In construction if it isn’t documented, it didn’t happen.
As a contractor, you know that basic truth all too well. Good documentation aids in project communication, answers questions, and is often the deciding factor in clearing up misunderstandings. And if you’re ever faced with litigation, lawyers will tell you documents offer the proof that make the difference between you winning or losing a law suit.
How confident are you in your documentation process? Here are a few tips to strengthen your paper trail position:
Create a document policy.
Why wait until you’re faced with an undocumented situation that could harm your company? Invite the right people into a room—including your legal counsel—to determine what needs to be documented and retained. Walk through possible scenarios to understand what should be in your files when questions, concerns, and legal issues occur. Then put it all in writing so your office and field personnel know clearly what is expected of them and why.
Key project documentation to discuss include, but are not limited to:
- Contracts and other agreements, including all change orders or other modifications to plans.
- Critical conversations with owners and building team members.
- Project meeting minutes.
- Job records.
- Closeout documents.
- Records of payment and delivery.
- Insurance certificates.
Spend extra attention on daily reports.
Recording an accurate, factual account of what happens on the job site every day can seem tedious. But these documents are one of the best ways to determine what actually occurred on a job and why certain decisions were made. Make sure your supervisors and others creating these reports understand the importance of daily reporting and provide them with guidelines and training on what information they should be capturing. Describing what happened, what didn’t happen, and why is key.
Use visuals whenever possible.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words and that certainly holds true in construction. Mobile devices are making it much easier for your field team to take photos and videos showing site conditions, construction progress, defective work, and other key documentation— from project start through finish. Drones are also making it possible to take aerial views and pictures of hard-to-reach places (but make sure you know the regulations for their use). All photos and video should be time and date stamped to effectively create a visual history of each job.
Automate your document management.
Documentation is everything but the paperwork can be overwhelming. To help you manage it all, look for tools that can automate your documentation process and help you:
- Centralize your documentation in one place.
- Easily route documents for approval.
- Track the status of all documents.
- Create and deploy electronic forms such as daily reports and punch lists.
- Maintain a history of any revisions made to documents or action taken such as approvals.
- Attach emails and photos to related documents.
Of course, all the documentation in the world won’t make a deference if you can’t quickly retrieve information when it’s needed. I’ve heard horror stories of contractors spending months searching through hundreds of paper files, job site binders, and personal email folders to support their case in court. Look for document management software that can quickly retrieve documents associated with a specific job or other custom criteria.
Essentially you build your projects twice—with brick, steel, and lumber . . . and in writing. Make sure the documented version of your project is as sound as the real thing.
If you’re looking for ways to automate your documentation, check out Sage Paperless Construction.
About the Author
Deb Carpenter-Beck is a writer and marketer with more than 25 years of experience in the construction and real estate industries. She often writes about technology and best practices and is passionate about helping contractors and real estate professionals achieve their business goals. You can follow her on Twitter @DebCBConstruct.