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3 Ways Your Documents Can Kill Your Projects


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In the old days when paper-based documentation was the only way to manage a project, there was a popular saying: “The work’s not done ‘till the paperwork is done.” Today, most construction companies have hybrid systems that rely on both paper and electronic documents. And like it or not, that old saying is still true. If the documentation isn’t done––whether it’s paper stacks or digital files––the job isn’t done. 

The conference paper entitled “Project Failure Factors and their Impacts on the Construction Industry” was presented at the Proceedings of the 10th International Conference on Civil and Architecture Engineering. The paper drew on previously published reports to identify the factors that cause the most project failures. Of the 20 listed failures, seven were directly attributable to documentation problems, and several others had documentation problems in the mix of issues that caused them.

Using electronic documents with the right electronic document management system means the details of routing, tracking edits, and versioning are all handled automatically, and in the background.

Poor documentation is also at the root of errors on activities and rework. Then, there are the effects on communications among project participants, litigation, the safety and well-being of countless people, and the accuracy of your estimates on future jobs. The sad fact is there are many reasons documentation can go wrong, but one of the leading reasons has to do with how it’s handled...

What happens to a document once it’s created? Who does it go to and how does it get there? What if the intended person never gets it? Or, what if the intended person gets it, but loses it? 

These are all questions that should be answered by your document management system. But, if the system is flawed, or not up to the task, you’ll begin to see signs that it’s not working right. If you encounter any of the following three scenarios below, it is very likely that you need a new document management system.

1. Working on Inaccurate and Outdated Documents

Two failures that are bound to take a hit on your project are failing to document everything completely and failing to coordinate multiple documents addressing the same topic. 

The most common of these happens between architect and contractor. In some cases, the architect doesn’t provide enough information in the specifications assuming the contractor understands the materials and processes described in drawings. This causes the contractor to go back to the architect for more information. In the meantime, work moves forward, and if the documentation of the changes doesn’t get updated, then work gets completely incorrectly.

There are also times when multiple people must review and sign off on the same documents. 

The contractor might do a submittal for a certain type of finish either because one wasn’t originally specified by the architect, or, the specified one isn’t available. Or, the originally specified item is not up to the job because of local conditions. There’s also the possibility the contractor prefers to use another product, and so on. Regardless of the reason, if the document doesn’t go through the review and approval process quickly, those on the jobsite building can easily end up using the wrong information to guide them in their work.

2. Wasting Valuable Time Looking for the Most Recent Versions

In this instance, people know, or suspect, there’s a newer version of a document, but they can’t find it. Paper-based systems are notorious for this because not everyone knows how to file documents properly, and manual filing is prone to error. While these same issues arise when using electronic document systems, they happen much less often because the system only allows documents to get handled in ways that match the document type. For example, the system doesn’t allow arbitrary deletions of certain documents, and track documents as they go through a specified process. Not to mention automatic archiving and backups with cloud technology. 

One of the most important functions of an electronic document management system is to track versions. As people interact with the document, the system maintains and provides the latest version to subsequent users. It even manages the situation in which multiple people are working on the same document simultaneously. With paper-based documents, there are often a number of versions floating around, forcing people to spend time trying to locate and verify the most recent version.

3. Manually Combining Multiple Edits from Multiple People

Paper-based management, and electronic systems that don’t meet construction’s requirements, often force people into copy-and-paste-mode to accommodate multiple changes by multiple people. And, when using the change-tracking abilities of word processing programs, the changes quickly become a confusing jumble of content changes mixed in with grammar, punctuation, and spelling changes. More people means more confusion. The result is documents without the correct information.

People have many different attitudes towards paperwork, and many just don’t like it. So, if you can make the paperwork, or documentation, easy to deal with, you can have more accurate documentation, and better overall business outcomes. Using electronic documents with the right electronic document management system means the details of routing, tracking edits, and versioning are all handled automatically, and in the background. Furthermore, documents can be linked to other related documents. When a document is related to a change order, drawing, or RFI, those relationships are maintained by the system. For example, you can attach an RFI to a drawing or attach a photo to a punch list item for reference.

This takes a lot of the “work” out of paperwork.