Construction Punch List: App or Paper?

Have you ever heard of a construction punch list app? These digital tools allow contractors to check items off of digital tablets instead of paper ones. It may sound surprisingly tech-y for a jobsite, but the truth is that the construction industry is already very technologically advanced. Digital punch lists are not an outlier, but they are underused.

While construction is a centuries old process, the tools are new. The equipment humans use to build shelters has evolved with the complexity of the shelters themselves. Many projects you encounter today require cranes, mixers, jackhammers, or at least a power tool or two.
So, if construction and its equipment have evolved so extensively over the years, why are the industry’s communication methods lagging behind? Why are construction punch list apps not more mainstream?

Punch lists are an essential part of the close-out process and need to reach many stakeholders. Many teams use pen and paper to write their punch lists, and this means delivery is often inefficient.

To fix this, managers can retype their list into a mass email, take a picture, and upload to a text thread. The problem is that these processes are time-consuming and ineffective for quick group communication.

The good news is there are many solutions! With the right tools, creating and distributing punch lists is painless.
In this article, we’ll look at what punch lists are, why they’re important, and how upgrading the whole process to your phone can save you time and money.

So, What’s a Punch List?

First things first: what exactly is a punch list?

Punch lists are project closeout checklists for problems that require attention before construction can end. Managers compile these lists during the close-out construction process, often before occupancy (when residents and other occupants can return to the building). However, every build is different. Residents can also occupy a building while teams address punch list items.

In any case, the punch list comes after “substantial completion” is reached. During this period, payday is approaching, and most job site work is done. Firm deadlines loom closer, and things need to be completed efficiently to avoid going over budget and off schedule.

That’s one reason why punch lists are so valuable; they allow teams to organize themselves for the final stretch of construction.

Punch lists can include quite a few items, from final details to mistakes that need to be fixed. For a residential construction project, some common examples are:

  • Faulty light switches
  • Areas that need repainted
  • Appliances not working properly
  • Missing hardware (cabinet handles, faucets, etc.)

All these details make a substantial difference in what is and isn’t an occupant-ready project.

person holding green and white pack - rivet app - construction communication software
Image Source: Erik Mclean‌‌

The Importance of A Well-Organized Construction Punch List

While subcontractors near the end of a project focus on main parts of the build, smaller items can be forgotten. That’s why creating comprehensive punch lists is so critical.

Something to note is that these lists can become never-ending if teams aren’t clear on the scope of a contract. In an effort to avoid the ever-growing punch list, Builder Questions recommends the following development process:

  1. Review your contract and any pending change orders before you get started. This way, you’ll understand exactly how much work is expected of you.
  2. Decide how to describe areas in a way that all project participants will understand. The terms you choose vary depending on the scope of a build. For instance, if you’re doing a kitchen renovation, you might describe areas using north, south, east, and west walls as landmarks. However, if your project is an entire house, each room will require a specific label.
  3. Figure out how you want to create your list. There are many options, from good old fashioned pen and paper to online spreadsheets. Take into account your project participants’ comfort level with different digital tools, plus which format will be easiest to use when tracking progress.
  4. Be sure to date your list. This way, you will have a record of when you began closing out that you can continue to update as you complete items.
  5. Leave room on your list for status updates and comments. This can be especially helpful when participants working on the same issue at different times need to communicate.
  6. Consider creating sticky notes that correspond to your punch list, and placing them on locations at the work site. This ensures that if someone didn’t understand the written labels you used, they will have visual cues to help them figure out what work needs done.
  7. Distribute the punch list to all relevant stakeholders. Everyone should be aware of what work needs to be completed during the close out process. Subcontractors need the list so they know what to do. Homeowners need the list so they know what to expect from the final product.

The more care you take in organizing your punch list, the less room for error there will be. Less error means less time lost. And a project that stays on schedule is generally a project that stays on budget.

Common Issues with Construction Punch Lists

Now that we’ve discussed some practical tips for developing punch lists, let’s talk about a few common issues that construction teams face when creating these tools.

  1. Uninterested Parties: Just because someone has created an organized, comprehensive punch list does not guarantee it will work effectively. To properly resolve a punch list, everyone on site should be willing to pitch in. If some subcontractors don’t bother to read the list, fixing items in a timely manner will be challenging.
  2. The Ever-Growing List: The punch list aims to wrap things up. Unfortunately, the opposite can occur if subcontractors continue to notice problems and add them to the list. Avoid this issue by carefully compiling your original list.
  3. Collateral Damage: When workers fix one issue, it’s possible they will inadvertently create a new problem. For example, removing a light-switch to resolve a wiring error could end in chipped paint or marks on the wall that need to be covered up. While a paint job should be quick, it still adds to your wrap-up list. Encourage subcontractors to be as careful as possible when addressing construction punch list items will help.
  4. Rotating Workers: As a building site enters its final stages, many tasks will need to be addressed. This may mean multiple subcontractors will work on the same project at different times. When this is the case, collaboration is difficult, and mistakes are likely to occur. Consider assigning punch list items to specific subcontractors to avoid the constant exchange of information needed when multiple people trade off on a project.
  5. Differing Expectations: What does “done” look like for your project? In all likelihood, many stakeholders’ expectations will differ. To solve this problem before it occurs, spend some extra time in the punch list development stage looking over your contract and discussing expectations with homeowners and other relevant parties.Money Issues: Resolving final work issues may cost more than originally budgeted. How will you and your project participants deal with this? Being up front with owners about potential costs will reduce the likelihood of future financial conflicts.

Crossing Budget Lines

Depending on the scope of your project, a punch list may not make much of a dent in the construction budget. That’s fantastic! However, it’s not always the case.

Consider the amount of money that poor communication loses the United States’ construction industry each year. According to research done by FMI and PlanGrid, the rework that poor communication requires on construction sites translates to $17 billion dollars lost annually. Yes, billions.

While you may not be dealing with that many zeros, problems with communication can still be costly to your project.

Unfortunately, inefficient distribution and explanation of your punch list falls under this “poor communications” umbrella. Lots of the issues we explored above (especially uninterested parties, rotating workers, and differing expectations) have their roots in a lack of open, honest communication.

How Can Digitizing the Process Benefit Your Project?

The thing is, communication happens online. If you have not made your process digital, your information exchanges will lag behind competitors.

In 2016, the Mckinsey Global Institute compiled research on construction, commenting that the industry needs to embrace a digital future. Rajat Agarwal, Shankar Chandrasekaran, and Mukund Sridhar reported on this research. They noted that many construction teams rely on paper to create and distribute materials. This is a tedious process that also poses problems for record-keeping. In other words, a lack of digital tools hinders daily communications.

In another article, the Mckinsey Global Institute discussed their work with a company struggling to effectively communicate about product defects with a supplier. The breakdown caused long replacement wait times.

To solve the problem, the company began using an app where workers could create defect reports stored in a common environment. The company then analyzed this information to prevent defects. Using the analysis, the company was able to reduce hours spent on rework by 12%, saving lots of time and money.

To recap, elevating your communications to a digital platform can:

  • Build a database you can analyze
  • Improve team communications with suppliers
  • Reduce time spent on rework
  • Save you money by saving you time
  • Facilitate efficient record-keeping
  • Bring your projects into the digital age

What Are The Benefits of Digital Construction Punch Lists?

Some benefits of digital construction punch list apps are predictable, like having an easy tool to create snag lists. But what else makes it worth it to teach your team how to use a new app?

Quite a few things, including:

  • The ability to instantly transfer information to multiple parties with little effort
  • The ability to track, store, and analyze data
  • The ability to communicate with others on a platform where everyone can get a glimpse at what work is left to do
  • The ability to easily share and punch lists with homeowners and other stakeholders

Rivet Can Improve Your Punch Lists

So, how can you use this information to benefit your latest project? We suggest our construction communication app: Rivet.

When creating punch lists, some teams choose to use specific construction punch list apps meant exclusively for the close-out process. This can be a great choice for projects where subcontractors and other parties are well-versed in tech, since they will need to pair this hyper specific app with other digital tools.

However, long-time construction workers staff many sites less comfortable with mobile apps. That’s where Rivet comes in.

We’ve built tools that are accessible, no matter your level of comfort with digital tools. While Rivet is not a construction punch list app, it can distribute all types of information to project participants, including snag lists.

Through our communication features, users can send texts and emails to relevant parties. This outside communication will be stored in the app for easy access, but allows everyone to chat in the way that’s most comfortable for them.

Once you’ve downloaded the app and opened a new project, let’s talk about how to efficiently create and distribute your construction punch list on the app.

#1: Send a Photo or File

For many users, the most familiar way to employ Rivet in punch list distribution is by sending a photo. Construction managers can create a list using whatever medium they feel comfortable with–whether pen and paper or a digital spreadsheet–and then share a photo or file through the app.

Once shared, the file will be saved in Rivet, and all users can view and download it. You can even store the file in your project info hub for extra easy access.

This process is ideal for teams less comfortable with new technology, who are looking for an easy, efficient way to get punch lists out to all participants.

rivet app - upload photos - construction

#2: Create a Task List

It’s easy to manage daily to-dos and close out to-dos on Rivet. This is because of our task list feature. Rather than writing a punch list in a separate notebook, document, or app, and sending a file to Rivet, you can actually create the original list in the app. Plus, multiple parties can contribute to this task list, meaning that the likelihood of things falling through the cracks will decrease.

Something we love about the task list feature is that it creates a shared visual of team progress. When an item is finished, anyone can check it off the list, and all project participants can digest this updated information with a glance.

#3: Create a Punch List Channel

If you are working on a project with technical punch list items that may require more discussion between subcontractors, you can organize conversations around punch lists in Rivet.

When you open a new project in Rivet, a main channel is created to exchange information. You can also create additional channels according to your projects’ needs.

Some groups of project participants may find it worthwhile to open and dedicate a project channel to their punch list. In addition to sharing a preliminary list, collaborators can include photos of specific action items and create task lists for more involved fixes.

If you and your project participants experienced many communication breakdowns during the close out phase, creating a space meant for everyone to discuss the punch list should prove helpful.

Digital Upgrades Are Worthwhile

Some things – like the concrete, brick, and wood you work with – are unlikely to disappear from the construction ecosystem soon. However, to survive in an increasingly digital world, the technology you use to communicate on projects needs to evolve.

We understand that it takes time for teams to change the way they do things. But we also know that this process is so worth it. Plus, you don’t have to give up the things that work for you. You can still keep your tried and true tricks and continue to improve your construction project communication and workflow with the help of our app.

We’re here to help. You can always call or email us with any questions!

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