Building a Zero Punch List Program

Most contractors are good a working their jobs, that is until they get to the punch list.

Most contractors are good a working their jobs, that is until they get to the punch list. Here's an interesting concept: don't consider that the job is over until after the punch list is complete. A simple policy that the job isn't over until the punch list is finished is a great way to grow your business quickly and profitably. In this way you will see your punch lists as a valuable tool.

Think about the fact that the dragging on of punch lists costs you and your customer money and is a major cause of customer dissatisfaction. If you want to jump ahead of the competition and be the company your customers call first you need to strive for a zero punch list program. Now is the time to think of the punch list as a marketing tool. Here's how:

  1. Do what you promise. For example, if you promise to be done by a certain date, finish by that date; preferably even earlier. Do whatever it takes to live up to your promises.
  2. Instead of viewing those dangling loose ends on your punch list as no big deal, do not consider the job finished until the punch list is finished. The problem with loose ends is that they drag on, require your company to go back time and time again, and become a source of frustration to everyone. Attack the punch list with the same enthusiasm that you had when you started the job.
  3. Create quality control inspections at each phase of the job. Train your employees to a higher level of quality and be sure they step back regularly and look at the job with fresh eyes. Be sure that whoever has the roll of supervisor walks the job with their field employees regularly picking out areas that might be problematic later. Catching potential problems ahead of time can eliminate rework later.
  4. Document all rework on paper with a copy left at the job and a copy in the file giving a due date for completion.
  5. Communicate your zero punch list goal to your subcontractors as well. Your managers, supervisors and field staff will act as their quality control, and discourage any phase from having leftover work. If they need one more part to finish, they will have to go and get that part and return to finish - not leave it for the end of the job. Your supervisor will want to document these leftovers on paper, give the sub a copy and put a copy in the file.
  6. Most punch lists aren't created until the customer has completed a walk through. Granted there will be areas that may disturb the customer, but they still have to be dealt with. Meet with the client regularly and walk through the job getting their thoughts. Many of their concerns can be handled with explanations, but you'll also hear how certain things just don't look right to them. Again, all legitimate concerns should be documented on paper with a copy left with the field staff and a copy in the file. Fixing areas that disturb the client before the final walk through will eliminate problems and rework at the end of the job. By using regular quality control inspections, getting subs to fully finish each stage and getting regular input from the client, you will reduce those "loose ends" tremendously. Will you still want to have a final walkthrough with the client? Of course and you will probably still have a few items to finish. Again, document each item on paper and list needed materials as well.
  7. Don't argue about items on the punch list. Of course, common sense applies, but don't argue over items that are relatively inexpensive in relationship to the overall project costs. Obviously, the larger the project the larger the forgiveness factor.
  8. Give the person dealing with the punch list the authority to satisfy the customer on the spot.
  9. Write into subcontracts that subs have so many days to complete the punch list or you will do it and back charge the cost plus 25 percent. Of course, subs will always promise to take care of the punch list quickly, but if they balk when you ask them to sign this agreement you can bet they won't show up at the end of the job without it signed. If they are really too busy, they'll probably be happy to have you take care of it for them under these terms.
  10. Don't delegate the punch list to the junior person on the job. They usually don't have enough clout to get others to jump. If the project manager or superintendent handles the punch list, it will get done faster and cost less in the long run.
  11. For smaller projects, equip a truck with all the standard tools and parts needed to handle a punch list. Then send a single person or team of people covering the various trades to go around and clean up the punch list - ultimately this will be cheaper.
  12. Have a separate budget for the punch list. Take this cost out of the profit-sharing or bonus consideration. This way the person handling the punch list doesn't have the internal conflict that he or she is spending their own money. Instead, make the bonus reflect, in part, the owner's satisfaction with the punch list process.

Make your customers happy because your customers will repay you many times over in repeat business and referrals. Documentation is an important part of a zero punch list program. It's the way busy minds keep track of details. It's the way we communicate expectations to other parties and are able to check off what is done and what is not. If your company is technologically savvy, substitute with PDA's, laptops and e-mail. It doesn't matter as long as the items are tracked and monitored.

Create lots of buzz about your zero punch list program at company meetings, in your newsletter and in client meetings. Tie rewards to it for good performance and get customers to rate how well your company finishes its jobs. Striving for zero on your punch lists is the right way to build your business.

Linda Hanson, CMC, is a certified management consultant and author of 10 Steps to Marketing Success. She writes, speaks and consults on marketing, management and customer service issues and can be contacted at Sign up for her free newsletter The Superior Performance Report.