What Is a Construction Punch List (And How to Improve)


6 Easy Ways to Improve Construction Punch Lists

At some point, no matter how much of a joy (or hell) it’s been, every project must come to an end. When they do, it’s not enough to simply watch it fade away through the rearview mirror; you have to make sure all the i’s have been dotted and the t’s have been crossed—and that means a construction punch list. If you haven’t yet implemented this in your checklist of successful project closeout, it’s time to do so today.

But as most steps in construction, it’s easier said than done. The construction industry has proven time and again that they’re lagging behind the rest of the world when it comes to technological implementation. That could mean your current construction punch list isn’t working, or that you don’t use one at all, neither of which is ideal–especially when you have clients counting on you to deliver a high standard of work.

The first step in cleaning up your punch list game? Understanding the basics. Below, we’ll cover what a construction punch list is, what’s included in them, which phase of the process they’re used in and who’s responsible for their oversight. With a better understanding of why punch lists are important in construction, you’ll be able to refine your process and streamline your project closeout.

We discuss:

What Is a Construction Punch List?

The construction punch list, also known as a snag list in the U.K., is a document showing work that still needs to be done on a construction project. Another fun fact and mini history lesson is that the term punch list comes from the antiquated process of actually punching holes in a list to mark which items needed fixing.

In regards to construction today, the Business Dictionary defines a construction punch list as, “Listing of items requiring immediate attention” and as a “Document listing work that does not conform to contract specifications, usually attached to the certificate of substantial completion. The contractor must correct the punch list work before receiving payment.”

Additionally, a punch list might include specifications on damages to other materials or items that occurred during construction and must now be fixed. It may also include incorrect installations or aspects of the building that currently do not function as promised. Typically, construction punch lists only include small fixes, because the majority of large issues have already been fixed or addressed previously through a change order. Nonetheless, however minor the changes are, it’s incredibly important to execute a construction punch list correctly to ensure your project has the finishing touches it needs to be considered complete.

You can also learn more in this quick video:

When Are Construction Punch Lists Typically Executed?

While punch lists are not strictly speaking mandatory, points out Construction Claims Monthly, they are a widespread and traditional process that occurs toward the end of any construction project.

As the phrase “substantial completion” would suggest, a construction punch list is made only when the project is considered nearly finished. As such, the punch list is usually confined to minor tweaks and typically major fixes have already been addressed. Once this point has been reached, says Compton Construction, it is the general contractor’s job to set up the punch list walkthrough.

During the walkthrough, the owner or client attends to point out any issues they see. The general contractor is usually present on these visits to explain any changes from the original specifications and to note issues that need fixing. Usually, designers and/or architects will attend the walkthrough as well to ensure that the building matches the original design specifications. If anything doesn’t conform to the original specs because the client requested a change, the architect is also there to address that.

Who’s Responsible for Construction Punch List Items?

Although there are many parties involved in the oversight and execution of a construction punch list, there are two main phases: making it and addressing it. All stakeholders have a role in both phases, though some are more heavily involved in each phase than others. So just who is responsible for ticking off each item on your construction project punch list? While this obviously will vary a bit by project description and relevant stakeholders, here’s the basic breakdown of who does what:

  • Owner: The owner’s job is to inspect work, ask questions about anything they don’t understand and list work that is incomplete or completed improperly. They then hand off this punch list to the general contractor and will perform another walkthrough when the additional requests have been addressed.
  • General Contractor: The GC’s role is to examine the details, consult with the owner’s punch list, and make their own lists for subcontractors to address.
  • Subcontractors: The role of each subcontractor is to take the list they’ve been given, address the requests and ensure each line item is completed. They must also be prepared to explain each fix and, if necessary, why it was not made to specifications.
  • Architect/Designer: The role of architects and designers is to confirm what was designed was actually built.

Once the construction punch list has been completed and distributed to all involved parties, time is allotted for fixing and another walkthrough is scheduled with both the general contractor and owner present. In a perfect world (or project), there are no new items found on the list, and each item that was originally placed there has been addressed. However, the owner will need to sign off on the punch list for the work to be considered fully completed.

Punch list template

Looking for an easy downloadable template for your punch lists? Download our template:

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Punch List Stats

A recent report from Autodesk and Dodge Data & Analytics survey explored a few key areas to understand the processes and technology used by today’s contractors to manage the quality and closeout of their projects. First, it looked at how contractors manage closeout activities and punchlists with software. While traditional projects typically punchlist at the end of construction, the survey also examined projects that deployed “punchlist-as-you go” (i.e., punchlisting continually throughout the construction process as parts of work are completed). Finally, the respondents were also asked about the frequency and impact of problems getting off the job.

How are construction punch lists being managed on jobsites today? Take a look at some of findings from the report:

Construction Punch List Statistics

Improving Construction Punch Lists Once and For All

The goal of any construction punch list is to ultimately get to zero—meaning all punch list items have been officially crossed off and the project is officially closed out.

But how do teams get to cross off the last punch list item before everyone has officially tapped out? The key to getting to punch list zero faster is in how you design and manage your punch lists. Below, we’ll take a look at 6 winning strategies to take punch list management to the next level.

If you are looking for free quality templates and strategy guides, download this quality checklist toolkit: 

Construction Punch List & Quality Checklist Toolkit

1. Don’t Wait Until the End

Generally, the punch list isn’t created until after the walkthrough is complete. Nonetheless, this doesn’t mean that construction punch lists need to be created towards the very end of a project. Instead, it works better to start generating a punch list earlier on in the project as a regular check in on construction quality.

Think about using a punch list format right from the kickoff of the project. When implemented at the start of a project, construction punch lists can be used to create workflow and standards for starting the project on the right foot. They ensure that everyone is on the same page and knows what needs to be done at every stage of the project. They even go a step further and make sure that everyone knows which items on the punch list they are accountable for well before project closeout.

It’s smart to design a rolling list, or "punchlist-as-you-go," that adapts to the project as it unfolds. This model includes consistently checking work duties during the entire project. Each task should be assigned with a specific closeout schedule for every task.

Laying out the many aspects of the project also shows whether there are holes in the project specifications or contract that need to be addressed. During the project, you should consistently meet with the project owner or stakeholders to know what needs to be done before handoff and to ensure all their specifications and project requirements are being met.

2. Implement Regular Inspections

Conducting regular inspections, or “punch walks,” will support your goal of getting to a zero punch list faster. One thing that crucially delays projects in the closeout stage is inferior construction quality. But a crucial aspect to remember is that quality should be built in, not an afterthought at the end of a project. When you have standards and quality checks along the way, you reduce the need for expensive rework and delays at the end of the project.

Even using a punch list format for your inspections is a fantastic way to align your team on quality throughout construction. A punch list structure fits the goal of quality control well. Its checklist nature is perfect for giving quick oversight as well as documenting exactly what needs to be fixed and whether it has been completed.

To carry out this construction punch list management strategy, it’s wise to create a specific list that addresses safety and quality measures that can be reviewed during jobsite visits. If possible, it helps to involve a wide-range of team members from the general contractor, designer and even owner to make sure all aspects of the project are being done to expectations.

3. Move Into the Future With Cloud-Based Punch List Management

Punch lists have long been relied on in the construction industry, yet they are starting to evolve to fit modern times. The days of paper punch lists are over–or at least they should be. Paper creates massive inefficiencies and leaves construction team’s open to more risk and errors. If your company wants to be at the top of your game, it’s time to embrace cloud technology for punch list management.

Identify construction punch list technology that will keep your team on track and enable you to easily check off and track issues directly from the field. One option is adopting construction collaboration technology that is powered by the cloud. Technology will be even more powerful if it is made for mobile devices so that team members can easily track and use from their smartphones and tablets.

Punch list technology can enable real-time communication even when team members are in different locations. Rather than wait to receive paper lists, the entire team can stay on top of task completions when they happen. All in all, this helps ensure a faster and more efficient punch list management for your construction project.

4. Clear Assignment of Items on the Construction Punch List

Ownership and accountability are critical concepts in effective construction management. As mentioned, it’s essential to create a punch list that you implement early on in a project. But the punch list won’t streamline or guide your project if no one knows what they’re responsible for. That’s why it’s essential to assign items to specific people or teams and to make sure accountability is built into the punch list management process.

In this area, technology helps to streamline the process. Software, like Autodesk Construction Cloud mobile, are available to allow you to assign, alert and track people for what specific items they are accountable for. These programs also increase visibility so everyone else on the team can see who’s responsible if any questions arise. This method helps keep everyone on the same page and holds people responsible for their tasks.

To employ this strategy for your team, give each person the appropriate details he needs, including the due date for completion of each task. If required, liability can be included in the contract in case a particular party does not complete their end of the bargain.

Concerning overall punch list management, an experienced team member should be the one to create and manage the administration of the list as this is a vital component to project success. This person should thoroughly understand the scope and magnitude of the work. They should know which tasks are needed to get done and who to assign to each one. They should have the relationships to get the job done and have the authority to resolve problems on their own as they arise. You should empower this person and let them know you trust them while getting across the importance of the job.

5. Set a Budget

A central goal of every project is to avoid exceeding the budget. But often, budgets overruns occur when just trying to close out the project. Alternatively, setting a budget for the punch list in advance can be a helpful tactic keep a project on budget. It also helps advance construction punch lists faster because there are fewer questions about where the money needs to come from to complete. Of course, setting up this budget as part of the initial project allocation is most effective.

Overall, the benefits of setting up a budget for a construction punch list in advance include:

  • Prevents scrambling and cutting corners at the end from trying to make ends meet
  • Reduces internal conflicts over separate budgets
  • Allows teams to move faster toward completion
  • Makes it easier to handle setbacks as they occur and shift course

6. Be Flexible and Open to Feedback

You may feel a great sense of relief when you check off the final item on your construction punch list. But don’t get too comfortable until everyone agrees that the project is complete. When you are sure that the job is done, you might find that the owner, architect or another member of the project team has other thoughts.

If this happens, don’t take the feedback personally. Be flexible and handle the changes or issues professionally. Work to resolve them efficiently and make sure every team member is satisfied. In the long run, this tactic will be better for business. At the end of a project, a successful construction punch list is one of the biggest impressions you will leave. Within reason, don’t sacrifice your image and good name to stand your ground.

A Better Way with Software

With so many small fixes to address, especially in large projects, most companies have started using dedicated software to help them efficiently manage their construction punch lists and distribute work accordingly. Software that enables a construction punch list to be completed in real time on mobile devices allows companies to execute and close out projects with unparalleled efficiency. In fact, software allows contractors and owners in commercial, heavy civil and other industries to collaborate, collect and share project information from any desktop or mobile device through the entire project lifecycle.

A typical punch list template could be created in an Excel spreadsheet and look like this:

Construction Punch List example
Source: MS Office Docs

Download our punch list template, here: 

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construction punch list template

Instead of PDF templates, try using a mobile punch list software so teams can track and collaborate on tasks throughout the entire construction process facilitating a more efficient closeout.

So, what are you waiting for to make the switch to digital?

Better Manage Your Way to Zero Punch List Today

The construction industry is evolving, and so should construction punch list strategies. Ultimately, the modern ideal is to eliminate the old-fashioned notion of the process. Outdated and inefficient management of punch lists doesn’t lead to customer satisfaction and can mean a scramble to complete a long list of unfinished tasks at the end of a project. By adapting the idea of a punch list as something to keep track of throughout the project, it can ensure that the project runs smoothly and everything on the list is finished by the end. The way to truly embrace this new method is to streamline management by using new practices and technology like a construction punch list app.

Don’t write off a construction punch list as an unnecessary step in your next project. Whether you’ve been using outdated methods or haven’t been prioritizing your punch lists at all, it’s time to put down that old-fashioned tape recorder and notepad and refine your current process. With a more streamlined and up-to-date process with the help of technology, you’ll be able to move to project closeout in record time.

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Grace Ellis

As Manager of Content Marketing Strategy at Autodesk and Editor in Chief of the Digital Builder Blog, Grace has nearly 15 years of experience creating world-class content for technology firms. She has been working within the construction technology space for the last 6+ years and is passionate about empowering industry professionals with cutting-edge tools and leading strategies that improve the quality of their jobs and lives.