A new opportunity to save and trim budget: The construction closeout process

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The construction industry is changing fast. Costs in the U.S. have been steadily climbing, creating more of a need for efficiency than ever. But at the same time, a new wave of tech is rising to meet that challenge, beginning to optimize processes from bricklaying to office management, from site analysis to closeout, to help project managers finish on time and on budget. 

JHL Constructors Senior Project Manager James Torres said on a recent 130K SF project — the construction of a middle school in Aurora, Colorado — his punchlist consisted of 2,000 tasks, each of which would need to be noted on the job site and then added manually, line by line, in Microsoft Excel back at the office. He would then assign tasks to his subcontractors one by one, and finally, follow up on the completion of each task until the entire punchlist is resolved. For this cumbersome but standard workflow, Torres allotted 16 weeks, the staffing for which would cost upwards of $108K. 

“On the one hand, it was the way we’ve always done things, and on the other hand, it was a resource crisis,” Torres said. “The process involved so much duplicated work. Subs would receive hundreds or even thousands of tasks, and most wouldn’t be specific to them. I thought, ‘There has to be a better way to do this.’” 

So, Torres began to experiment with construction management software. Some platforms he tried addressed closeout, but, he said, it felt like an afterthought. It was only when he found Bridgit, a construction management software company based near Toronto, that he saw potential for dramatic improvement. 

“This software was light-years ahead of what we were doing,” Torres said. “It kept the punchlist organized, it was easier to see what was done and what wasn’t, and it automated the process of notifying subcontractors when a new task is assigned and sent them reminders in order to keep incomplete tasks on their radar.” 

Torres said he was initially concerned the uptake by his team would be low: Learning a new technology can feel just as burdensome as plodding through an inefficient but familiar old way of doing things. But because Bridgit offers an app and web-based platform, Torres said stakeholders were able to add tasks directly from their iPhone or Android, which meant entering, assigning and sending tasks directly from the field was a quick, one-time process, which led to huge time savings on the Aurora job site. 

“On the middle school project, automating just the punchlist process cut our closeout timeline in half,” Torres said. 

With the rising cost of construction labor, cutting back on the number of payroll hours really helps trim a budget. Using construction management software that fit the bill, Torres said he and his team began tracking project deficiencies from day one. In turn, they ended with a manageable list and closed out eight weeks ahead of schedule — cutting his original estimate of 16 weeks in half. According to Torres, this saved an estimated $54,400 on staffing. 

“Closeouts don’t just happen at the end of the project,” Torres said. “The moment a project manager sets foot on a job site, they want to be tracking deficiencies, closing things out, and working toward getting subcontractors 100% finished and off the project. The superintendent, project engineer, myself — we could all use this app to log tasks on the spot and assign a subcontractor a task with the specific location, what exactly occurred and then they have to respond. Using that through the entire job created a shorter, smaller punchlist at the end of the project.” 

Torres was also able to ease some of the pain points of subcontractor management. In the Bridgit app, unfinished tasks are prioritized in a dashboard, where users can generate various reports to monitor subcontractor performance. Torres said his team printed a report weekly for subcontractor meetings, which improved communication and upped productivity. 

“Getting out of a spreadsheet and into software designed for this made tracking the completion of tasks so much clearer,” Torres said. Adapting to new tech is hard, especially for superintendents who have done things the same way for decades. But a frictionless onboarding process helps, Torres said. 

“Bridgit uploaded site drawings and subcontractor info,” Torres said. “Then they did a one-hour training with our staff. After that, it was just a matter of using the software. It’s pretty intuitive, so it didn’t take much to pick it up — even for the superintendents who’ve been on the job for 30 to 40 years and hardly want to sit and check an email.” 

Torres said people were quick to adopt Bridgit not just because the app is user friendly, but because it satisfied a longstanding need his whole team recognized. 

“I think ultimately we're all in the industry, whether you're a general contractor, or a subcontractor, we're always looking for ways to be more efficient, ways to make our jobs easier,” Torres said. “Using a construction management software on the job and then cutting our closeout in half — people have really seen the value of it, and how it pays for itself in the end.”

 
Chris Miniellyfield