Submittal Management is only a problem when it’s too late. Until then, projects rely on the person(s) keeping up with the magical spreadsheet. Unfortunately, when a problem does rear its ugly head, it’s often times too late. The recovery effort required to get back on track is catastrophic both in time and money. Lastly, something that appears so easy puts egg on the faces of the management team and the organization doing the work. Clients may leave a perfectly managed project frustrated that the submittals failed.

Our experience with projects has been that a Project Manager will align the contract specification submittal requirements along with the vendor’s expectations in one magnificent spreadsheet. Broken down by spec section, the Project Manager assigns the submittal requirements to the contractor/vendor, clarifies the phase of the project the submittal is needed and includes forecasted need dates. Then, it begins! Project personnel start requesting document submittals as needed or as time permits. A lot of times this will occur on the front end of a job when bids are assembled.

What’s wrong with this philosophy? Nothing at first. Until change occurs. Some examples of these changes might include (there are too many to list but here’s a start):

  • A “Revise and Resubmit” status comes back from the Engineer/AE,
  • A “Rejected” status comes back and the project has to start over,
  • Schedule changes therefore submittal sequencing changes,

– This creates an entirely (“whole other” if you’re from the south) different, and exponentially larger, list of issues for detail drawings (fabrication documents) such as:

i. Supplier (detailer) must re-sequence detailing schedule

ii. Supplier (fabrication) must re-sequence fabrication schedule

  • Project Manager must ensure sub items i and ii are aligned with project schedule…but I digress
  • Spec’d items may be discontinued or modified
    1. This may require a redesign

To be clear…This is not an attempt to make a mountain out of a molehill. Most projects do not have this level of complexity. We agree that an isolated issue from any one example above won’t create the chaos that changes the dynamic of a project. But, when a few of these issues above happen consistently over the life of a project…you’ve got yourself an administrative headache. That headache is compounded when your original plan never considered that the majestic spreadsheet just wouldn’t be enough.

What does an INADEQUATE recovery plan look like? Our experience has been that Project Managers go the ol’ “All-Hands-On-Deck!” approach to solve the problem. Projects hire additional support, they may work longer hours, they wait until the end of the job to do the “paper dance” or rework is performed to get buyoff. These solutions are the only way to get out of the mess they’re in on a job that is coming to a close.

That doesn’t mean we can’t learn from this experience. All too often we see where a project goes through this exact scenario and then (once the job is over) they believe that the last project was an anomaly and the next won’t have these issues. WRONG, WRONG, WRONG!

The good news!  There are better ways to manage this effort. We believe we have a solid recommendation. Start by understanding the value of a submittal management plan. This submittal plan ought to include a process where the Submittal Register shows what documents are required, how often the documents are required, when the documents are required (milestone within the project schedule is ideal) and where are these documents coming from and going to. The second piece to the puzzle is the Document Management system.  Document Management is the overall effort when a document is received from a vendor/subcontractor/supplier and the review and approval cycle begins. Please understand that these are two entirely separate things. Submittals are what is required by the contract. Documents are what satisfies the submittal requirements. So, Document Management includes the oversight of documents transmitting back and forth (and back again). This logic is not shared with most commercial document management software programs.

Recommendation: Software solutions which recognize the highly valuable relationship between Document Management and the Submittal Management requirements inside a single platform are the only solution. We also recommend that you work directly with the software solutions provider when setting up your first few projects. Don’t assume that these systems are intuitive. Lastly, try before you buy. Do not, we repeat, do not buy something based on what everyone else is using. There are industry standard document management solutions that are far too complicated for the Engineering and Construction industry. These systems do not need to split atoms. Instead, you need the ability to store a document, review a document, status a document, transmit a document, view a document when it’s approved, and check the box as these submittals are satisfied. Lastly, these systems do not need to cost and arm and a leg.

Remember, you aren’t just creating a project solution. You are creating a game changer from a project execution perspective and a force multiplier.