Project Documentation in 2013:
Having a Plan in Place for Success
By Matthew J. DeVries
In last month’s article, we talked about some of the Lessons on Today’s
Technology-Driven Construction Project. As we enter the new year, you may make
resolutions about how to better organize your projects, better streamline your
estimating procedure, or better prepare for disputes. Let’s face it…no one likes
disputes! However, there are going to be certain rules that must be followed to
either prove your claim or defend the lawsuit. In the construction industry, it
is important to be familiar with the plans and specifications. However, it is
equally important to document events that occur during construction and their
impact on the means and methods, schedule and cost on an on-going basis.
Why document? As a construction lawyer, I think documentation is the most
important component of detecting a potential claim and providing or disproving
its impact. In their book Professional Construction Management, Barrie and
Paulson suggest the documentation system meet the following objectives:
1. To provide an organized and efficient means of measuring, collecting,
verifying, and quantifying data reflecting the progress and status of
operations on the project with respect to schedule, cost, resources,
procurement, and quality.
2. To provide standards against which to measure or compare the work
progress and status. Examples of standards include CPM schedules, control
budgets, procurement schedules, quality control specifications, and
construction working drawings.
3. To provide an organized, accurate and efficient means of converting the
data from the operations into information. The information system should be
realistic and should recognize (a) the means of processing the information
(e.g., mnual versus computer), (b) the skills available, and (c) the value
of the information compared with the cost of obtaining it.
4. To report the correct and necessary information in a form which can best
be interpreted by management, and at a level of detail most appropriate for
the individual managers or supervisors who will be using it.
5. To identify and isolate the most important and critical information for a
given situation, and to get it to the correct managers and supervisors, that
is, those in a position to make the best use of it.
6. To deliver the information to them in time for consideration and decision
making so that, if necessary, corrective action may be taken on those
operations that generated the data in the first place.
Errors in documentation. Documentation is necessary to prove both the occurrence
of a condition for which compensation is due and, more critically, the damage
resulting from such a condition. Ironically, when claims are not settled, it is
usually the result of one party or both not having sufficiently prepared job
progress and cost records. There are three basic reasons why inadequate record
keeping may occur:
First, a documentation system may exist, but field and project management
personnel do not put the necessary effort into completing forms. For example,
some construction personnel feel documentation interferes with performance of
primary responsibilities. Everyone has heard a contractor supervisor who “has so
much paperwork, there’s no time to get the job done.” Other personnel simply do
not understand the importance of documentation or the potential impact of not
having it when things go wrong. These scenarios are probably the most difficult
hurdles to overcome when attempting to institute a successful reporting system.
Even the most well planned system employing efficient, easy-to-complete forms
will fail unless company management is committed to its success. Perhaps the
most successful (yet unfortunate) motivator for a party in this regard is the
experience of failing to recover on a claim for which entitlement is admitted by
one party, but the records of the other party fail to link extra costs to the
Second, the reporting system itself may be lacking. For example, there may be
too many forms for specialized purposes. Supervisors might be required to fill
out separate forms for employee payroll, job progress, equipment usage or
downtime, extra work, materials received on the job, fuel and lubrication on
equipment, unforeseen conditions, equipment rental, etc. In such scenarios,
receiving information from the field depends on whether supervisors remember to
fill out the correct form for the situation. The mere act of placing the job
name and date on each of several reports takes valuable time away from the
Third, the actual design of the forms may foster insufficient and/or inefficient
reporting. The forms should be designed to take supervisors through logical and
sequential thought processes to ensure that maximum information is provided.
Spaces for narratives or description should be adequate. Forms that limit
comment spaces to two or three lines encourage half-hearted efforts resulting in
brief and meaningless reports.
Planning ahead. The design of a project documentation system starts with an
examination of your operations, both in the field and office. A documentation
system requires effort from the personnel and must be in harmony with the way
they carry on their primary responsibilities. In addition, expectations should
not exceed the ability of the employees who are providing such information. For
example, when designing a job cost system, the level of detail for which costs
will be tracked should not exceed the ability of field supervisors to accurately
record during the day. As we begin the new year, you should have a plan in place
for creating, handling, using, and organizing your documentation.
the Author: Matt is a member of the Construction Service Group in the
Nashville Tennessee office of Stites & Harbison, PLLC. Matt is a LEED Accredited
Professional and he is the founder of
www.bestpracticesconstructionlaw.com. You can reach the author at
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