Documenting with Purpose
It’s no secret that most construction projects are quite document intensive. From daily logs to safety reports and reports discussing project status, documentation is created throughout the life of a construction project. When The Rhodes Group is engaged by a client on a given project, we can receive thousands, sometimes millions, of pages of project documentation to process, review and analyze. This has inevitably led me to think about how our clients collect and analyze their own project documentation. What if all stakeholders in the construction process put more emphasis on consistent data collection and document control?
By shifting the emphasis from the administrative task of documenting information to the end goal or purpose of the documentation being collected, construction stakeholders may be able to obtain a more comprehensive and consistent history of a project. This history, when recorded in a consistent format that is easy to review, process and analyze, may allow everyone involved in the project – from management to site personnel to consultants – to more efficiently and effectively perform their duties.
A Pervasive Issue
The lack of emphasis on documentation is not an issue that is unique to the construction industry. This quandary also appears in other industries such as the medical field. In general, most physicians would say that their primary role is to treat patients. However, as much as one-third of a physician’s day is occupied by paperwork and other administrative obligations. This leads many physicians to complain of being bogged down with the administrative tasks associated with their job, rather than being able to focus their energy on the more “important” role of treating patients. Although it is easy to understand the physicians’ position, their administrative tasks such as completing patient medical history records and verifying services rendered (for proper patient billing) are important elements of our health care system.
Similarly, most contractors would say that their primary role is to safely build or construct the project on time and on budget. Because there is such a heavy emphasis on getting the primary goal accomplished, the project documentation is often viewed as an afterthought, which can be completed hastily at the end of a shift or the next day. However, documenting project information should be considered as important to building a construction project (and future projects) as the tracking of a patient’s medical history is to the treatment of a patient (and future patients).
Regardless of the services The Rhodes Group provides to a client, whether it is CPM Scheduling, Project Alignment Services or Claims Consulting, one factor remains constant: in some form or fashion we rely on information and documentation provided to us by our clients. The extent to which we apply the information we receive to our work depends on many variables and it changes from project to project, as does the extent and form in which we receive that information. Sometimes the information we receive is comprehensive and consistent, provided in a format that is easy to review and analyze; sometimes it is not. With the increase in electronically stored data, the population of project information available seems to have grown exponentially, making the organization and format in which we receive information even more relevant. Needless to say, receiving a complete and consistent documented history of a project allows us to more efficiently and effectively perform our scope of work (i.e. complete our scope in less time and therefore for less cost) and may help our clients better substantiate or refute claims. However, there may be even more benefit to the entity maintaining the documentation that extends well beyond the realm of claims and dispute resolution.
A Proposed Solution
Construction stakeholders may be able to overcome the issue of an incomplete, inconsistent project record and consistently cultivate reliable written histories of their projects by changing the emphasis from “what” to “why”. This involves shifting the focus from merely collecting information deemed important (which most construction-related firms already do) to documenting with purpose. The shift necessitates a greater emphasis be placed on the importance of gathering key information in a consistent format and timely manner for future review and analysis.
Some Potential Benefits
Simply by placing an emphasis on reporting key information in a consistent and standardized format for review and analysis on a periodic basis, stakeholders could observe certain potential benefits inherent with a more systematic document management process. For example:
- Management and site personnel can become more aware of what information is available for review/analysis;
- Information can more easily be summarized in a database format for further review/analysis; and
- Transitions for new personnel may be smoother if turnover occurs during a project.
Implementing a documentation focused culture may also provide project personnel and management with further insight into project and overall company performance. For example, some of the additional project and company performance insights may include the ability to:
- Obtain current, up-to-date project data that allows management to make decisions as the project is ongoing;
- Uncover patterns or trends in the work (i.e. highlight work that is outperforming projections or underperforming in terms of cost and/or productivity);
- Plan, monitor and manage resources (such as labor, money and time) in real time;
- Obtain accurate information regarding the cost of project issues identified to date;
- Obtain accurate financial information for the purposes of updating financial stakeholders;
- Obtain accurate financial information for projects which provides for overall corporate-wide planning;
- Justify or alter historical productivity projections for future bidding;
- Determine which activities could potentially be subcontracted out or performed in-house, based on a comparison of projected versus actual costs; and
- Support lessons learned at the end of projects with thorough back-up data.
The above examples are just some of the benefits that construction stakeholders could derive from promoting a concentrated emphasis on systematically collecting pertinent project data within their organizations. Most organizations would not have to refocus their employees on what information to collect. Rather, the focus would shift to (1) reporting the information as contemporaneously as possible, and (2) reporting the information in a consistent format with the end use of the information in mind. However, this shift will not happen automatically upon a mandate from management. It takes the full commitment of management to refocus everyone in the organization and to make sure everyone appreciates the significance of the concept.
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