The ultimate guide to a successful punch list experience - 16 Tips

The ultimate guide to a successful punch list experience – 16 Tips

We all know how dreadful the final walk-through with a client can be.

But, just in case you don’t, picture this: It’s 8:55 a.m., and the final punch list meeting starts in five minutes. Six people are waiting for you to lead the meeting, but traffic has you running late.

When you rush through the door a half-hour late, those people have turned from allies to adversaries. Even worse, you forgot to invite an important person, so you’ll probably have to do this all over again on another day.

You’re stressed, and the others are giving you dirty looks. But you sigh, put on a happy face, and start the walk-through anyways…

In the first room, the customer gripes about the color and size of the windows. You know he’s wrong, but you forgot to bring the contract with the specs — and you can’t access it from your phone or tablet — so there’s no way to halt his complaints.

In the second room, there are VERY clear flaws in the paint. No discussion needed. Your cheeks redden, and you think: “If only I’d done a quick visit last week to check for obvious issues like this.

The customer takes the lead and swiftly moves to the next room with an attitude that radiates: “Let’s see what’s wrong here.

Obviously, you never want this nightmare scenario to happen in real life.

And in this post, we’ll reveal some smart and simple techniques that will help you ensure it never does.

Over the years, we’ve gathered 16 rules to streamline the punch list experience. They’re based on dozens of conversations with contractors and architects, and apply to both parties.

Here’s an overview of the rules — check the ones you’re curious about, and skip any you already have in your repertoire.

If you’re not sure what punch list (or snag list) is, check out this article.

BEFORE
1. Begin with the end in mind
2. Focus on what you can control
3. Be a doomsday prepper
4. Invite the birthday boy
5. Check out the scene beforehand

DURING
6. Arrive early
7. Use an app
8. Refer to a checklist
9. Bring a buddy
10. Smile
11. Give away strategic favors
12. Don’t make promises you can’t keep

AFTER
13. Draft the final punch list report
14. Follow up on the remaining issues
15. Look for lessons
16. Ask a favor


BEFORE THE FINAL PUNCH LIST MEETING


1. Begin the project with the end in mind

One of Stephen Covey’s seven habits of highly effective people is to “begin with the end in mind.” (If you haven’t read this book yet, I highly recommend you do — it’s brilliant!)

This specific habit has helped me a lot in my personal and business relationships. Here are two insights I think about often:

  • Start with a clear idea of where you want to be: Know your goal. Know your destination. Know where you’re heading when you start. => Translated to construction: Know the requirements of the project!
  • Maintain that vision at all times: Evaluate. Adjust along the way. And keep doing so. The world changes, we change, and so will our goals. => Translated to construction: Do regular site inspections (preferably, with the customer by your side).

We need to keep the destination in mind during the whole construction project — not just at the end. Because the latter usually results in chaos, as well as inefficient (and pricey) last-minute decisions.

Quality should be built in from the start — and not added at the end.

So stick with the requirements, and do regular site inspections so you can catch issues early. The later problems are discovered, the more costly it will be to fix them. (Here are two ways to avoid a bad final punch list experience.)

Also keep a continuous feedback loop with your customer, so you’ll know quickly if they change their mind about something.

Three recommendations when it comes to the long-term quality of your project:

  1. Focus on quality: Not only in materials, but in all aspects. Hire the right people, and keep motivating them. Work on clear communication, efficient delegation, and quality software — and strive for an effective follow-up process.
  2. Work together: You are a team, so make sure everyone knows their role and responsibilities. You rely on each other!
  3. Evaluate every few months: Plan a meeting — even if it’s online. And organize periodic site visits with the customer to evaluate progress. Ask for feedback, both good and bad, from all parties involved.

Remember the walk-through is a final meeting, not a magical “let’s-fix-it-all” reunion.

So its effectiveness completely depends on the quality of your work and collaboration up to this point. Your efforts during the project will guarantee a short punch list, happy customer, fast payment — and space for new projects!

Todd Dawalt of www.constructionleadingedge.com :

“After being involved in over $300 million of project punchlists over the past 20 years, I’ve learned that a well executed project closeout process begins long before the punchist is prepared.  The first step is to educate the client on what a punchlist is and what it is not, and clearly define expectations up front. Next is to punch early and often throughout the project.  Set up quality control checks at key milestones throughout the project before work is covered up by concrete slabs, roofing, metal panels, insulation, and drywall.  Using a checklist and jobsite reporting tool like Archisnapper makes it easy to monitor, track and distribute quality issues as soon as they appear…instead of at punchlist time. Finally, you should never have a punchlist inspection with your client until all work is 100% complete, you have compiled your own punchlist AND completed all repairs.  If you rush the punchlist inspection, it will give the appearance of poor quality, and that is the only thing your client will remember about the project.”

2. Focus on what you can control… and let go of what you can’t.

I just love this image: Only a true zen master knows when and how to “let that shit go.”

In every part of our lives, we should strive to focus on what we can control — instead of stressing over things we can’t.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t prepare; it means you should remember that unexpected shit happens. And will keep happening.

In such situations, Buddha says “awareness and acceptance are key to success.”

So come to your punch list meeting knowing you can never be prepared for everything, and unforeseen things WILL show up. And that’s O.K.

When issues arise, tap into your zen: Stay calm, and give yourself room to think. If there’s nothing you can do, it’s time to let that shit go!

3. Be a doomsday prepper

That being said, you should prepare for the unexpected as much as you can.

Take a cue from the doomsday preppers on TV. Just like they stock up on canned food in case the world comes to an end, you can prepare for worst-case punch list scenarios.

Think of everything that could go wrong. Then think of what you need to prepare — what you can find out, research, or bring to the meeting — to solve the matter.

Know the contract specifications, know your role and responsibilities, and bring and reread your doomsday docs:

  • Original contract and requirements (Tip: go back through the specifications once more)
  • Important emails
  • Previous agreements
  • Progress reports and plans
  • Previous invoices

Even better, bring it electronically if you can. Our clients usually bring their tablet or mobile with our field report app, which stores their progress reports, PDF plans, and original contracts.

This offers easy access to all the documentation they need — which means they’re super prepped to handle any disagreements.

Because, don’t forget: This final gathering is when all the parties try to get their way.

It’s the time when “I thought we agreed on using teal as a color for the bathroom walls?” basically means “Can you change this in two days for free?

Yeah. We’ve all been there. So let me repeat: Prep like crazy!

The time you spend on preparation will be worth it when it helps you win an argument about little — but costly — details during the walk-through.

4. Invite the birthday boy

One time, my friends and I got together for my buddy Peter’s birthday. Like always, it was a last-minute gathering — a quick message saying: “Let’s grab beers tonight!

Everyone was having fun, when all of a sudden, our friend John asked: “Hey guys, where the heck is Peter?” I said: “I don’t know — I figured someone else texted him.” As it turned out, we all thought somebody else had gotten in touch… and he had no idea we were out to celebrate him.

Turn this around to a women’s gathering. Haha! Exactly. Everyone knows all the details: where, when, why, dress-code, cash or card, etc. The place is booked and the menu paid for in advance. On top of that, everyone shows up early carrying their agenda to schedule the next meet-up already. Oh, women.

So, um, don’t forget to send out to reminders to everyone involved — and don’t forget to invite the birthday boy. In your case, that would be the client for the final punch list meeting.

I know you’re thinking that would be ridiculous, but I’ve heard of it happening.

What a waste of time — and money. If six people came, and they each earn $100 an hour, you just wasted $600/lost hour.

So send a reminder to all parties involved, and make sure they know the W’s:

  1. When
  2. Where
  3. Why (you want them to think about their responsibilities)
  4. What (to bring)

This should help all of you save time — and, ultimately, money!

5. Check the scene beforehand

A punch list meeting is much like an important date.

So scope out the scene beforehand: Read over the specs, and find (and repair) any deficiencies.

By checking out the project right before the final meeting, you’ll gain a mental overview of what’s completely finished and what might be subject to discussion.

You’ll also know how to anticipate certain problems or questions — which will help you feel confident for the big date ;-)


DURING THE FINAL PUNCH LIST MEETING


6. Arrive early

Don’t you hate it when people show up late? I mean, think of what goes through your head; think of the ambiance it creates.

The last thing you want to do is arrive tardy for a long-awaited punch list moment. Not only will you be stressed and unfocused, you’ll lose the trust of those awaiting you.

Don’t underestimate the power of arriving early instead.

As the first person on-site, you’ll be calm, confident, and prepared; ready to welcome everyone when they arrive. Let others be the latecomers so you can be in control from the beginning.

Your professional approach will trigger trust and appreciation, which will smooth the punch list process into a win-win deal.

7. Use an app

Want to save hours of time? Start using an app to document your site visits.

If you’re still drafting field reports and punch lists in Word or Excel; typing out notes; adding photos, sketches, assignees, and annotations on floor plans … and struggling with the layout of the report, it’s time for a change. It’s time to start using an app (like ours).

And before you say another word — before you try to resist — I’ve got counterpoints for all your hesitations.

“It’s not customer friendly; using my phone will make me look distracted.”

Simple solution: Tell your customer how you work and why. Tell them you’re using your mobile device to document items related to the project. And tell them why: It saves time and ensures accuracy.

“I don’t have time to input everything on a phone or tablet during a site visit with other people.”

Trust us: Writing things out with a pen and paper is slower — not faster — than using a mobile device. In our app, you can use keywords and annotations, and we even have a voice-to-text function that speeds things up even more. Here’s how it works:

  1. Open the punch-list app
  2. Add issue with keywords
  3. Take a photo and sketch on it
  4. Indicate location on floor plan
  5. Add specifications, room number, due date, and assignee

When you’re back at the office, your punch list (or snag list, as they call in the UK, Ireland, New Zealand and Australia) will be ready: all your observations with pictures and sketches, observation numbers, and assignees. The only thing you’ll need to do is type out any additional notes.

Alright, now I hear you thinking: “I don’t have time to figure out how a punch list app works.”

Well, you’re right: If you don’t have the time right now, and you don’t change the way you work, you never will. But that’s kind of like not stopping to get gas because you’re too busy driving… Eventually it’ll catch up with you.

Don’t you think it’s worth investing a few hours to save hundreds in the future? We think so.

When you’re ready to select your digital punch list software, here’s what you should look for:

Simplicity

Less is more. At first, it might be tempting to choose an app with a lot of features, fields, forms, and configuration.

But keep in mind that 90% of the time, you’ll only need 10% of your app’s core functionalities. You’ll need a quick and easy way to add an observation (snag, item, deficiency) with a photo, room number, and potentially an indication on a PDF floor plan.

Fewer buttons and functionalities means less risk for bugs, issues, and misunderstandings — and more adoption by your team, more standardization, and less frustration.

Offline functionality

Sooner or later, you’ll be without a reliable internet connection. (Think: broken wifi, no 4G network, unpaid telecommunications invoices… or cement basements.)

So make sure your app works offline — and that you can at least capture new observations and photos without a connection.

Cloud storage

You don’t want to lose all of your observations, snags, reports, and photos if your phone gets stolen or breaks. So your software should have a web backend (in the cloud) where your data is synced, and which allows multiple colleagues to work on the same project.

Compatibility

Though it probably goes without saying, your app should work on both your mobile device and computer.

I hear from a lot of architects and contractors who prefer to use their phone on-site (to take photos and add quick notes) and then finish the report online from their desktop.

Just a suggestion: I’d avoid buying a Windows device, since the software giant gave up on Windows 10 mobile (proof).

Ample features

Though your app should be simple, it should also include these essential features:

  1. Add issue with text, photos, assignees, and due date
  2. Generate PDF reports and observation lists
  3. Filter issues based on assignee, status, category, or project
  4. Draw and sketch on photos and PDF plans
  5. Locate issues on PDF plan
  6. Export/import from other systems
  7. Sign off the punch list or field report
  8. Voice-to-text capability
  9. Auto-numbering of items and reports

If you’re not working with a digital tool yet, I’ve convinced you by now, right?

I hope so — because digital field reports and punch-list apps offer a real solution to a tedious, time-consuming problem.

Evan Troxel from ARCHISPEAK:

“A punch list is often an architects last chance to ensure their intent is carried out. The client is counting on us to get them the best project possible. Why would we leave that duty to an analog process where valuable information could fall through the cracks? I recommend using the best purpose-built tool for the job. Use ArchSnapper to make sure every detail is covered ensuring a successful project and delivering exactly what’s been promised.”

8. Refer to a checklist

Take a moment to think about the complexity of construction projects.

Teams of contractors and subcontractors work on different parts of the building at different times, with many specialists needed to get the job done: engineers, electricians, plumbers, carpenters, elevator installers, window installers, etc.

And as the level of complexity increases, so does the opportunity for failure. With so much information available today, it’s not necessarily ignorance that causes mistakes — it’s failing to apply that knowledge correctly across several teams.

Our brains haven’t changed much in 100,000 years, and aren’t meant to manage so much information. So we take shortcuts. And make stupid mistakes.

For his must-read book The Checklist Manifesto, Atul Awnada interviewed experts from many disciplines (pilots, doctors, contractors).

His conclusion? People need checklists to execute projects efficiently. Checklists reduce the risk of mistakes and increase the likelihood everything will get done as specified.

When it comes to punch lists, a checklist is a powerful way to ensure you don’t overlook important details. It can contain administrative tasks, as well as anything you must not forget to do or review to execute the project correctly. Just like bringing a buddy (see below), checklists free up your mental RAM.

Many punchlist checklists and templates are available online — here are two to get you started:

But, you know what’s even better than just using a checklist? Using an app with a checklist functionality.

(psst: Click here to see how you can use checklists for punch lists with ArchiSnapper.)

Carl Seville from SK Collaborative:

“In order to reach a zero punch list it’s necessary that frequent checklist based inspections take place. These checklist should contain the items that each trade needs to complete. Using checklist throughout the project helps to standardize work procedures and reduce the number of punch-list items.”

9. Bring a buddy

Especially when you’re punching (very) big projects, you should always bring a buddy.

Why, you ask? To combat our body’s innate defense mechanism: the fight or flight response that increases our heart rate and prevents us from thinking clearly.

At punch list meetings, stressful issues will occur — and even with your doomsday prepping — you might get heated. Where there’s heat, there’s poor reasoning — and you might end up making promises you’ll regret.

Imagine being there by yourself and trying to listen, react, write, sketch, and look up information — all at the same time. We know how frustrating that can be.

The client’s talking too fast, and you’re thinking: “Waaaait. I can’t write this fast; give me a break.” Since there’s no way to say that politely, it’s better to bring someone to take notes while you focus on interacting with the client.

Here’s what the division of duties would look like:

The listener

  • Assistant role
  • Listens, observes, takes photos/notes/sketches
  • Holds doomsday documents

The speaker

  • Leader role
  • Interacts with client
  • Has a proactive attitude

If you collaborate well and know your roles, you’ll return to the office with solid notes — and will be able to look back, satisfied, on a professional and efficient meeting.

10. Smile

I know, I know, super cliche… but hey, when you smile, you make others smile. So why not use that to your advantage?

Seriously, I’ve got science backing me up here: Studies have shown that facial expressions can reinforce emotions — which means smiling could lighten up both your and other people’s moods.

And when everybody’s happy, everybody will be more willing to negotiate final punch list issues.

I recently listened to the audiobook of “How to Make Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie. It explains how social skills will help you get so much more out of your relationships and your life, and I intend to read or listen to it every year.

I’m 100% sure that applying its principles — during your punch list visits and elsewhere in life — will help you, too.

Just remember: A smile doesn’t cost anything. Neither does offering praise, remembering the client’s first name, acknowledging your own mistakes, or making people feel important.

11. Give away strategic favors

A well-known 2005 study by Randy Garner, professor of behavioral science at Sam Houston State University, found that: “Feeling obligated to reciprocate a favor can occur despite the fact that we may never have requested the favor in the first place.

Fascinating, right? You can use this psychological trick to your advantage in your next punch list meeting — all you have to do is look for requests that can be accomplished easily.

By giving away these strategic favors, the counterparty will feel obliged to offer a favor in return.

Here are two examples:

  1. Let’s say you’re asked for a (big) out-of-scope adjustment. But, since you’ve already given in to a strategic favor, you have the leverage to say you’ll only make that adjustment at your regular rate (no discounts).
  2. Let’s say you notice during the punch list meeting that your customer is delighted with the process and project as a whole (perhaps, in part, due to a strategic favor). Now might be a good time to ask if you can draw up a testimonial page of this project for your website.

The results of this simple yet effective bargaining trick will surprise you.

For more, read “Influence” by Robert Cialdini, which explains the psychology of “yes” and how to apply it to your life. Charlie Munger, Warren Buffett’s lifelong business partner and one of the most intelligent people I know, also highly recommends the book. If you’re looking for a summary, you can read this article.

12. Don’t make promises you can’t keep

I once promised a client I’d find a solution to his problem by the end of the week. I did this knowing I had a packed week ahead, knowing it’d stress me out, and knowing it’d be difficult. As you can imagine, I failed. I couldn’t keep my promise.

The client felt betrayed — and quickly made up his mind about my company and me. Not only did I feel bad for him, I felt bad for myself. I had acted unprofessionally and disappointed a person for no reason. I wished I had just been honest about my bandwidth and ability.

The lesson I learned? Never make promises you can’t keep.

It’ll cause you stress and damage your reputation — and could end up costing you extra money to figure out a quick fix.

Let’s say your client isn’t happy about the door handles. She says she asked for a different color many weeks ago, and wants it to be fixed in a few days.

It’s been a long day, and you just want to go home. You’re tempted to agree to her request just to end the meeting. But if you know you can’t get it done in time, that’s asking for trouble. So, instead, be honest — and tell her you’ll look into it tomorrow.

As Benjamin Franklin said: “Honesty is the best policy.” And it’ll pay off in so many ways.


AFTER THE FINAL PUNCH LIST MEETING


“It ain’t over ‘til the fat lady sings.”

I love this saying. Apparently it comes from the opera world, where the performance wasn’t over until the soprano sang a very high note.

And, though the walk-through is no opera, your job isn’t done yet. Here’s what you need to think about:

  • Who will draw up the final report?
  • Is everyone clear on what needs to be done — by whom? And by when?
  • Is a next meeting necessary? If so, when? And with whom?
  • Does the customer agree to make final payment when all the items are addressed?

13. Draft the final punch list report

When the walk-through is done, it’s time to finish and distribute the final punch list report. It should contain everything that’s been discussed, and every deficiency that must be solved.

The sooner the punch list can be sent to subcontractors, the better. That way, they’ll have a clear view on open issues assigned to them — and will stay focused on your project rather than moving on to the next one.

Ideally, you’ll only send items relating to that particular individual, so they don’t have to hunt around for the things they need to work on.

Your punch list should also be easy to understand. The more clearly and visually you illustrate the problem at hand, the more likely the issues will be fixed the first time.

In this case, a simple drawing or picture says more than a thousand words. So take photos and avoid long blocks of text; otherwise you’ll get calls asking to explain what you meant.

Make sure to number the observations, too, which helps avoid confusion and miscommunication when you reference items in the future.

And don’t forget the following elements:

  • Date of the site visit
  • People present and distribution list
  • Disclaimer
  • Corporate branding

By signing the document, the customer agrees they’ll pay when the open items are solved. This document will be legal and official, and will be your standby if issues arise in the future.

14. Follow up on the remaining issues

The punch list report states who needs to do what — and by when — so it’s your starting point for following up on open issues. When an item has been solved, you should mark and remove it from the list.

Instead of communicating via phone, email, text, etc., you can streamline this process with a punch list app like ArchiSnapper.

When a subcontractor has fixed an item, they can simply add a photo and send it over for approval — on the very same channel you have your punch list. Trust me: It’s so much easier when all of the information is in one place.

When the list is empty, you’re done! (And the fat lady can sing the final note.)

15. Look for lessons

At the conclusion of each project, you and your team should look for the lessons you learned.

A great way to identify them is with the punch list — see where you were held up, and where you could improve things for next time.

By using the same checklist over and over again, you’ll see incremental improvement on every project. Talk about a huge benefit in the long term!

16. Ask a favor

If you worked hard on the project and the customer is satisfied with the results, it might be time to ask for a favor.

You could ask for a referral by saying: “Do you know anybody else who might be interested in our services? Would you mind putting us in touch?” Remember: Happy customers are the best ambassadors for your business.

Mark Le Page from EntreArchitect:

“A well documented punchlist provides a way for the client to see an end to their project. Our best marketing opportunities as architects are satisfied clients sharing their thoughts with friends and networks. Happy clients are the result of managing expectations from beginning to the end. As items are checked off the punchlist, a clear path to completion is identified and easily communicated to the client.”

Or, you could ask for a testimonial you can share on your website or social media channels, which will amplify their positive experience exponentially.

The punch list is a vital part of any construction or architecture project. And, because of its importance, its creation and review can be a stressful experience.

It doesn’t have to be, though. By equipping yourself with the tips above — and by adding a punch list app to your toolkit — you can reduce headaches before, during and after that final walk-through.