What Are Submittals — and How to Improve
In this new age of connected construction, it’s more important than ever before to stay on top of your game. Fall just a bit behind on time or budget, and you may find yourself losing out to competitors or irretrievably late to forthcoming technology developments. Before construction begins, one of the most important aspects of any contractor’s job is managing construction submittals, which determine the accuracy of project completion, the success of the proposed timeline, and line items on the budget.
If you want your construction company to rise above the rest, it’s important to not only understand this term but grasp why it matters to your job, your projects and your life. Below, we’ll take a close look at what are construction submittals, why they matter, the basics of a solid submittals template, what they consist of, and how to streamline the process.
What Is a Construction Submittal?: A Basic Definition
While part of keeping your head in the game means using the most cutting edge organizational and communication systems to streamline submittals, a big part of remaining on the vanguard is simply understanding the terminology.
Construction submittals are defined by bizfluent as “documents submitted by the contractor to the architect for his approval for use in a project,” while Lexology explains that “Submittals consist of information provided by the contractor to the design professional for approval of equipment, materials, etc. before they are fabricated and delivered to the project.”
Unlike processes like closeout and as-builts, which are meant to be completed after construction is complete, the submittals process starts in early project phases and helps guide how the project will actually be executed.
What Is Included in Submittals and Why Do They Matter?
Before construction begins, every piece of equipment, material types, and even details such as the exact color of paint need to be reviewed and approved via submittals. Depending on the individual project, construction submittals can involve thousands of different items. These include:
- Product cut sheets that identify the manufacturer, specifications and model number
- Shop drawings that lay out the dimensions of such prefabricated products such as trusses, cast concrete, windows, appliances, millwork and more
- Color and finish selections
- Color charts
- Finished product components
- Material data
- … and more
These docs are essential to successful construction because they show the project at a very granular level, and allow design professionals to approve the equipment, materials, and more. Approval needs to happen before items are fabricated and delivered because afterward, it will be too late to prevent unnecessary setbacks in timeline and budget.
The quality of the submittals also matters. More detailed construction submittals provide a better chance of an accurate budget and schedule, resulting in overall project success. But as construction submittals often involve thousands of different materials relating to each project spec, an accurate and organized input is critical. If a high level of detail is not included, or errors are made when creating the submittals log, the whole project may be compromised.
The Construction Submittals Review Process
Construction professionals agree that the submittals review process has traditionally been long and arduous. First, all submittal items must be aggregated from specialty contractors, ensuring you have detailed data and specifications for each facet of the project. In the past, this equated to time-intensive manual entry processes like massive Excel spreadsheets, ripe for inaccuracies and mistakes. Construction project management software can help automate this process, and in turn, improve the accuracy and quality of submittal items. After submittal items are collected, the architect and design team must review everything for compliance, while the general contractor reviews them all to ensure they have the right products and specifications.
A typical submittal workflow looks like this:
Organization is key to running this process smoothly. Without it, the thousands of documents involved and the many layers that comprise a construction project can quickly become overwhelming and disjointed. This is why having a comprehensive submittal log is critical. The submittal log tracks every document on the project and is used as a record to confirm the design team has approved every item. A good submittal log should at a minimum include the following:
- Specification section number/name/subsection: Where the requirement came from
- Title/description: Submittal name and a short description of the request
- Submittal type: what type of information is being requested (e.g shop drawings vs. samples)
- Priority: request/approval urgency
- Responsible contractor: Who will be providing the information
- Submittal manager: Who is responsible for submitting the item for review
- Submittal reviewer: Who will be approving the information
- Required date: When the submittal is due from the responsible contractor
- Required approval date: when the reviewer must approve the submittal by
Without a comprehensive submittal log, it would be impossible to manage the submittal process confidently. If you are looking for a submittal log template, download our free template here.
How to Improve Construction Submittals
Now that you understand what a construction submittal is and the process, how exactly do you improve the essential, yet at times frustrating submittal workflow? It starts by improving three key pillars:
- Streamline Administrative Work: Reduces manual errors and delays and improve organization with automated workflows
- Provide Complete Visibility: The entire team has access to the needed documents and information right at their fingertips
- Advanced Tracking: Anyone can see where submittal items are in the process, at any time, and know where they need to take action next
Technology plays a critical role in enabling the above pillars. But where to begin? Here are 9 steps to help you streamline the submittals process starting today with cloud-based technology.
1. Automate Your Submittal Log Creation
As previously mentioned, construction specifications describe the materials and workmanship required to build a project according to the design. Depending on the size of the project, specifications can range from 100 to 2,000 pages long and contain requirements for thousand of submittal register items.
With Automatic Submittal Log (ASL), you can create a submittal log from a spec book at the start of a project. Whether your spec book is 100 pages or 1,000, ASL allows you to create a downloadable and accurate spreadsheet with all of your project’s submittal register items in just minutes. The process saves you time and eliminates the chance of errors.
2. Keep Project Information Private and Secure
The submittal process involves dozens of people submitting and approving product data, shop drawings, and closeouts to ensure that the building is being built according to the specifications. While it’s important for external individuals to be able to fully participate in the submittal workflow, it’s just as important that sensitive project information is kept private. Utilize technology that provides you with both flexibility and control to assign submittals to non-project members at the click of a button.
Without being added to the project, subcontractors, vendors, and designers can submit or review submittals all through email. Since external partners don’t have to be added to the project itself, private information including sheets, annotations, and documents can always be kept confidential–and the project can keep moving forward.
3. Add Filters to Submittals to Find Information Faster
With all the information to track throughout the submittals process, it’s easy for items to slip through the cracks. No matter how many submittal register items you have, technology that allows you to filter enables you to narrow down the list of submittals to find just what you need. You can filter by anything such as spec section, priority, status, approvers, reviewers, created by dates, due dates, and submittal type.
4. Utilize Email Notifications
The submittal process has many steps before approved documents get shared with the field team to start building. From the vendor or subcontractor uploading submittals all the way to the design team or consultant approving them, no extra time should be wasted getting partners set up on your submittal tracking system.
Utilize construction project management software that sends approval alerts via email. When approvers receive notifications straight to their inbox that submittal items have been assigned to them, it improves accountability, transparency, and empowers them to send responses faster.
5. Centralize Submittal Markups
For every single submittal, there are multiple people involved in reviewing and approving before it gets published to the field. Through all of these handoffs, submittal documents get marked up, renamed, reordered, and stamped to guarantee that the field team builds according to specifications. If teams don’t have the right tools, they could be jumping from multiple platforms, or reverting to manual, inefficient systems.
Using tools that centralize documents enable PDF markups for submittals, teams will no longer spend time exporting documents, marking them up in a separate PDF tool, and uploading them back into a system. Instead, this feature allows users to effortlessly annotate submittals with features like text, highlights, shapes, callouts, and stamps, to get the right information recorded, fast.
6. Enable Multiple Reviewers at Once
When a submittal gets sent out for review, it’s very rare that it only needs to be approved by one party. Instead, approvers can include the architect, mechanical designer, electrical designer, and plumbing designer. Since most submittals require a two-week window to receive final approval, it’s not productive to wait for each party to review the submittal independently before going on to the next reviewer. By being able to assign a submittal to all the required reviewers at the same time, it reduces the risk of delays and the time you spend managing and collecting feedback.
With technology that enables parallel reviews like BIM 360, you have the ability to send submittal items to multiple reviewers simultaneously by adding them as co-reviewers. Co-reviewers will be able to add their response in the comment field. The Reviewer is responsible for coordinating and incorporating co-reviewers comments into the official response ensuring a clear point of approval. Once again, the improved transparency promotes accountability across the project team and makes it easier to identify where you need to take action.
7. Keep the Project Team Up to Date
In addition to individuals who are required to submit or review a submittal, additional team members who should be aware of the status of the item as it progresses through the workflow but don’t need to take action can be added as a distribution list member/watcher. They will be notified when a submittal item is created, transmitted, reviewed, or published in order to ensure that all materials are correct. Examples of individuals who could be added to the watching/distribution list include additional vendors, subcontractors, internal team members, designers, and even owners.
8. Implement Clear Submittal Statuses
Status matters when it comes to submittals. Materials or products installed in a project without the design team’s official approval can be subject to removal and replacement at the contractor’s cost. This can be a huge headache and lead to a potential change order, which is time-consuming and causes delays in the project.
Not all technology is customizable, which can be a pain when you have standard terminology your teams are accustomed to. Aim to implement technology that enables you to create clear and custom status indicators—making it clearer than ever for the project team to know which submittal has been approved so they can start building.
9. Create Custom Reports
Getting submittals approved on time is crucial to ensure a project is on schedule. To ensure they are on track, status updates, and reports are frequently requested from the project engineer managing them.
Implement project management solutions that enable you to create detailed and custom reports and dashboards. Furthermore, as these reports are shared with owners or other interested parties, it’s important they look professional. For instance, some technology lets users easily create a PDF report that displays a selection from their submittals packages all with their logo on it.
Organize and Streamline Your Submittals Process Today
Previously, the manual and fragmented system to create, track, and approve submittals have been inefficient and a manual process. But now, but not there are more tools available to help you streamline submittals, saving enormous amounts of time and resources.
If you’re looking to automate and standardize submittals on your project, consider adopting industry-specific tools from Autodesk Construction Cloud™. By using the right software as a tool to help move submittals along, you can get to construction faster with a reduced risk of error, delays, and cost overruns.