Punch Lists Are Not a Best Practice

If you’ve ever been involved in a construction project you are familiar with the term “punch list.” This phrase is standard in construction.  It’s the list of items that still need to be done when the contractor tells you he’s finished. That means he does some work, and then you identify things not done or not done correctly. Some even give you the beginnings of the list, by writing down items they know aren’t yet complete.

An industry that assumes completion at 90 percent is crazy, yet that’s the construction industry.

We in manufacturing have picked up that thought process, and apply it to improvement activities. This path of least resistance does not lead to success.

Kaizen is a Japanese word that indicates “continuous improvement.” In the United States we’ve bastardized that term by adding the word “event” after it: “Kaizen event.” Not only is that an oxymoron, it’s usually a poorly performed act within a poorly conceived play. Think Rose Mary Woods and the Nixon tapes, without the malice.

Why do I say that?

Because I’ve yet to see a Kaizen event that ended without a punch list and I’ve yet to see a Kaizen event for which the punch list was complete two weeks later. Instead of copying the construction concept of ‘punch list,’ we should learn the carpenter’s lesson of “measure twice, cut once.”

Significant improvements often require multiple people and extended time. If we are going to invest both the personnel and the time, we ought to ensure the change is actually well-planned and executed, with the C-A part of Plan-Do-Check-Act built in.

Exemplary companies invest people and time planning the change, with execution quick and complete. No punch list. Just “check – act” at defined intervals.

These larger changes are part of an overall continuous improvement strategy that cumulatively create a stronger business. They are not: “what do you want to work on in next week’s Kaizen event?”

When copying best practices, ensure they actually are best practices. Punch lists are not. “Measure twice, cut once” is. You can make that change today.

As published in AME’s Target Online