A Step-by-Step Guide to Using a Punch List

Got a never-ending list of project tasks to complete? A punch list can help. This project management tool is frequently used by construction managers, but it can help teams in any industry manage both old and new tasks that need to be revisited or monitored. 

In this article, we’ll explain what a punch list is in construction, why it’s so helpful, and how you can benefit from using one. Keep reading to discover how to create an effective punch list that works for your unique projects, all while adhering to best practices. 

What is a punch list?

The term punch list comes from the construction world, where managers would have their team punch a hole in a paper task list next to an item they had finished.

A punch list is a list of tasks that must be completed before a project can be completed. Tasks include active work, work that has been completed, and notes on delays in the project. Task deadlines and big-picture project deadlines are also saved here. 

A punch list does not always include the major work but rather smaller tasks that must be completed. Punch lists are used to keep track of work that needs to be completed to meet the terms of a contract

Project and construction management software can help you create and maintain a punch list that works seamlessly with the rest of your workflow. Project details are updated in real time and can be accessed anytime from anywhere. Each punch list item should have its own name, location, and deadline. Not all items on the list will be urgent, so it’s important to mark priority items. 

Punch lists are created by managers but used by all members of the team. They’re also useful for communicating with stakeholders. Project owners should regularly check in with them and confirm they are satisfied with the process.

A punch list is only made once the project is considered almost finished. It consists of minor tweaks and usually only addresses major issues.

When drafting the punch list, all team members involved should address issues they encounter before the project closes. This step typically involves reviewing the original project specifications and addressing any changes or updates. 

Afterwards, everyone comes up with a plan to address the remaining tasks. The contractor or manager then provides a schedule for when the project will likely wrap up. 

Why are there punch lists in construction?

Have you ever used the phrase “punch out”? The term originally refers to the process of completing a construction project's punch list.

A construction punch list is a step-by-step plan that outlines the work left to be done before the project's final inspection. It's typically created before the project's final inspection.

Before the contract can be finalized, the general contractor and the owner will do a site walkthrough to make sure all the necessary work is done. 

A punch list structure is a great way to align your team's quality control efforts throughout the construction process. It's also a great way to keep track of all the details of a project.

Site walkthroughs are usually carried out by a crew member who may also contribute to the punch list. During this walkthrough, they will note down all the items that are missing or that require attention. Even though this walkthrough is visual, tasks are not just identified by what you can see but what someone says must be done in order to fulfill the agreed-upon project needs. These notes are all used to create the punch list. 

Doing it this way will eliminate the confusion and misinformation that can cause delays and unnecessary expenses as the project progresses. It also gives teams a way to communicate clearly and schedule the remaining work, making it easier for everyone involved to efficiently collaborate

Many construction companies will create punch list templates. A punch list template helps to organize all of the information that's needed to manage a construction project, including details such as who, what, and where. This template can be created once and then used repeatedly, saving managers the time it would take to make each new punch list from scratch. 

The goal of every construction management project is to have zero items on its punch list. Once this has been achieved, the contractor and the owner enter the substantial completion phase. When the punch list is zero, the project owner and the contractor can reach a mutual agreement, which states that the work is finished and ready for payment.

Having one person responsible for the punch list's maintenance is very helpful. This person is typically in a management position. They’ll be responsible for answering questions, following up on task progress or delays, and keeping the list up to date. As you can probably guess, having an open line of communication between the punch list manager and the rest of the team is critical for this tool to be effective. 

Many people play key roles in the construction punch list, including the project owner, the architect, the general contractor, and the designers. Project owners create and manage the list while the general contractor reviews and carries out the details. While that’s happening, the architects, designers, and subcontractors complete the tasks. 

Punch list examples

Looking for ideas for your own punch list? Here are some punch list examples you can use to build your template, along with our insight on what makes each unique and how to use them: 

Example 1: Life of an Architect

In this example, architect Bob Borson shows us his punch list for the inside of a 12,000 square foot construction project. What’s unique about Borson’s punch list is that he includes a ledge at the top with numbers that correspond to tasks. He then uses the numbers as a shorthand for each of his tasks, adding details if needed. 

Example 2: Levelset’s Template

Levelset has created a general template for construction punch lists. It takes the form of a chart with headers that say: item number, location, item description, the subcontractor responsible, status, and date completed. The simplistic nature may be appealing to managers who prefer to use paper and pencil. 

However, projects with tasks that require more details, frequent status updates, or approvals may want to add more to it. Going digital also makes it easier to view, share, and revise as you go along. 

The benefits of punch list management

  • Build better relationships
    This type of communication tool creates a better working relationship between a project owner and a general contractor because it allows them to be on the same page about task statuses. A punch list also ensures that everyone’s voice is heard. You may feel like the project is finally finished, but keep in mind that everyone involved has their own thoughts.
  • Improve communication
    The entire team plays a part in creating the punch list. They're also responsible for maintaining it. Although there is a point person, everyone becomes a stakeholder for the remaining tasks in the project. It's also easy to reference and share if you use electronic tools such as project management software.
  • Stay on track 
    Failing to deliver all of your tasks on time and under budget can create major problems, especially when there are contracts involved. A punch list not only keeps a record of what you and stakeholders agree to but also paves a clear path for what still needs to be completed before the project deadline. 
  • Set expectations
    When you use a punch list, everyone on your team knows exactly what they are responsible for and when it is due. Employees don't have to worry about going above and beyond the punch list since that may involve time and expenses that are unaccounted for. Instead, they can focus on providing high-quality results for the most important tasks.
  • Keep teams accountable
    Punch lists are visible to everyone on the team. Because there are names assigned to each item, it's easy to see who is completing their tasks on time and who isn't. Team members can support one another when someone falls behind and feel motivated by the progress that is being made in other areas of the punch list. 

What should be included in a punch list checklist?

No matter what industry you are in, your punch list checklist should include each of the following:

  • Punch number: The total number of tasks on the punch list or what number the specific task in question is on the list.
  • Location: If there is a construction site involved, this is where the task will need to happen. If your work is all digital, you can use this space to designate which software tool this item will live in so that it’s easier to look up later on. 
  • Trade or department: Choose which specialty this task falls under. For example, signing off on the final design for a Times Square billboard campaign may fall under the marketing department’s responsibility. In construction, this may look like carpentry, plumbing, etc. 
  • Task name: A shorthand for what most team members will remember and understand. 
  • Task description: A paragraph describing what the task is, any general guidelines needed to complete it, and important details the assignee absolutely has to know. 
  • Files: Ideally, your punch list will be digital and have the ability to link out to or store supporting files. Things like photos, images, videos, and documents are all useful here as long as they directly relate to the task. 
  • Task type: What general task category does this punch list item fall under? Your team can come up with a list of specific categories that fit your unique project needs. 
  • Priority: Note this using a word or color designation. At a minimum, your priority scale should include low, medium, and high, but feel free to include more variety. 
  • Due date: As the name implies, this reflects when the task is due and absolutely must be completed. 
  • Owner: The person responsible for making the task happen. 
  • Approver: The quality control person who must sign off on the task completion, if needed. 
  • Task status: Commonly used tags include completed, awaiting approval, and in progress. 
  • Notes: Use this section to discuss the project, loop in other participants for opinions and updates, and elaborate on anything in the task that needs to be explained. 

Pro tip: As you can tell by now, each individual task will include a lot of details, which is why it is also important that your punch list is short and concise so that you maximize the effectiveness of your to-dos. It’s not a list of what you could do but what you have to do. Doing so will make sure you’re using the remaining resources wisely while maintaining compliance with the original project agreement. 

How to create an effective punch list template

Start by using data from reports on similar projects you’ve done in the past. Look for things they have in common and add some of your initial task ideas to the punch list draft. Your team will help you decide whether or not to keep them later, but for now, they will form the foundation of your standard punch list template. 

Then, use a premade punch list task form or a project management task template to define each individual item. If you don’t have a premade one available, use the list outlined above to draft your own. 

Make sure that your template is simple and clear so that everyone on the team can understand how to use it. The key is to keep it streamlined, especially if your tasks are complex. 

Finally, add drop-down menus for categories such as task type or location if there are a limited number of options available. If the section requires a little more personalization, leave space for users to enter the text below the header. 

Using Wrike as an alternative to punch lists

Wrike is a project and construction management tool that makes it easy to create, manage, and assign tasks. As you can imagine, it’s extremely hard to track punch list items on paper. Doing so leads to many errors and inefficiencies, and it can also hinder collaboration among various parties. 

Even a digital punch list tool has its limitations. Features such as asset storage and accessibility controls that Wrike offers aren’t typical of traditional punch list software. And yet, these details can make all the difference as you strive for efficiency in the final stages of your project. 

While a project management software may not have its own designated punch list outline, it does offer productive alternatives such as Kanban boards

A Kanban board is a visual representation of your workflow. Instead of a punch list, it uses columns and cards to represent the stages of your work. You can also set specific priorities and attach customized tags.

Wrike also offers secure cloud storage. A project collaboration system powered by the cloud will allow you to keep track of all your team members and issues in real time. 

Wrike even works seamlessly with mobile platforms, which maximizes visibility. Blended teams across the globe can easily make and view changes in real time. 

Added all together, the features of a digital project management system combine to create a powerful alternative to traditional punch lists. 

In conclusion

Using punch list and project management technology, team members can now communicate even when they're not in the same physical location. Wrike helps streamline this process by allowing you to assign, track, and monitor people for specific tasks. Start your two-week free trial of Wrike and see for yourself how you can get projects done on time and within budget through advanced task organization. 

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