Earlier in my career, I lived and worked in Asia for 4 years. Needless to say, I experienced a lot of misunderstandings. One of my first projects in China was to do a landscape design for a development of villas. When I was given the plans I saw a development of about 50 modest single family homes. No villas.
It turns out that in China, the term for "modest single family home" IS villa. And office buildings are often called "mansions". Who knew? Not me.
EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION GOES BEYOND LANGUAGE
Have you ever wanted to complain about something but stopped yourself or said it in a roundabout way because you didn't want to appear pushy or you weren't sure that you were right? Have you ever promised to do something for someone only to completely forget 20 minutes later? Have you ever told the waiter your dish was under-done or over-salted thinking surely they will pass that on to the management or the kitchen?
Usually these small failures to communicate well don't really matter, but renovating a home can be a major undertaking requiring a big expenditure of time and money. Everything matters.
YOU NEED A SIMPLE WAY TO COMMUNICATE EFFECTIVELY
Enter the humble punch list, a seemingly simple piece of paper with a few names, an address, and a bunch of blank lines. Yet it can do all this:
- Identify the decision maker so you can communicate directly with them
- Establish authority using standards defined in the contract
- Record when a problem was identified and when it was fixed
The punch list is a document between you and the person or entity you have a contract with to work on your home, not to a subcontractor or a worker hired by your contractor. Why? Because that is the person legally liable for the work, i.e., the person most likely to care when you don't pay.
The items on the punch list are items that don't meet the quality or scope of work as defined in the contract. Are you seeing a theme here? Yes. You must have a good contract.
The punch list is also great way to record how long it takes to fix something, so you have a clear record should anything become an issue.
YOU NEED A METHOD THAT EVERYONE UNDERSTANDS
The best thing about a punch list? It is a document that all parties involved recognize and respect. That email you sent that no one can find, or the phone conversation you had with Harry who is no longer our employee - not so much. And guess what? It's easy to use, too! Here's what you do:
- Note items as you see them
- Compare items to the original contract
- If the item is in the contract, mark it on the punch list. If it is not in the contract, it is additional services and will require a change order
That's it. Just write down problems you see, as you see them. Most contractors use punch lists at "substantial completion", or the time when the work site is functional and all the major items are in place.
You should use one every time a milestone is reached, or before a payment is due. A good contract should identify key milestones with dates. See? Another reason to have a great contract! But that will be a much longer blog post.