“Zero Punch List” Possible? Does It Even Matter?

If you tackle it right, there’s no good reason punch list should eat up the final 20% of your project. But is it ever realistic to shoot for a “zero punch list” project? Or is that like believing that there actually is a dark side of the moon?

Let’s dig into that – so you can do great things like make your clients happy and get paid faster.


First up, if you don’t believe a “zero punch list” job is possible, why is it still worth shooting for?

It goes against the grain, but it’s a great strategy for aligning your project team to collectively work toward higher quality each day. (The alternative being to let poorly-executed work sit until you’re at the tail end of your project.)

You might not achieve the elusive zero, but trying for it from the start of the job will likely get you much closer to zero, which most teams would count as a victory. The quote below gets right to it:

The most successful zero-punch programs put the focus on building error-free with the first installation, then protecting the work from subsequent damage. “The aim is for a zero punchlist and not to zero-out the punchlist.” (Roebuck, 2012) The project team must agree that issues or deficiencies are the result of a failed quality process. Stop – evaluate – correct, and then move forward.  – “Best Practices for a Zero Punchlist,” Michael W. Clippinger

As Mr. Clippinger points out, accountability plays a major role in achieving a zero punch list and making the walkthrough a success. Again, regardless of how close you are to zero toward the end of the project, contractors and subs can hold themselves to higher standards throughout construction so that no one gets held up in crunch time.

Setting clear expectations from day one of the project (or day one of a subcontractor’s involvement on a project) is the key to better execution. What needs to be defined?

  • Spell out your goal in your subcontractor agreement
  • Identify what qualifies as acceptable work
  • Establish how progress and deficiencies will be reported/documented 

Conducting thorough daily inspections, maintaining consistent documentation, and clearly communicating what actions need to be taken, when, will help ensure you’re on track to achieving the goal.

Another important point: To achieve a zero or almost-zero punch project, there can be no excuses – either the work is done right or it’s not done.

The client walkthrough will be the ultimate test for how well you’ve managed reducing or eliminating your punch list. Chances are very slim that your client won’t find something they want addressed. After all, they will either occupy or turn over the space themselves. They have a right to their own druthers, within reason.

To avoid any major surprises or setbacks, inspect the project like you are the owner. Don’t wait to apply full scrutiny until just before the big walkthrough.  

If you do find opportunities for improvement, be proactive by estimating the labor and materials needed to fix the issues, and share the information with your client during the inspection, not after.  Not only will this help elevate your client’s confidence in your work, it gives you a head start on wrapping up the project sooner.

Final Word

In many ways it’s easier to keep doing things the way you’ve always done them — especially if they’ve brought you some success. Taking a nontraditional approach like setting a zero punch list expectation will take some adjustment. But if the results leave you with less to do on the backend, and gets you paid faster, you’ll know it was worth the effort.


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