release payment.
And then there’s the threat of liquidated damages claims against the contractor. These claims are about adhering to the timing of construction milestones so that the client doesn’t incur potential business losses or extra costs. Construction punch lists that are excessively long, contain substantial defects found late in the project, or aren’t completed on time can make a damages claim more likely.
In both cases, there’s also the very real potential for risk of injury to site crews hustling as they meet deadlines to collect their retainage and avoid liquidated damages claims. Why is this? The punch list’s historically late start in the project life cycle is a key reason why workers can end up feeling pressured into cramming a crush of repairs and rework into a condensed period of time, which can endanger their safety. And on top of that, rushed punch list fixes can fall short of being satisfactory and therefore, ironically, be deemed incomplete.
If you think about it right now, how confident are you in your punch list workflow? Can you accurately track its progress, complete it on time, go through the final walkthrough with the owner and know that your version of “complete” will be considered “complete” by the owner?
If you’re not 100% sure, you’re not alone. Getting to a better place may involve adjusting your current punch list practices and implementing proven technology to support them.
Ensure your QA plan and QC processes are aligned
How well are your quality assurance (QA) plan and quality control processes (QC), which includes your punch list, in sync with each other? Are QC efforts supporting the quality standards you outlined at the beginning? Remember, it’s not just a matter of being in sync; it’s staying that way throughout construction.
Staying in sync comes from strict enforcement. Clarify with the client at the start what expectations are and what everyone’s agreed-upon realistic understanding is of terms like delay, beyond control, defect, and substantial completion. Make sure walkthroughs are happening as planned. Define a consistent method for recording or verifying what is identified in those walkthroughs. Also, have a way to promptly get this information to the appropriate work crew to address. Enforcing standards like this can lead to higher quality, fewer errors and less to repair or finish as the completion date approaches. These help form the basis of a construction punch list that is more feasible and can be completed.
Shift the construction punch list process
Chances are, you’ve probably looked at your punch lists and thought, “If only we’d known about this sooner.” When it comes to punch lists, their traditionally late start hasn’t done anyone any favors. Timing is everything, as they say. So, start earlier. Introduce the punch list process when construction begins and continue it throughout the project life cycle as a rolling punch list. Purposely identifying, assigning and resolving issues and defects as they’re found cuts down on the items left to finish at project’s end, and eases the burden on site crews tasked with completing them.
Phase out hard copies and computer spreadsheets
Today’s punch list items involve more than simply checking off a box. The process has become more arduous, especially for lengthy builds with overlapping phases. To effectively track the progress of your construction punch list items and feel confident in knowing their completion status, it’s going to come down to not just what you document but how you do it.
We’re all familiar with the inaccuracies and impracticalities of traditional manual methods when it comes to any kind of project management. Digitalizing this process via construction documentation software overcomes these problems while introducing efficiency and certainty. How? Consider the level of detail and amount of documentation punch lists depend on. It hinges on how everything is collected, stored and accessed. With standard or customized punch list templates, you can consistently collect the right information without risking missed or incorrectly recorded items. And with cloud-based software, all that information and recorded progress is available to view from anywhere at any time, including related documentation such as checklists, change orders, emails, and reference photos. With this faster, more efficient and more accurate process, you’ll be able to achieve substantial completion with confidence — and with proof.
Make mobile functionality work for you
Just as important as how to document punch list items is where to document them. And thanks to cloud technology, mobile-enabled documentation software has vastly improved the way this process is executed, which will prove indispensable for large capital projects that have seen more than their fair share of unwieldy punch lists.
Take, for instance, those quality check walkthroughs and inspections. Bringing along an internet-enabled mobile device effectively turns them into a rolling punch list — logging and photographing defects, flaws and even safety hazards as you go, immediately assigning them for corrective action, then later verifying their completion all within the mobile app. Also, you get far more accurate data right from the jobsite. No more dealing with indecipherable notes or copying handwritten details to computer spreadsheets. And far fewer issues that go undiscovered and grow into something more serious and costly to fix.
Communicate, communicate, communicate
It’s easy to think of construction punch lists as a function of process and technology, but they’re also about communication. It starts with the client and understanding their expectations when establishing a QA plan, as that will ultimately help inform the punch list. As for the lists themselves, they can be considered a means to an end, serving as a way we can communicate what needs to be done before we can say a project is complete.
In a large building project, there can be hundreds if not thousands of tasks on the punch list to be addressed. Communication is critical to delivering an accurate and manageable punch list. It keeps the necessary site crews and stakeholders informed about what needs to be done, alerts them when something changes or is delayed, and allows for better collaboration among everyone. The technology used to manage the punch list process can act as a hub for much of this communication while also providing access to the information and templates needed to understand and execute the list items.
If you’d like to streamline your current construction punch list processes and transition away from spreadsheets, InEight document management could be the right solution. Request a consultation to learn how it can shorten jobsite data collection time and help you accurately capture defects and resolve them for true project completeness now and in the future.
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