Punch List Innovation

Posted on October 4, 2010


Project close-out centers around completing a building to the satisfaction of the design team and acquiring a certificate of occupancy. Oh, and getting the balance of payment from the owner.  How that gets done best is up for debate.

The punch list is the way the design team verifies the built product meets the design intent. At one time, it was a card that was punched (hanging chads anyone) to signify which items were complete. Two weeks ago I spent the better part of a week walking a job on punch list duty.

Today it is a complex process of recording items that are unacceptable and need to be reworked prior to owner possession. Each company does this differently. Some take hand notes and type up lists in a word processing program; others use elaborate spreadsheets. Some firms use voice recognition software to “talk” their way through a walk-through; others dictate into a mini-cassette and have someone translate the session.

Last week I was on a punch list adventure and used a ‘smart pen’. I used a pen that recorded my key strokes and was then docked to download what I wrote. After walking the building, my job was to edit my notes, which could range from having to do nothing to having to retype garbled phrases.

It was a new recording experience for me, and for the most part it saved a lot of time. Preprogrammed codes helped eliminate repeated sentences. Number codes also presorted comments by trade so subcontractors could have their ‘to do’ list much sooner.

If you happened to notice, the major dilemma for all the techniques mentioned above is how to eliminate the duplicated effort of recording something once (voice, written), and then having to redo that effort on some level. The administrative time for punch lists is outrageous, and no system is perfect.

The other major challenge in punch lists is recording accurate directions in a three-dimensional environment. When you walk in a room, there are many ways to identify items—high/low, east/west, left hand/right hand, inside/outside—but which way makes things crystal clear for all involved? Would a non-verbal or non-written way that is even easier, especially for a laborer whose mother tongue is not English? Is there a way to use BIM to do this?

Punch list execution is much easier today than even five years ago, but it is not quite where it needs to be for accuracy, ease-of-use, speed and expense. When it does, all architects, engineers, builders and subcontractors will likely shout it from the mountain.