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It’s halftime in 2021 and thrilling to know a large portion of the population is vaccinated and getting back to business as usual. Projects can run at full throttle, there are more full crews onsite and the supply chain is becoming more efficient.

The pandemic was challenging to be sure, but the construction industry might walk away from a crazy year a bit better off having learned it can weather disruption. The industry is nimbler than we once realized. Being nimble and open to change creates opportunity to work smarter in an era of unprecedented demand for new construction.

In 2020, one company took time to reevaluate how it handles contractor submittals and devised a plan for streamlining the submittal process to benefit the company and the contract teams that support its projects. By standardizing specifications and prioritizing what and how submittals are reviewed, the company was able to significantly short circuit the front-end work and get projects started quicker.

Growth of Modular Design

As reported by Construction Executive in March, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data released by Associated Builders and Contractors, COVID-19 had a substantial impact on construction in 2020. It drove improvements in scheduling and logistics of building material delivery. It also increased the use of prefabrication and modularization which lends itself to a streamlined submittals process.

Using a standardized design means many aspects of the project share the same parts, construction processes and products. While each development is tailored to the customer and site, the core elements of each remain the same and are executed in a repeatable manner. Repetition creates opportunity to streamline and prioritize contractor submittals and reviews, saving a ton of time on the front end of each project.

Standardized and Prioritized Submittals

Grouping and bringing uniformity to front-end specifications—with consistent terminology, definitions and templates—and developing a single submittal matrix, is a strong start to a smoother submittal process.

  • Grouping required system components by sub-contractor, for example: architectural, structural, mechanical, electrical helps identify opportunities to streamline.
  • Assessing and assigning a review requirement to each submittal (does this require full, limited or possibly no further review because it is the same standard specification) reduces redundancy and creates significant efficiencies.

While time consuming on the front end, the process of grouping and assigning a review category can cut the number of reviews significantly. For the company that reviewed its process, almost half of more than 800 submittals fell into the pre-approved or boilerplate category.

Based on past projects, the company organized reviews as follows:

  • Boilerplate: Pre-approved materials that are standard from one project to the next.
  • Limited review: Pre-packaged and approved submittals that require minor revisions, such as a change in color to meet with customer specifications. These don’t require calculation or onsite measurement but are important to review from a coordination standpoint.
  • Full review: These submittals require full review, in the way that all submittals were previously reviewed.
  • For record: This category includes warranties and maintenance data—information that needs to be in the record but not reviewed. These submittals don’t change from one to the next.  
Benefits of Streamlined Submittals

The structured approach creates less paperwork and administrative headache on all sides. Not everything needs to be reviewed by everyone, nor does everything require a deep dive. Grouping and uniformity also helped organize the submittal and review process, paving the way for submittals to be provided in the manner that projects are constructed. That linear presentation further expedited review.

With the universe of submittals reigned in and streamlined, the contractor has a clear view of the required submittals and how it will be reviewed, as well as substitution parameters and due dates. In addition to significantly narrowing down the volume of required submittals, this overhaul has eliminated conflicts, duplications, and ambiguity on the specification for contractors. It also identifies long-lead-time items to assist the contractor in scheduling submittals and ensuring that all products are ordered on time and delivered on time.

This article is the first in a four-part series about the most-recent developments in construction’s cutting-edge technologies and best practices.

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