What Defines a Good Submittal? GCs Spell It Out.

Submittals play a key role in the Quality Control (QC) process in construction. Good submittals help clarify the contractor’s understanding of the plans and specifications. They help shake out problems before they happen on the jobsite. And, overall, submittals insure project owners get the structure they signed up for and paid for.

General Contractors keenly understand the important role of submittals. After all, they sit between the subcontractors who prepare them and the design team of architects, engineers, and consultants who review them.

Since there are hundreds of submittals on a single large project, GC’s have worked to streamline the process as best they can. Enterprise software like Procore, CMiC, and Constructware certainly reduces the burden of managing submittals and approvals. But for some jobs, and for smaller GCs, these systems can be out of reach. The default is email, and a homegrown, internal process.

In addition, subs have a lot of leeway when it comes to building and sending submittals. They use this freedom liberally, meaning GCs must parse and process submittals done by many different subs in many different ways.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Subcontractors can do a lot to help their GC’s review and process submittals. Taking care to deliver complete, well-organized, and detailed submittal packages will not only make make a sub’s job easier — speeding approvals and reducing the need to go back and forth on “revise and resubmits” (R&Rs). It will also garner the appreciation of your GC, furthering a positive relationship that can lead to ongoing work.

So what defines a ‘good’ submittal? Avoiding ‘the bad’ and ‘the ugly’ is a good start. In our research, contractors cited these pain points:

  • Comparing submittals to the submittal log and to the specifications
  • Chasing down late submittals to meet schedule deadlines
  • Discovering inconsistencies late in the process
  • Doing too many revisions and iterations
  • Finding incomplete or inaccurate submittal information, especially more than once
  • Dealing with poor and disorganized email communications

On this last point, one GC spelled it out, “It’s frustrating when a sub sends you six different emails, everything has got something different on it, and you don’t really know what you’re getting.”

Submittal Practices to Build Trust

GCs can easily list the things they like to see from their subs. At a basic level, it wouldn’t be difficult for most subcontractors to tick these off the list before they hit ‘send’. However, it might be more helpful to take a step back and think about the bigger goal. Really, it’s all about building trust. For subs, this means delivering a submittal that immediately gives your GC the confidence to be able to quickly pass it along to the designer or owner for review.

According to Brad Watson, a Project Manager with Slater Builders, a $50MM WBE General Contractor based in Costa Mesa, CA, an ideal submittal includes a clean transmittal listing all the attached information, PDF data sheets that are marked up to clearly identify which options are being selected, highlighted important information within the details of the submittal, and, if applicable, a section of the plan (or drawing reference) showing the installation area.

Watson explains, “Taking the time to include a snippet of the plan showing the area and dimensions of the installation so there is no question as to the quantity, as well as the type and quality of the product — that would make me want to work with that sub again. It shows me that he’s taken the time to review the spec a lot more deeply than most subs and it’s then very easy for me to review the submittal, double check the dimensions, and automatically catch something if there is something to be caught, or if not, simply pass it forward.”

GCs are always fighting to keep the project on schedule. For GCs, as for all of us, time is money — so anything that subs can do to ease the GC’s time and administrative burden is greatly appreciated. Greg Swanson, another Project Manager at Slater Builders adds, “Getting the submittal in on time after the first request, complete and looking nice and clean, that’s what puts a smile on our faces. We know as we move forward, there aren’t going to be any holdups. If I know that a sub is going to streamline my process and it makes me more available — there’s a definite value to that.”

6 Things to Build GC Love

By incorporating the elements below, subs can smooth the submittal process for the general contractor, and create a solid working foundation for the duration of the project.

  • Submit on time — we can’t say it more succinctly
  • Submit a complete package with all necessary documents in one email
  • Include a detailed transmittal cover sheet with an organized list (Table of Contents) of all documents included in the submittal, numbered to match the MasterFormat spec sections and subsections
  • On data sheets with multiple product options, mark up the PDF to clarify which product type is being specified
  • If relevant, include the section of the plan indicating the area and dimensions of your installation
  • Keep track of submittal revisions and resubmits, ideally listing these on your transmittals to ensure that the most recent versions are referenced

Do you have other ideas? We’d love to hear from you! Let us know if you have examples of great submittals and what made them stand out. Or if there are processes that you follow that have helped streamline and improve the relationship between GCs and subs, we’d be anxious to share that. Just drop us a line at letsbuild@submittal.com.