construction submittal process feature image

When you’re involved in any construction project, you’re required to be knowledgeable about the construction submittal process. What a submittal is, its purpose in the construction industry, and how to efficiently improve the entire process. And whether you’re just starting or brushing up on your knowledge, we’ve got you covered. Let’s get straight into it.

What are Construction Submittals?

Construction submittals are essential documentation, allowing the project stakeholders to confirm that the right components are approved for installation where they are supposed to go.

These submittals are commonly prepared by either the contractor or subcontractor. Construction submittals can include multiple elements. Submittals often contain data, samples, shop drawings, production specifications, and other written and physical information that will help engineers, designers, and architects to ensure that appropriate materials are used for new constructions.

It is critical to manage construction submittals properly because it determines how well your proposed timeline will run, the details of your budget, and the accuracy of the final product. This is where the review process comes in.

The Construction Submittal Review Process

Once the construction submittal has been submitted, the engineers and architects must approve the materials for compliance with the owner’s contract. The materials must also be signed off for appearance, safety, and quality. This gives the go-ahead for the project. And as you can imagine is a pivotal part of the entire construction project. 

In large projects, the submittal review process is usually formalized and clearly outlined. However, it’s always a best practice to establish the review process beforehand to avoid any frictions later on. 

This infographic sums up the submittal review process quite well.

The potential trouble saved is enormous, but the process can be tedious without a construction submittal review tool.

Guide to Submittals in Construction (With Examples)
Source: Guide to Submittals in Construction (With Examples)
"Measure twice, cut once."
John Florio
English Lexicographer

Types of Construction Submittals and the Information They Include

As stated earlier, submittals are a mixture of many things. So, it’s not always easy to classify them into set types. But to simplify the ordeal, we generally accept that there are four types of submittals.

Product data & materials data

The product & materials data include information about the products purchased to be used for the work. They can be further classified into three types.

  1. Prescriptive Specifications: Detailed how-to instructions on usage and installation of the product.
  2. Performance Specifications: Describes the qualities of the material, regardless of the manufacturer.
  3. Proprietary Specifications: Describes the make and model of the product by a specific manufacturer.

Shop drawings

Shop drawings are highly detailed drawings prepared to show verified, exact field dimensions, joinery, materials, thicknesses, etc. 

Here, the architects and engineers need to make sure that the configurations are in alignment with the contract documents. These submittal documents are the bedrock for most construction projects.

submittal documents are the bedrock for most construction projects


In most cases, samples are needed for surfaces – masonry, carpet, countertops, fixtures – so they can be examined for their finish, density, and color.

Marble, for instance, varies from one quarry to another. All of these details are taken into care in this submittal document.


Mock-ups show how a larger assembly will be built by building a small portion of it on-site. Compared to other types of submittals, mock-ups are far less common, yet they have saved many a project from failure. These work as a prototype for the upcoming construction.

submittals project fails

9 strategies to improve the construction submittal process

Most contractors, project managers, engineers, and architects struggle with reviewing submittal documents. Let’s look at how to ease this process with the 11 proven strategies we’ve compiled while working with major construction clients.

Streamline the review and approval cycle

When there are strict deadlines to meet, people often panic, and rush through things, trying to pass through submittals quickly, to stay on schedule. This becomes an even bigger challenge for distributed teams working with documents all over the place. This is why a streamlined submittal review and approval cycle is paramount to meeting the deadlines.

Just think about this, when was the last time you revamped your construction review & approval process?

As every team has its process, there’s no one-size-fits-all.

But a general trend we’ve noticed with the highest-performing construction companies is:

  • Centralize
  • Secure
  • Digital review & sign off your submittals

Let’s take an in-depth look at it, which is also our next strategy to improve the construction submittal process.

Track Tasks, Responses, and Due Dates in a centralized place

Earlier we touched on the steps high-performing construction companies take to streamline their review cycle. Now let’s see why the three steps work.

  • Centralize all your submittals: This way you’re not only making it easier for the stakeholders to review the documents but also sparing yourself from managing the thousands of documents that are about to pile up, version after version.
  • Host the files on your trusted ERP/server: This is very important from a security and privacy point of view. Any additional tools you use should be accommodating and respecting of this point. If you do not have a system set up, worry not as some tools even allow you to host your file on a server of your location choice.
  • Use a submittal markup tool: Now that you’ve got your documents centralized and secured on your server, how do you start reviewing them? The best approach is to use a construction submittal review tool that integrates with your system, and lets you annotate right on top of your document without the file ever having to move between tools.
zipboard rfi submittal process

Provide detail-oriented information

We have a saying about documentation: If it wasn’t documented, it didn’t happen. To put it another way, if you can’t prove that something happened on paper, then you cannot prove that it ever happened. No one wants to be faced with having to prove that a revision was made at the client’s request. So it’s important to understand the pros of documentation and why they’re so necessary.

Contextual feedback also allows for the contractors to easily understand the issue without having to hop onto a zoom call for every issue. This requires you to pinpoint the issue with precision.

Use Construction Specific Annotations

As mentioned earlier, annotation tools play a vital role in streamlining your review cycle. However, there are certain features that general annotation tools would not be able to accommodate.

Such as authenticating the document. Project managers often provide their stamp of approval on documents. For this, the tools would need to accommodate your stamps, signatures and timestamps at the very least. Like zipBoard doesn’t allow other users to move or delete these marks of authentication on a document. Ensuring the sanctity of the review.

stamps and annotations in zipBoard for pre-construction planning

Understand the MasterFormat and UFGS

There are different formats when it comes to construction. And MasterFormat is the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry’s gold standard for organizing and communicating specifications and work results for construction projects.

The standard unifies your project. There are different subgroups in it, each having its standard specified. They’re especially important if you’re working in North America.

If you’re working in defense and aerospace construction, then UFGS is the standard for you. Unified Facilities Guide Specifications (UFGS) were mandated by the Department of Defense (USA) to integrate their specifications into one database. UFGS took effect in March 2001.

Knowing these formats will help you understand the various terms written in the construction submittal. At the same time, they’ll enable you to verify whether the right specifications have been met. Remember, having a good understanding of the standard is pivotal to speedy and error-free submittal reviews. So it’s a must to keep up with the specifications/standards of construction formats according to your geography.

Increase the Collaboration between GC and Subs

GCs as we know is the general contractors who are primarily tasked with taking up the construction and the submittals. Subs on the other hand are sub-contractors who take on parts of the overall job usually hired by the general contractors themselves.

Proper access and use of the submittal is a major pain point between the two. So, to increase collaboration and establish a unified approach to the project, a centralized database such as an SAP system goes a long way.

However, make sure that you provide them with just the right amount of access to it. Say, you have a bunch of reviews on a document, and you do not want them to mess with any of it. You need the ability to share the file as a view only. This means they can only view the file without the ability to edit or add any comments.

Integrate Operations and Maintenance (O&M) data

Operations and maintenance data/manual are conditions that may lead to operation and maintenance issues. It requires facility operations and maintenance personnel, monitoring and control requirements, communication requirements, and requirements for preparing the designers’ report.

This section covers the activities, processes, and workflows that you implement to ensure the smooth running of your operation, including:

  • Structural maintenance of buildings.
  • Control and maintenance of building systems like electrical, plumbing, HVAC, and security.
  • Gardening, groundskeeping, and site improvements.
  • Interior, furniture, and equipment maintenance.

For instance, if you’re working for the telecommunications industry, cabling can also come under the operations and maintenance teams.

Apart from preventing deterioration of your buildings and equipment, improving your safety at work, lowering capital repair costs, increasing uptime, and decreasing your building ownership costs are just some of the benefits of preventative maintenance.

Operationally, you want to run equipment at full capacity at all times to produce the maximum amount of goods. In maintenance, you recognize the importance of inspecting, maintaining, repairing, and replacing equipment to maintain its performance and useful life, even if this reduces production temporarily.

And this is where proper documentation and review comes in. Make sure that there’s proper review and approval of the same beforehand.

Organize a Pre-construction conference

Pre-construction conferences or “pre-job meetings” should be scheduled and conducted before beginning fieldwork on the project.

The following tasks will probably begin or be finished before the pre-construction conference: getting permissions, notifying utilities and/or railroads, or reviewing construction submittals.

However, it’s more probable than not that a few things from the submittal review process will need to be included here.

These consist of:

  • The contractor’s schedule for advancement.
  • A breakdown of any potential partial or recurring payments.
  • A list of suppliers and/or subcontractors
  • As well as shop drawings(see the types of construction submittals) of particular construction elements that belong to the contractor.

Clarify and correct issues in the shortest amount of time

None of us wants a spiraling review loop that requires a phone call or a video chat every time new feedback is added. The only way to avoid this is to make sure the feedback you provide is in context. Say, engineer A asks to decrease the cantilever size of the first floor, room B. The only way to avoid the extra step of making a call or messaging them is to pinpoint the issue in a construction submittal review tool. This way you’re not only saving time but also ensuring that the next revision arrives at the earliest.

Steps to provide contextual feedback in the construction submittal process:

  1. Clearly explain what is needed in each feedback.
  2. Make sure that you mention any dependencies in the feedback itself. Be it another document or a team member.
  3. Ensure that there is no contradictory feedback.
  4. Use a dedicated construction submittal review tool

Now that you’re aware of the 9 actionable strategies to improve your construction submittal process, it’s time to put them into use.

How can zipBoard improve your construction submittal process?

When you have thousands of documents piling up on your system, and you’re pulling your hair over how to start reviewing, that’s where zipBoard comes in.

Cutting straight to the chase, zipBoard is a submittal review tool that will streamline your construction submittal process with its multitude of annotation features.

There are five major reasons to use zipBoard for construction submittal process review:

  1. Keeps each review in context.
  2. Integrates with your ERP/system seamlessly.
  3. Annotation tools to fit the construction world.
  4. Once you’re satisfied, sign off your submittals digitally and generate punch lists to take them to the field.
  5. Allows you to create custom features on-demand, as each agency’s need is different to the other.

There’s no rush though. Implement these actionable strategies today and if you require any help with your construction submittal process, zipBoard is always here for you.

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Author’s bio:

Gaurav is a SaaS Marketer at zipBoard. While earning his degree in CSE at KIIT, Bhubaneswar, he rediscovered his inner love for creativity as he got into his first social internship. If he isn’t busy working, you can find him around his friends/family or enjoying a good football match or a passionate discussion over it, whichever works.

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