Punch List Best Practices: 14 Tips for Successful Punch Lists
The final walk-through with a client can be a stressful experience for any contractor or construction professional. It often involves going through a punch list, which outlines any remaining work that needs to be completed before the project can be officially considered finished. However, punch lists can quickly become a nightmare scenario if handled incorrectly. The process can be overwhelming, from missed deadlines to forgotten details, resulting in a tense relationship between the contractor and client.
But, with the right approach and best practices, creating a successful punch list experience is always achievable.
In this article, we will discuss some smart and simple punch list best practices to help you ensure a smooth and efficient punch list process that will leave your clients satisfied and your team proud of the work completed.
Before The Final Punch List Meeting
1. Begin the Project With the End in Mind
Quality should be built in from the start of your project — and not added at the end. This means being aware of the project’s requirements and doing regular site inspections so you can catch issues early. The later problems are discovered, the more costly they will be to fix.
Here are three recommendations that will support the long-term quality of your project:
- Focus on quality: Not only in materials but in all aspects. Hire the right people and keep motivating them. Work on clear communication, efficient delegation and quality software — and strive for an effective follow-up process.
- Work together: You are a team, so make sure everyone knows their role and responsibilities. You rely on each other!
- Evaluate every few months: Plan a meeting — even if it’s online. And organize periodic site visits with the customer to evaluate progress. Ask for feedback, both good and bad, from all parties involved.
Remember that the walk-through is a final meeting and its effectiveness ultimately depends on the quality of your work and collaboration up to this point. Your efforts during the project will guarantee a short punch list, a happy customer, fast payment — and space for new projects!
“After being involved in over $300 million of project punch lists over the past 20 years, I’ve learned that a well-executed project closeout process begins long before the punch list is prepared. The first step is to educate the client on what a punch list is and what it is not, and clearly define expectations up front.”
Todd Dawalt of Construction Leading Edge
2. Focus on What You Can Control And Let Go Of What You Can’t
In every part of our lives, we should strive to focus on what we can control — instead of stressing over things we can’t. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t prepare; it means you should remember that unexpected things happen. And will keep happening. So come to your punch list meeting knowing you can never be prepared for everything, and unforeseen things will appear. And that’s O.K.
When issues arise, stay calm, and give yourself room to think. If there’s nothing you can do, it’s time to move on.
3. Be Prepared
You should prepare for the unexpected as much as you can. Think of everything that could go wrong. Then think of what you need to prepare — what you can find out, research, or bring to the meeting — to solve the matter.
Know the contract specifications, know your role and responsibilities, and bring and reread your project documents:
- Original contract and requirements (Tip: go back through the specifications once more)
- Important emails
- Previous agreements
- Progress reports and plans
- Previous invoices
Even better, bring it electronically if you can. Deltek ArchiSnapper clients usually bring their tablet or mobile with our field report app, which stores their progress reports, PDF plans, and original contracts.
The time you spend on preparation will be worth it when it helps you settle a disagreement about little — but costly — details during the walk-through.
4. Invite The Client
It may seem absurd that the client wouldn’t get invited to the final walk-through. But it happens, and the result is a waste of time — and money. If six people come to the walkthrough, and they each earn $100 an hour, you just wasted $600 if the client doesn’t show up.
So, make sure to send a meeting reminder to all parties involved, including the client, and make sure they know the 4 W’s: When, where, why (you want them to think about their responsibilities) and what (to bring). This should help you save time — and, ultimately, money.
5. Check the Site Beforehand
A punch list meeting is an important milestone in your project. It’s important to scope out the site beforehand: Read over the specs and find (and repair) any deficiencies.
By checking out the project right before the final meeting, you’ll gain a mental overview of what’s finished and what might be subject to discussion.
You’ll also know how to anticipate certain problems or questions — which will help you feel confident about the meeting.
During The Final Punch List Meeting
6. Arrive Early
Don’t underestimate the power of arriving early to meetings. The last thing you want to do is arrive late for a long-awaited punch list moment. Not only will you be stressed and unfocused, but you’ll also lose the trust of those awaiting you.
As the first person on-site, you’ll be calm, confident, and prepared, ready to welcome everyone when they arrive. Your professional approach will trigger trust and appreciation, making the punch list process a win-win deal.
7. Use An App
If you’re still drafting field reports and punch lists in Word or Excel; typing out notes; adding photos, sketches, assignees, and annotations on floor plans and struggling with the layout of the report, it’s time for a change. It’s time to start using a punch list app.
Here’s what you should look for in a punch list app:
- Simplicity: Less is more. At first, it might be tempting to choose an app with a lot of features, fields, forms, and configurations. But remember that 90% of the time, you’ll only need 10% of your app’s core functionalities. You’ll need a quick and easy way to add an observation (snag, item, deficiency) with a photo, room number, and potentially an indication on a PDF floor plan.
- Offline functionality: In cases where you’ll be without a reliable internet connection, you’ll need to make sure your app works offline — and that you can capture new observations and photos without a connection.
- Cloud storage: You don’t want to lose all your observations, snags, reports, and photos if your phone gets stolen or breaks. Your software should have a web backend (in the cloud) where your data is synced, allowing multiple colleagues to work on the same project.
- Compatibility: Though it probably goes without saying, your app should work on both your mobile device and computer.
- Ample features: Though your app should be simple, it should also include these essential features:
- Add issue with text, photos, assignees, and due date
- Generate PDF reports and observation lists
- Filter issues based on assignee, status, category, or project
- Draw and sketch on photos and PDF plans
- Locate issues on PDF plan
- Export/import from other systems
- Sign off the punch list or field report
- Voice-to-text capability
- Auto-numbering of items and reports
“A punch list is often an architect’s last chance to ensure their intent is carried out. The client is counting on us to get them the best project possible. Why would we leave that duty to an analog process where valuable information could fall through the cracks? I recommend using the best purpose-built tool for the job. Use ArchiSnapper to make sure every detail is covered, ensuring a successful project and delivering exactly what’s been promised.”
Evan Troxel from ARCHISPEAK
8. Refer to a checklist
Construction projects are complex and involve multiple teams of contractors and subcontractors working on different elements of the project. Checklists reduce the risk of mistakes and increase the likelihood that everything will get done as specified.
Punch list checklists are a powerful way to ensure you don’t overlook important details. It can contain administrative tasks, as well as anything you must not forget to do or review to execute the project correctly.
“In order to reach a zero punch list, it’s necessary that frequent checklist-based inspections take place. These checklists should contain the items that each trade needs to complete. Using a checklist throughout the project helps to standardize work procedures and reduce the number of punch-list items.”
Carl Seville from SK Collaborative
9. Bring a Buddy
Especially when punching big projects, you should always bring a colleague to help manage the meeting. Punch list meetings can be stressful and it can be difficult to listen, react, write, sketch, and look up information — all at the same time. It’s better to bring someone with you who can take notes while you focus on interacting with the client.
If you collaborate well and know your roles, you’ll return to the office with solid notes — and can look back, satisfied, on a professional and efficient meeting.
10. Don’t Make Promises You Can’t Keep
Making promises you can’t keep will cause you stress and damage your reputation — and could cost you extra money to figure out a fix.
As Benjamin Franklin said: “Honesty is the best policy.” And it’ll pay off in so many ways.
After The Final Punch List Meeting
11. Draft the Final Punch List Report
When the walk-through is done, it’s time to finish and distribute the final punch list report. It should contain everything discussed and every deficiency that must be solved.
The sooner the punch list can be sent to subcontractors, the better. That way, they’ll have a clear view of open issues assigned to them and stay focused on your project rather than moving on to the next one.
Your punch list should also be easy to understand. The more clearly and visually you illustrate the problem at hand, the more likely the issues will be fixed the first time. A simple drawing or picture says more than a thousand words. So, take photos and avoid long blocks of text. Make sure to number the observations too, which helps ensure clarity and communication when you reference items in the future.
And don’t forget the following elements:
- Date of the site visit
- People present and distribution list
- Corporate branding
12. Follow Up on The Remaining Issues
The punch list report states who needs to do what — and by when — so it’s your starting point for following up on open issues. When an item has been solved, you should check it off and remove it from the list.
Instead of communicating via phone, email, text, etc., you can streamline this process with a punch list app like Deltek ArchiSnapper.
When a subcontractor has fixed an item, they can add a photo and send it for approval — on the same channel you have your punch list.
13. Look for Lessons
After each project, you and your team should look for the lessons you learned.
A great way to identify them is with the punch list — see where you were held up and where you could improve things for next time.
You’ll see incremental improvement on every project by using the same checklist repeatedly.
14. Ask for a Favor
If you worked hard on the project and the customer is satisfied with the results, it might be time to ask for a favor.
You could ask for a referral by saying: “Do you know anybody else who might be interested in our services? Would you mind putting us in touch?” Remember: Happy customers are the best ambassadors for your business.
You could also ask for a testimonial to share on your website or social media channels, amplifying their positive experience exponentially.
“A well-documented punch list provides a way for the client to see an end to their project. Our best marketing opportunities as architects are satisfied clients sharing their thoughts with friends and networks. Happy clients are the result of managing expectations from beginning to end. As items are checked off the punch list, a clear path to completion is identified and easily communicated to the client.”
Mark Le Page from EntreArchitect