Originally posted Wednesday, 02 September 2015

Written by Stuart Adler

1. As the construction Owner, you need to lead the effort. Do not assume that the construction manager or design team is working on the closeout.

2. Make closeout an agenda item for every Owner-Architect- Contractor (OAC) meeting.

3. Make sure that your “customer” is included in changes as appropriate and informed of all changes that will impact them.

4. You can avoid delays, extra costs, and surprises when you coordinate Owner-furnished items early in the process.

5. Long before the punchlist phase of a project, put procedures in place to manage the punchlist process.

Don’t you hate it when a movie has a bad ending? The first 115 minutes of the film may be thrilling, inspiring, hilarious, innovative, or all of the above, but if the ending is weak, what do you remember most vividly about the movie? If you are like most people, you recall that it had a weak ending. As with movies, so it is with project management. A project may exceed all expectations of efficiency, value, schedule and budget, but if the occupants are not comfortable when they move in, they will be disappointed with the project. If the facility managers cannot properly operate the facility due to lack of closeout documents and training, they will be frustrated with the building and the project manager. Months of hard work and thousands of smart decisions could be forgotten if the project closeout is not well managed.

Fortunately, Owners don’t have to leave project closeout to chance, and there are proven ways to enhance this vital stage of the project delivery process. Here we’ll look at four key strategies to help ensure your project has a strong finish: start early, manage change, integrate Owner furnished items, and manage the punchlist process.

Start Early

As the construction Owner, you need to lead the effort. Do not assume that the construction manager (CM) or design team is working on the closeout. It is up to you to establish that an effective and efficient closeout will be a high priority.

Before the project even begins, make certain that your contracts and construction standards clearly communicate and define your requirements and expectations. It is incumbent on you to know what is required in your documents. You cannot make certain your team is doing what is required if you do not know the requirements. Make certain the design and construction teams clearly understand the requirements and your expectations. One strategy would be to hold a closeout strategy session at the beginning of construction. At this meeting, you would discuss agenda items, such as record drawings, as-built drawings, operations and maintenance documents, and attic stock requirements. Create a concept closeout schedule at this meeting, and then include key closeout activities in the more detailed construction schedule. Identify who is responsible for each item on the list.

Establish a checklist of closeout activities and deliverables. There are just too many items involved with closeout for anyone to keep up with everything without a checklist. Make closeout an agenda item for every Owner-Architect- Contractor (OAC) meeting. This practice will keep closeout top-of-mind and provide a good opportunity to review the checklist regularly.

Manage Change

Change is an inevitable part of any construction project. The perceived success of a project is often determined by how we manage change. As with many aspects of project management, good communication and timely decision- making is paramount. Always remember that although you and many others on the team may be very familiar with the construction process, the end users typically are not familiar. Make sure that your “customer” is included in changes as appropriate and informed of all changes that will impact them. Clearly communicate the advantages to making decisions early in the process and establish criteria to evaluate requested changes.

It is common for many change requests to arise during the building activation phase. You should prepare strategies ahead of this phase to address changes that take place during this phase. One approach would be to “triage” requests. In this context, triage would be a method to prioritize the urgency of each potential change and to evaluate whether the change can wait until after occupancy. Another approach is to establish a “change moratorium” policy. Some Owners establish a policy that end-users must occupy the building for three or six months before requesting any changes.

Expect the unexpected. A good project manager is always looking ahead, scanning the horizon for potential issues that may arise. Even if a critical scenario is only remotely possible, develop a Plan B and maybe even a Plan C, so that you are always prepared for any change that may be lurking in the weeds, waiting to bite you.

Owner-Furnished Items

Coordinate Owner-furnished items with the design and construction. You can avoid delays, extra costs, and surprises when you coordinate Owner-furnished items early in the process. These items may include furniture, A/V equipment, marker boards, lab equipment, artwork, or even toilet accessories. Some examples of coordination include making sure certain electric outlets (floor-mounted and wall mounted) are coordinated with furniture locations, making certain that fire alarms and thermostats are not mounted where they conflict with marker board or artwork locations, confirming power/data coordinates with A/V equipment. Include key Owner-furnished items in the detailed construction schedule. The contractor needs to account for Owner-furnished items, and you need to know when to have these items delivered and installed.

Interior Office

Punchlist Management

Punchlist management is a common source of stress for all project stakeholders. The contractors are in a hurry to finish the job and move on to their next commitment. The end users are in a hurry to move in to their new space. However, facilities management does not want responsibility for the operations and management of the space until the punchlist is complete. And you do not want to be in the middle of disputes regarding whether damage was caused by the contractor or by the Owner’s representatives.

Modern Office Space

Long before the punchlist phase of a project, put procedures in place to manage the punchlist process. Here are some strategies to consider:

• Develop punch list format/document form with the Project Team during design with sign offs.

• Determine the punch list sequence (start at top floor, first floor, etc.) with the Prime Contractor.

• Require Prime Contractor to pre-punch the project.

• Identify specific representatives to be involved in punching out the building.

• Schedule the punch list so that there is ONE FINAL LIST

° Select date(s).

° Don’t issue Punch List over and over again.

° Don’t confuse Punch List with warranty work.

° Multiple versions reduce AE and Trade Contractor cooperation.

• Consider requiring the Prime Contractor to have a “Closeout Engineer” on staff.

• Require the Contractor to provide an on-site carpenter to be available to correct simple items before they are even added to the punchlist.

• Get as much done as possible before move-in. Otherwise there are inevitable consequences.

• Don’t let items sit on the list! Finish Strong

Closeout should be the highlight of the project. After all, you are nearing the completion of a project, and in most cases, this should be a time to celebrate success. However, if closeout is not managed well, it can become a time of disappointment and frustration. It is human nature to remember how a project finishes and forget the beginning and middle, so it is critical that closeout is a smooth, efficient process. Do not wait until the end of a project to start planning closeout. Start early. Prioritize as a team. Assign specific tasks to specific individuals. Include closeout as a regular OAC meeting topic. Be a strong leader. Encourage your team to plan ahead and finish strong!

Stuart Adler is the Director of Program Management in Planning, Design & Construction at Emory University. Stuart is a COAA board member, registered architect, a LEED Accredited Professional, and holds a Master’s of Architecture from the Georgia Institute of Technology.