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Planning for the Future: Today’s Strategies on Improved Material Procurement Processes | Chris Karian, Project Manager, Walsh Brothers, Inc.

The person in charge of material procurement and submittals lives in the future.  When I am that person, I think about steel while site work is ongoing, I worry about millwork while MEP rough is being performed, and I work to stay numerous steps ahead at all times.  And, it does not end there.  Once everything is released and starts arriving on site, I sometimes have flashbacks about all the hurdles I jumped through months before.  Not everyone enjoys this fortune telling work.  A superintendent I sometimes work with likes to say “I would rather be looking at it than looking for it.” While there will always be last minute emergencies to handle on any project, a proper procurement plan, effective coordination and communications with subcontractors, and a good project management team will substantially increase the odds of making any project a success. In this article, I highlight some of the practices my team employs with regard to submittals and material procurement. 

Subcontractor Buyout

The submittal process begins during the subcontractor buyout period.  Detailed scope sheets help to ensure nothing slips through the cracks.  In-person coordination meetings with subcontractors is invaluable to ensure the subcontracted scope is consistent with the design intent.

When buying out subcontractors, you need to reference the project schedule and prioritize the contracts with long lead times for equipment or materials.

Knowing the sequence of work will show you that a curtain wall with a 12-week lead time is more important than paint which can be picked up off the shelf.  A typical descope meeting will include the CM team Project Manager, Superintendent and Estimator.  The subcontractors are typically represented by their Estimator and Project Manager, if one is assigned.  The architect and owner usually have representatives there as well.  These meetings are the perfect time to bring up any potential concerns with what is being asked of the subcontractor.  Once the contract is awarded, we ask the subcontractor for their procurement logs.  These logs help to inform the team what will be submitted and when to expect it.

Use of Technology

Recent technology and software programs have helped streamline this process; reducing several days of the review period in just over the last ten years.  Programs like Procore and Bluebeam have made it possible to markup a submittal and send it to the design team for review within seconds. Most submittals can be sent to us through email.  From there, the typical review process begins.

Most everyone is on Procore now which allows us to distribute the submittal to the entire project team with a few clicks of the mouse.  The architect gets an automated email saying a new submittal was put into their court and they have a certain number of days to review and respond.  When the review is complete, they upload it and return to me.  Multiple submittals come in everyday from different
subs so organization is key.  Procore can filter all submittals by Status and Ball in Court.  This helps to keep an eye on what you need to get done, you never want to be the guy holding things up.

Thankfully, gone are the days of stamping several copies and mailing them out to everyone and waiting for that same package to be returned a week or two later. 

Transmission of Submittals and a Procurement Log

A procurement log is a great way to track the status of all submittals and the lead time for each piece of the project.  A simple spreadsheet can calculate the lead time, scheduled installation date and review period to give you a due date for the subcontractor to submit.  Below is an example of a procurement log:

Hot List

A hot list tracks priority tasks on a project, including submittals.  It can be transmitted by a simple email to the project team every week after the Owner/Architect. meeting . Typically when reviewing the project logs we discuss what is the most important to have returned and put dates to that item.  I will include that date in the email next to the item listed.  I don’t go into too much detail as additional information can be found on the schedule and on Procore.     A hot list is a useful tool to help the design team prioritize their efforts.  Below is the form of a hot list that I use on projects:

When things are really going quickly and everyone has a large workload, knowing where to focus helps the entire project team. 

This is a helpful tool for the contractor, design team, and owner to discuss at weekly meetings.

Submittal Changes and Bulletins

Changes and bulletins have been known to come up during the review.  Sometimes specified colors or equipment have been discontinued since the documents were put together.  This could hold up releasing the material and potentially working out of sequence.  When changes come up, we create a change order and let the owner decide if they want to proceed  This could result in us working out of sequence, but that is planned out before the work is performed..   

Record-Keeping and Project Closeout

Keeping a neat and organized file of all submittals is important, particularly at the end of the project for turnover of closeout documents to the owner.  Technology has made this easier as well because it is as simple as copying and pasting of the submittal files onto a thumb drive.  Each approved submittal should have a short, clearly defined file name so someone with no knowledge of the project can identify what they are looking for.  Separating them by specification section is a clean way to organize the closeout files.

About the Author
Chris Karian, is a licensed construction supervisor with 14 years of commercial construction experience nationwide. With a wide variety of projects including casinos, hotels, pharmaceutical plants and schools, Chris’ resume ranges in value from nine billion dollars down to under one million dollars in both public and private sectors. He is registered with the GBCI as a LEED Green Associate and is certified in OSHA 30 hour, adult first aid and adult AED & CPR