The start and finish of a construction project are the most difficult milestones to identify. Every construction project starts with an idea or purpose but pinpointing where it began is another story. However, once an idea is conceived, if it passes muster, it then moves to pre-planning and from pre-planning to planning – both of these stages can be identified and the milestones can be gauged. With planning completed, the project moves to construction and then to job closeout. In other words, construction projects move from an abstract idea to a more developed plan, to a series of coordinated action by contractors and trades and finally to a completed building. Hopefully, an owner builds a strong team for his project. The team’s job is to establish budgets, complete drawings, recruit and hire the best contractors, deploy the most effective tradesmen, meet building codes and then complete the job on-time and within budget.
Although it’s difficult to identify when an idea is conceived, it’s not as difficult to identify when a plan is completed, when a team is formulated or when a contractor has finished his assignment in regard to the project. The most difficult milestone to identify is when the project is finished and the owner can take possession.
Actually, the best way to identify when a construction project is completed is to consult the contract. It should detail the closeout procedures and when the punch list will be completed. Responsibilities are usually clearly spelled out in the agreement between the design consultant, the construction manager and the owner. Some project requirements may be outlined in customized agreements or general conditions, or they may be modified by supplemental conditions. In any case, referring to the contract can solve the mystery of when a project is completed.
A good construction manager will identify problems early on and enter them into his tracking system for resolution. He will work with the trades to correct the problem early on, not leaving it for confrontation in the closing days. The punch list is primarily used to identify and list problems in the project. It most certainly does not replace on-going observation and communication. Think of the punch list as a process, like buying a car. You inspect the car before taking delivery – looking at the seats, finish, wheels, window, doors, etc. to make certain everything is okay. If you say everything is okay and accept delivery, any scratches, dents, cracks in windshields are your problem. If you make up a list of problems and agree with the dealer that he must take care of them, there will be no dispute if the problems are corrected.
Everyone involved must understand how the construction manager plans to finish the job and how and when the owner will occupy the building. That way everyone knows how many punch lists will have to be done and when. If all the punch lists are done at the end of the project there are going to be problems. Remember, the contractors and trades move off the site when the project is completed and the owner is going to want to move in. That’s why, in reality, most construction projects require many punch lists dovetailing project milestones.
Among other things, the punch list is a tool for the construction manager. Inspecting and properly completing the construction project is the project manager’s responsibility. The CM has worked on the project from its earliest stages. He has been a part of the contractor selection process and has overseen their work on the project. The CM has coordinated a complex effort. At any time during the project, the CM knows what needs to be fixed and completed, what materials have not yet been delivered and has monitored their progress. The result of precise monitoring is a list of items that need to be corrected or completed before the owner can take possession.
Don’t lose sight of the overall purpose of the punch list – it is related to substantial completion, the date when the project, or portions of the project, are complete enough so that the owner can occupy the property or a portion of it for the intended use. Ideally, everyone knows where he or she is headed before they begin the overall close out process. The Certificate of Substantial Completion establishes responsibilities between the owner and construction manager for related security, maintenance, heat, utilities, and insurance.
If a deficiency is identified, the construction manager will have the appropriate contractor fix it. If there is damage, he will have it corrected, identifying who caused it and who is responsible to fix it. The various contractors’ project managers or superintendent will participate in the entire punch list walk through. This way, everyone will have seen the same thing and can better deal with any confusing or complex issues. Naturally, it is advisable for the Owner to participate in the walk through.
Ultimately, the punch list is a working document identifying and outlining what deficiencies must be corrected before the project can be completed. It is not a point of dispute or a look at the physical building. It should list everything that still needs to be done to complete an entire contract for construction, including administrative items, approvals, operation and maintenance manuals, warrantees, city signoffs, record documents, etc.
Ultimately, the punch list creates the final harmony a project needs in order to be completed. Its completion signals that the owner’s vision has been achieved and that the project has reached a successful conclusion.