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Effectively Managing Submittals on Engineering & Construction Projects

Effectively Managing Submittals on Engineering & Construction Projects

In the early 1980s, Turner required contractors to provide extremely extensive planning reports before construction commenced, and this fascinated me. This took place during the Kuwait Amiri Diwan project, when I was the contractors’ project controls consultant. Turner required contractors to submit four important documents: a resource-loaded schedule created using Primavera Project Planner (P3), a cost-loaded report to map the bill of quantity line items to schedule activities, a submittal report (E1), and a procurement report (E2). With the absence of today’s modern technology, several of these reports were prepared using Lotus 123, an application that’s very similar to Microsoft Excel.

Today, the cost-loaded schedule and procurement schedule are produced using more advanced planning and scheduling software. However, a majority of organizations involved with engineering and construction projects still use Excel to develop their submittal schedule. But this spreadsheet technology is outdated for managing construction projects, and these organizations are missing out on many valuable benefits provided by more advanced software applications.

What Are Submittals?

Submittals are contract documents that contractors must submit to the engineering consultant for review, approval, and other actions. Submittals demonstrate the contractor’s knowledge of the contract terms and explain how the contractor intends to execute the project requirements. As such, submittals require contractors to:

  • Identify products selected from the list of acceptable products in the specifications
  • Explain how items will be constructed and how they’ll interact with adjacent construction
  • Identify optional characteristics
  • Schedule types of products by location
  • Describe physical and performance criteria
  • Certify that products meet or exceed specified requirements

For organizations involved with projects using Construction Specification Institute (CSI) specifications, the Division 01 Submittals Section (01 33 00) details the administrative and procedural requirements for preparation, transmittal, review, approval and return of submittals. The other divisions, from 02 to 49, stipulate the specific submittal requirements applicable to particular products within each section. These typically include:

  • The particular info and content required for shop drawings or product data
  • The unique product requirements
  • The sample specifics, such as size and location


Developing the Submittal Log

Most project contracts require the contractor to submit a detailed submittal log, along with the baseline schedule. After all, if there is no confirmation on when installation can commence, how can anyone analyze and verify the project schedule’s accuracy? Contractors use submittals to order the materials and start fabrication once the engineering firm or other authorized agent grants approval. In other words, the planned construction and installation activities aren’t credible unless they’re linked to the submittal approval process.

The submittal log should include a complete list of all subcontractors and suppliers, material samples, catalogues, method statements, workshop drawings, as-built drawings, and all other items listed in the project’s technical specifications, drawings, agreements, and bill of quantities. The details of each submittal item need to be captured in the log, and each item must be linked to the relevant submittal activity in the project schedule. These submittal activities are then linked to the relevant procurement activity, installation activity, and other activities for which the activity’s commencement date depends on the relevant submittal approval date. This helps determine when the contractor needs to start the submittal process for a specification item.

Today’s web-based project management solutions like PMWeb have greatly improved submittal management and allowed for the knowledge gained from this process to be efficiently captured and stored. The PMWeb Submittal module allows users to define the entire submittal log, including the relevant specification sections, titles, suppliers, subcontractor WBS levels, project schedule activity ID, lead time to procure, etc. PMWeb also lets users create an unlimited number of attributes with a list of values, which can be used to analyze the submittal process performance.

Avoid Submitting Non-Specified Material

It’s highly recommended to copy and paste the content of the relevant specification section for each submittal item to the submittal form. This helps ensure the contractor is submitting exactly what’s contained in the contract’s specifications, and if there is any deviation, the contractor is obliged to clearly state those deviations. PMWeb’s Clause Module captures the details of all contract specification sections and allows the contractor to drag and drop the relevant submittal sections into the submittal form.

Ensuring Submittal Quality and Compliance

It’s also a good idea to have a checklist for each submittal item that’s aligned with the project’s specifications. This helps ensure that the submittal is 100-percent correct and complete, so it’s not rejected by the engineering consultant due to missing details. This checklist includes the submittal certification statement, which typically reads “By this submittal, we hereby represent that we have determined and verified all field measurements, field construction criteria, materials, dimensions, catalogue numbers and pertinent data and we have checked and coordinated each item with other applicable approved drawings and all Contract requirements.” This is something that all current and future projects can benefit from.

Attaching Documents for Review

Submittals must also include the drawings, material samples, catalogue, and other items that need to be reviewed. These documents are typically stored in PMWeb’s Document Management Repository, where they can be easily attached to the submittal items. This allows the engineering firm and other stakeholders who need to review the submittal to access and view these attachments at any time and any place using mobile devices. In addition, it’s possible to add hyperlinks to suppliers’ websites and online catalogues to ensure complete access to everything that must be reviewed.

Viewing and Redlining Documents

Comments, stamps, and other remarks can be added to these documents using PMWeb’s redlining tool. PMWeb keeps a log of every comment made and identifies who made the comments and when. This helps maintain an audit trail of all comments and remarks. The PMWeb redlining tool also allows PMWeb records to be linked to specific locations in the document under review. For example, these records might include an RFI, another submittal item, meeting minutes, etc.

Attaching and Viewing BIM Models and Objects

With the increasing use of Building Information Modelling (BIM), PMWeb allows users to select the desired BIM model, select the BIM object to be reviewed by the submittal item, take a snapshot of the BIM object, and then attach it to the submittal item.

The Submittal Review and Approval Process

Each submittal item can be linked to the submittal workflow depending on the contract’s submittal review and approval requirements. However, submittals might be subject to different review and approval processes depending on the specification section, submittal type, whether it’s a substitution, whether the substitution has a time and/or cost impact, the level of impact, etc. PMWeb’s conditional workflow complies with all of these scenarios by incorporating conditions and branches based on the submittal’s default and user-defined attributes. This helps automate the submittal review and approval process.

On engineering and construction projects, submittals frequently don’t receive approval on their first submission. When the submittal is returend, it’s often marked with one of following classifications:

  • APPROVED: Requires no corrections or marks.
  • APPROVED AS NOTED: Requires minor corrections. Items may be fabricated as marked without further resubmission. Resubmit corrected copies to the engineer.
  • APPROVED AS NOTED—RESUBMIT: Requires corrections. Items not marked may be fabricated. Resubmit entire submittal following original submission with corrections noted.
  • REJECTED: Requires major corrections or is otherwise not following contract documents. No items shall be fabricated. Resubmit entire submittal following original submission with corrections noted.
  • INFORMATION ONLY: Items specified by contract documents.

PMWeb’s workflow engine accommodates these actions and allows the organization to define how the submittal item will be routed when one of these actions are taken. The automation of the submittal review and approval process not only helps in enforcing transparency and accountability in performing this process, but provides a real-time status of all submittals and their possible impact on the project’s objectives.

Submittal Sets

Sometimes different submittal items are related to other submittals, so the approval of one submittal item can be affected by the approval of others. For example, the metals specification requires approval on three submittal items: structural steel welders’ certificate, steel joists, and miscellaneous metal items. Accordingly, the Submittal Set will capture the details of those three submittal items and report on their status.

Formal Submittal Document Template

Since submittals are contractual documents that need to be formally submitted to the engineering consultant, the final version of the submittal should be designed in a format that fulfils the submission requirements and includes the project owner’s branding. Software solutions like PMWeb provide advanced reporting tools to design these forms. The examples below show how the format of a submittal form can vary depending on the submittal type. Of course, some project owners might opt to have a single format for all submittal types.

Submittals Report

PMWeb provides project stakeholders with the real-time status of all submittals regardless of their type or status using the Submittals Report. The report can be designed in any format and can include filters to select submittals by status, type, specification category, supplier, or any other attribute captured by the submittal item. The report can also hyperlink to documents that were attached to the submittal item.

Project Dashboard

Many organizations require a project’s performance and status dashboard to display the status of the submittal review and approval process. This real-time information can be easily extracted from the submittal items captured in PMWeb. The dashboard typically displays the total number of approved and rejected submittals. What’s more, users can drill down from the dashboard to the submittal log or drill down even further to the specific submittal item.

Business Intelligence and Submittals

The wealth of data captured from the submittal review and approval process provides project stakeholders with valuable insight that enables them to make faster and more informed decisions. For example, having the real-time status of all submittal items by type and status provides stakeholders with a detailed overview of the current status of this process and pending work.

PMWeb also offers a business intelligence report that analyzes how much time it took to review and approve the different submittals. The report shows the average time it took to review and approve submittals with the shortest and longest duration. The report can be grouped by submittal item type, submittal specification category and section, submittal reviewer, etc. The report is very important, as it highlights the efficiency of the submittal review process and helps identify ways the process can be improved.

Are You Using the Most Effective Submittal Management Solution?

The submittal review and approval process is one of the many processes that must be effectively managed during engineering and construction projects. Organizations that continue to rely on outdated spreadsheet technology for their PMIS risk experiencing “Watermelon Syndrome” which occurs when the data contained in the PMIS fails to accurately reflect the project’s actual status and performance. Like a watermelon, the PMIS makes the project appear “green” (no problems or issues) on the outside, but if you look inside, it’s actually “red” (serious problems and issues).

Organizations using spreadsheet technology should also be aware that more than 60 percent of their project management team’s time will be spent capturing, updating, verifying, and preparing project reports—and these reports might not even be completely accurate. Not to mention, the data captured in spreadsheets is stored in different silos that must be painstakingly integrated in order to provide an overall project status report. Such reports won’t be in real time and are based on data that lacks transparency and accountability.

Even worse, we know of many instances when organizations that rely on this technology have lost claims and disputes with contractors because they didn’t have access to the needed project data to support their case. Given all of these potential risks associated with spreadsheet technology, isn’t it time your organization took advantage of the latest advances in submittal management technology?

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