Develop a shop drawing and submittal system that works.

How many times have you been delayed on construction projects because you didn’t have the approvals needed to order materials and keep the job moving? For example, forgetting to get the concrete foundation design mix approved by the structural engineer can stop a scheduled concrete pour for days. When constructing concrete tilt-up or masonry building walls, you need to order the hollow metal door frames weeks in advance to have them manufactured per the exact opening sizes, door schedule and finish hardware specifications. Another challenge occurs when the owner and architect can’t decide which ceramic tile to choose until the week before it is needed on the job. And when the tile is finally chosen, they pick one that comes from Italy and takes 16 weeks to arrive.

These and many other approval problems happen on construction projects every day. To make situations worse, the time delay and increased costs associated with the inability to obtain timely approvals are then blamed on your company and your suppliers. As a legal construction consultant, I have refereed many approval disputes that ended up in court and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in delays, wrong products and incorrectly substituted materials that were installed without proper approval.

Assume Everything Needs Approval
After you are hired to build a project, go through the contract and specifications to determine what approvals are required. If no instructions are outlined, still assume you will be required to obtain approval before you install any material, product, finish or structural component. Don’t forget anything that is visible to the eye when the job is complete.

Approvals can also be required on your subcontractors, suppliers, payment cost breakdown, schedule of values, work schedule, supervisors, managers, testing company, insurance policy and coverage limits. When you don’t ask in advance whether approvals are needed for these items, the owner or architect can stop your project or payment application until he or she makes the approvals deemed necessary.

Create an Approval Plan
To create a standardized and practical project approval system, take a few moments to meet with your project managers and superintendents. Brainstorm to make a list of everything you can think of on every type of project that might need the owner’s or architect’s approval. Print this list, and use it as a company-wide project approval checklist to fill out before you start every job. When awarded a contract, the project manager and contract administrator can review the project documents to determine which approvals they anticipate will be needed. Don’t forget to include long-lead items and project-specific equipment and finishes. To help you create an approval tracking system, email for your copy of “Project Management Forms for Contractors.”

Get Your List Approved
Meet with the project customer, owner or architect to review your proposed project submittal, shop drawing and approval list. Include each item needing approval and the deadline required to keep your project on schedule. Include all the items you will be requesting to substitute as an alternative to the specified material or item on the plans. Explain to your customer that if the approval deadlines aren’t met, the project will be delayed, and you will expect to be compensated for delay costs associated with slow processing or delayed approval.

It is imperative to insist that your subcontractors and suppliers make their approvals a priority as well. When awarding contracts to them, tell them up front what you require and the drop-dead deadlines for submitting their shop drawings and submittals for approval. Put these dates in writing in their contracts or purchase orders, and manage the process tightly. Put your contract administrator or field superintendent in charge of managing the shop drawing and submittal approval process. Meet with them weekly to review the progress, and address any slow or missing approvals.

By implementing a proactive approval process and not waiting for your subcontractors and suppliers to submit their required shop drawings and submittals whenever they get around to it, you will avoid delays and stay ahead of the game.