Construction trade contractors know to document everything because that’s how they protect their downsides.
GC needs to validate hours spent on a job? Here are the timesheets.
Building inspector needs to check your team’s work? Here are all of our records.
But there’s a major difference between having construction documentation and having a systematic process for documenting things. Without the latter, project documentation becomes time-consuming and inefficient. That’s what eats into a company’s bottom line.
The flipside of this is true, too, as we noted in our 5 Secrets to Managing Construction Projects Productively ebook:
“…in any conflict of claims situation, the company with the best project documentation wins. An automated process to organize your project information will make your company become more efficient and protect your profits.”
Below are five steps you can take to button up your construction project documentation and protect your profits.
Table of Contents
1. Define Your Own Goals for Better Project Documentation
This tip is a reminder that no company should pursue change for the sake of change.
McKinsey researchers Matt Bereman, Brendan Fitzgerald, Jose Luis Blanco, Imke Mattik and Erik Sjödin make a similar point about innovative R&D in general.
“Great innovation concepts come from the intersection of three lenses: customers, technology/capability, and business model,” they write. “At the end of the day, they must serve a clear downstream customer need.”
So, as you begin to refine your project documentation processes, do so with your customers in mind. That helps you set clear goals, such as:
- We want to be able to handle RFIs quickly, not in a matter of days.
- We want to build a system that plugs into what our GCs do so they get instant visibility into how our work is coming along.
- We want our historical project data to be searchable so we can submit more accurate estimates in our bids.
It’s the customer that pays you, so anything you can do to help the customer helps your bottom line.
2. Make It Easy For Field Teams to Input Good Data
Quality in, quality out.
That’s the basic rule for any system that processes data. The better the data that goes in, the better the analysis and insights will be.
For trade contracting specialists, that means getting quality data from field teams.
Vincent DiFilippo, president of DiFilippo’s Service Co. in Paoli, Pennsylvania, talks about this in a piece for Contracting Business magazine. DiFilippo’s team changed software vendors in 2022, and the new software has helped clean up inputs from the company’s heating and air-conditioning techs.
“Technicians sometimes do not have the best penmanship and also forget to write down critical client info like equipment type, any accessories, client email address, important notes like ‘dog aggressive’ etc.,” DiFilippo says.
“[Now] the tech can enter all information, parts, work done, pictures of equipment, client signature, and send it to the office. Done. This program has also reduced the workload on the office staff, as they no longer have to hand process invoices and do filing.”
Again, this is all done in the context of client service. When techs don’t have to struggle with messy note-taking, they’re free to focus on real bottom-line concerns like client satisfaction, which is exactly what DiFilippo says.
The key is to make sure field teams have software that makes it quick and easy for them to send over good data. That’s a foundational process for better project documentation.
3. Centralize All of Your Project Documents
With all kinds of information flowing in from several people at once, you need one centralized location for that project documentation to go.
In the pen-and-paper days, it was easy to lose track of things like dailies or timesheets. Those documents often ended up in binders, which were then left all weekend on the passenger seat of a foreman’s truck.
Digitizing your project documentation helps solve that problem, but you still need that one central repository for it all to flow into. If you’re storing all of your contracts on one computer, for example, but you have RFIs and change orders in a separate Dropbox folder, then you have a decentralization problem.
And when someone needs to chase down a document, they’re going to spend non-productive hours combing through folders and different hard drives. It saves everyone time when all of the documents are in the same, easily accessible location.
4. Put Your Document Management System in the Cloud
Here’s the part where you turn the central repository into an easily accessible location for everyone on your team.
Having everything in a single cloud system means people can retrieve documents from wherever they are, and they can likewise submit documents from wherever they are.
Rick Tanner at Warco Construction in North Carolina tells us that switching from paper timesheets to eSUB has saved each project foreperson an hour every week because they don’t have to come into the office to hand-deliver the document. Instead, they just send it in from the worksite.
Granted, there will be worksites without reliable internet coverage. We built eSUB to handle situations like that. If our users need to submit photos or dailies or field notes from the site, they can go ahead and record those things offline. Whenever they reconnect to the internet, that construction project documentation automatically syncs to the cloud.
There’s one last thing worth mentioning about cloud systems. As Michael Lepper at Impact Networking writes for Contractor Magazine, construction companies of a certain size can reach a point in which their cloud services and their cloud workloads get so big that they become unwieldy. Lepper refers to this as cloud sprawl, and this can run up a company’s IT costs quickly.
The fix? Lepper advises businesses to unify and organize their data. More on that in the next section.
5. Work Clean
Sous chefs and project managers. Few other professionals understand better what it means to work clean.
Fortunately, your team probably has one of these people in the office. It will be useful to adopt some of the core principles of project management here to give your project documentation the order and structure necessary. This is what will allow you (or anyone else on your team) to easily find and retrieve information whenever they need it.
Those principles include:
When you pass spreadsheets or Word documents around, it’s easy for people to make changes then pass along their new version. From that point forward, you no longer have a single source of truth.
Version control simply means having a process for signaling which version of a document is the source of truth. In a cloud environment, there will usually just be one version of a document that everyone can access, edit and/or comment on.
“My number one top tip ever when it comes to dealing with key documents is to make sure that you use version control,” says Elizabeth Harrin, an expert on project management. “This is super easy but it still surprises me how many people don’t do it.”
It’s important for any stakeholders to know where a given document has been stored, where it has been sent and when.
This is a standard feature in eSUB Cloud 2.0. When a client has requested information, you can see immediately in eSUB whether that request has been fulfilled or is still pending. You can also see the date of response or, if it’s late, how many days late the response is.
When there are delays, then, there is a trail of evidence available to assess what went wrong.
Shoring Up Your Bottom Line
By moving from piecemeal project documentation to a robust, cloud-based system of documentation, you save your entire team time and energy.
If you have any questions about how eSUB can help get your team’s documents and workflows organized, contact us today to schedule a demo.
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