4 Steps Toward Faster Building Plan Reviews – Part 2

by | Jul 27, 2017

4 Steps Toward Faster Building Plan Reviews – Part 2

If you’re just joining us in this series, we’ve been addressing the heavy burden of building plan review backlogs and how faster plan review turnarounds can help free municipalities, developers, and residents from the headaches and hassles that come with them.

It could be that your backlog is measured in weeks, or maybe you’re keeping up with demand but can’t find the time to sleep anymore. Believe it or not, there is a step-by-step approach to guaranteeing 5-day residential building plan review turnarounds (and 10-day commercial turnarounds) within your community—helping alleviate the current or looming pressures of customer complaints, stagnant revenues, development hold-ups, and staffing struggles.

In Part 1 of our guide to faster building plan reviews, we discussed the first two steps in the process, which involve streamlined approaches to plan reviews and proactive performance goals and metrics. Now, we’ll take a look at the last two steps in your journey—actions that will lead to higher efficiencies and better results for your municipality, for your customers, and for your community.

Step 3: Encourage rock-solid communication

Communication, both among municipal staff and externally with customers, is a critical component to speeding up the plan review process. Internally, department supervisors should provide a well-defined plan review process for examiners to follow. This process can include:

  • Internal checklists
  • Plan review timelines
  • Handouts detailing codes and regulations

It also falls to supervisors to review the work of plans examiners, identifying coachable moments to help them improve their skills and make the process a good one for the customer.

And when it comes to establishing trust and goodwill among developers and residents, building departments need to encourage a two-way communication street that ensures full transparency and understanding throughout every stage.

To help customers communicate the complete and accurate details of their projects, it’s important to establish simple and concise ways of gathering information from them. In Part 1 of this guide, we discussed the necessity of giving customers clear submittal guidelines and checklists for completing permit applications. But it’s also essential that department staff know how to verbally communicate correct instructions, guidelines, and expectations to developers and residents when needed.

Municipal employees must be trained and prepared to deliver clear, appropriate responses to customer questions as they come in, whether over the phone or in person. Establishing a solid level of communication upfront between the building department and customers will help prevent misunderstandings, confusion, errors, and frustrations throughout the rest of the permitting process.

And if a customer is required to make changes to a project plan, they should know exactly how to go about making those changes to avoid multiple resubmittals and reviews. By using a detailed revision letter, plans examiners can provide clear instructions for how to make corrections on a plan—helping customers feel empowered to finish the necessary revisions and get the plan approved.

Step 4: Get flexible, experienced staffing

The fourth and final step toward faster building plan reviews involves finding ways to optimize your staff. Building departments can take a number of actions to enhance the efficiency of their internal employees, including:

  • Hiring experienced, versatile reviewers – Find plans examiners who have the know-how needed to take on different kinds of plans, from the simplest residential applications to complex commercial projects.
  • Establishing a continuous training program – Leverage experienced staff or a professional training agency to train staff on the proper ways to pre-screen submittals, communicate with applicants, and perform reviews.
  • Maintaining accurate workload assignments – Assign a realistic number of plan reviews to staff, understanding the skill sets of individual reviewers and assigning work accordingly.
  • Encouraging ongoing communication – Share progress among team members and adapt to changing workloads, letting other team members step in to help when necessary.

And to effectively deal with fluctuating workloads and large projects that can throw a wrench into even the best laid plans, municipalities should also consider options for supplementing their staff. By maintaining access to a pool of qualified, on-demand professionals who can back up your permanent staff during busy times, you can better handle economic ups and downs, construction booms, and big projects—maintaining the high level of service that will keep developers knocking on your door.

Takeaways

Whether you need to emerge from a seemingly inescapable pile of permit applications or simply make life easier for your staff, your customers, and yourself, guaranteeing faster plan reviews is certainly a large piece of the puzzle. Luckily, the 5-day building plan review turnaround isn’t the stuff of legend… It can be a reality for municipalities like yours. All it takes is four specific steps.

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