How Top Trade Contractors Manage Construction Project Documentation

Construction worker working at the top of a high building; construction project documentation concept

Every construction project generates a lot of paperwork.

Requests for proposals, daily reports, design models, punch lists — construction project documentation is hard to keep up with.

Making sense of all these documents is part of the team’s work. You build systems to do this. But when documents are drawn up inconsistently, or without adhering to agreed-upon standards, this causes a variety of problems:

  • It becomes harder to accurately measure the progress of everyone’s work.
  • It becomes harder to track spending.
  • It becomes harder for field and office teams to cooperate.

The opposite is true, too: Teams that have clear rules for how each document gets created and distributed set themselves up for project success.

Below, we will explore how the right software can help keep project documents standardized and consistent.

Why Does the Construction Trade Struggle With Project Documentation?

People who work in construction usually learn to do their work the right way the first time, then they stick with what they’ve learned.

So, if someone who was a junior foreman in 1995 was taught to write and file reports a certain way, that person probably still uses some version of that original process to write and file reports today. Even if that means documenting work on paper, clipping those papers into a binder and stacking those binders in the office.

Construction teams that embrace digital tools struggle with documentation, too. As mentioned above, there is a lot of information that gets reported, tracked and recorded in a construction project. And many different people have their own ways of reporting, tracking and recording.

“Construction projects are complex undertakings and involve many separate information systems,” says Michael Drost, construction marketing manager at U.S. CAD.

“Each of these systems serves a unique purpose and requires access to critical project data. Because of this, there is a tendency to create silos for engineering, workforce, materials, vendors, purchase orders and other data.”

When important project documents get stored in separate locations — and especially when there are multiple versions of those documents — this sets teams up to make costly mistakes.

Two men working on paper and laptops; construction project documentation concept

When Documentation Is Consistent, Your Processes Get More Efficient

The goal of document standardization is to get everyone aligned so each person on the team can see whether the work that’s getting done matches the project’s goals.

This alignment helps so many other processes on your team work better:

  • It helps executives and project managers see across projects. This lets them quickly see what a given project’s status is at any moment, then make the right decisions from there, writes Peter Taylor, a business executive with three decades of experience in planning major projects.
  • It makes communication easier between teams. The clarity and accuracy of good documentation “enables trust,” Taylor says, which lays the groundwork for better working relationships across all teams.
  • It creates consistency for future projects. “Basically, sharing documents is easier from one project to the next because the format and process are the same, so there’s less confusion and miscommunication,” the team at GoCodes writes.

In construction trades, there’s one more key benefit to document standardization that we need to mention. This goes back to the idea that consistent documents create a single source of truth.

When your team works with a general contractor, it can be tempting to adopt whatever tools and processes the GC uses. This keeps the work easy. But it also puts your team at the mercy of the GC’s reporting practices. When your own documentation practices are solid, you can see at a glance when you’re getting bad information, Mail Manager’s Michele D’Andrea Rodrigues writes.

If there’s ever a disagreement between your reporting and the GC’s reporting, you will want to have your own trusted systems for establishing a source of truth.

What Does Consistent Construction Project Documentation Look Like?

When standardizing your documentation, aim for these three outcomes:

  • Complete. You will want this process to include all of your documentation.
  • Accessible. Everyone who needs access to these documents should have easy access to them. The ideal solution is a cloud-based tool for storage.
  • Organized and easily searchable. This lets you retrieve information easily whenever you need it.

In the End, This Is a Software Question

Teams with good document-management software are able to create, track, send and store all of their project documents from one central repository.

Then, whenever a request for information (RFI) comes in from a designer, the GC or another project stakeholder, no one has to scramble to provide the requested information. It’s all right there in the tool for everyone to see.

In an episode of our Power to the Trades podcast, Steel Toe Consulting CEO Jonathan Marsh talks about how teams begin to feel empowered when they have solid processes and the right tools to facilitate them. In this case, software helps close a communication gap between the people who plan work and the people who execute the work.

“What you need to have is the technology that starts to build the culture of communication, starts getting people talking,” Marsh says. “Because once they start talking, now you’re at a point where you get the trust up. The biggest thing that I’ve seen really with technology is you’re finally talking to the people that are building.”

Man at table with coffee, smiling at someone; construction project documentation concept

How the Right Software Empowers Construction Teams

A few years ago, the team at Above All Storefronts on Long Island came to us to help close communication gaps between their office staff and their field staff. One of their big issues was document management. The team lacked a way to track things like purchase orders and RFIs. They also lacked a central location to store all of that project documentation.

As a result, team members were out of sync on what needed to be done, and what information their colleagues needed from them.

Our team helped Above All Storefronts implement eSUB to strengthen those processes. This finally gave everyone a unified view of the work they were doing.

“We are no longer second guessing ourselves on whether or not a document was sent in to the general contractor or architect,” their project manager told us at the time. “We no longer have to wait for our foreman to come back to the office to get new information.

“It makes life ten times easier and gives you the ability to take on more profitable work.”

What If You Already Have Document Management Software?

If your team already has a tool for managing documents, but you aren’t getting the collaboration or the insights you had expected, it could be time to reassess your software.

Software reporter DP Taylor notes that good document management software will do five things well:

  • Make your documents easy to find.
  • Organize and categorize them.
  • Make documents easy to share.
  • Lock out unauthorized users.
  • Scale with your team as you grow.

If your document management system struggles with any of those five points, your software might no longer be a good fit for your team. If you have questions about how to improve your construction project documentation processes, contact us today.

Images by: Anthony Fomin, Scott Graham, Ben White

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