Sheet metal & Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association


Eliminating punch lists

Mar 21, 2014

Eliminating punch lists

By Larry Rubrich
One of the forms of waste on the jobsite is the Punch List. It is waste because it violates the third criteria of how construction activities provide value to the owner as listed below:
1) It must change the “shape” or “form” of the project item. For example, developing a project scope, creating a drawing, creating a kit or prefabrication, hanging dry wall, wiring a room, or servicing the facility.
2) The owner must care about the activity and be willing to pay for it.
3) The activity must be done right the first time.
Owners are unwilling to pay for rework or repair. If we define Punch List items only as repairs and rework (versus last minutes change orders by the owner), Punch Lists can cause:

  • Project flow stoppages or delays due to reallocation of manpower to areas that had been considered complete.
  • Rework that may affect more than one trade and subcontractor.
  • Owner dissatisfaction.
  • Finger pointing and project team member dissatisfaction.
  • Reduced profitability for the project team members.
  • Reallocation of management time in order to resolve disputes or cajole others as we debate what is or is not “quality work.”
  • Owners left feeling like they've been worked over by used car salesmen as attempts are made to convince them that what clearly isn't quality work, actually meets specifications.

The difficulty in discussing Punch Lists with construction organizations is that Punch Lists are considered part of the jobsite process, instead of the 100 percent waste that they are. Eliminating the need for Punch Lists will produce a better quality project, with greater owner satisfaction, and more successful project team member organizations.

The Journey to Eliminating the Need for a Punch List
The first step in this journey begins with empowering our workforce. In Lean, we respect and empower the workforce and our subcontractors so they will take ownership for the jobs that they do. This ownership creates accountability (versus a command and control environment where superintendents only told them what to do). The idea here is to develop a common goal, which when combined with communication and empowerment, creates teamwork.
A good example of this communication, empowerment, ownership, and teamwork is shown in the use of the Lean Project Scheduling tool (aka Last Planner™). In creating, say, a Phase Pull Plan from a project Master Schedule, subcontractors are empowered to create their part of the schedule and make commitments for completion dates. These commitments are made in a “Big Room” environment where other subcontractors are also making commitments. The accuracy of the commitments is then measured using Percent Plan Complete (PPC) in a weekly project meeting where commitments are updated. The weekly meeting is also the basis for discussion on what obstacles prevented them from achieving 100 percent of their plan. This activity becomes the basis for continuous improvement (CI)—a Lean principle.
The second step of the journey begins with the subcontractor and supplier selection and partnering process. We have discussed (ranted) in previous newsletters that selecting subcontractors by the low bid process is not the way to produce a low cost project (because of project delays, rework, and the additional time burden it produces for project PMs and superintendents). We suggested that GCs/CMs and subcontractors need to develop a new relationship based on win-win Lean principles.  
It took Toyota to show American manufacturing that purchasing from the lowest price part supplier would not produce a quality vehicle. Toyota fully trains and qualifies their suppliers in terms of Lean techniques and their impact on quality, delivery, reduction in lead-time, and oh yes. . .pricing. Qualified Toyota suppliers deliver material right to the assembly line. Would you allow an owner to do a “walk through” based solely on your subcontractors saying the room or area was complete and ready?
As we have noted before, requirements to support Lean processes must be part of the subcontractor bid requirements. These requirements should include:

  • Their PM's and Foreman's commitment to attend a two-day Project Scheduling session. This session includes an introduction to Lean, a “partnering” session, a Project Scheduling simulation (nice ice breaker), and then the creation of a Project Schedule for the current project. The key here is to get everyone on the same page.
  • Their PM's and Foreman's attendance at a Punch List elimination meeting (can be part of above session). This must include a detailed description and handout of the system by which this will happen including the responsibilities and accountabilities you expect from the suppliers and subs.
  • A Punch List measurement system that the team can agree upon. It is also a Lean Principle that you cannot improve what you do not measure. Measure improvements by area, or room, or floor, etc. Remember, it's all about CI.

Eliminating project flow stoppages is one the goals of Lean Construction. Eliminating the need for Punch Lists will eliminate/reduce that stoppage.

© Larry Rubrich, Lean Construction Newsletter, November 2013, WCM Associates LLC.

(Note: This article is reprinted by permission from Larry Rubrich, Lean Construction Newsletter, November 2013, WCM Associates LLC. For more lean articles, visit