Avoiding problems through construction documentation (part one)

Being the largest industry in the United States, the construction industry has suffered through the years from several uncontrollable factors, including inefficiency, complexity, and management variables. Typically, a construction project has three principal participants—the owner, the designer, and the contractor—before expanding rapidly in size as support and assistance with consultants, lenders, sureties, insurers, subcontractors, suppliers, vendors, lawyers, and government agencies. Interacting with this team are several other parties who have sufficient influence to have an impact on the outcome of the project.

Coupled with this participant diversity are a project’s unique time-cost pressures, which are unlike those of any other industry because of many variables having an impact on the team’s productivity and performance. Although common goals and objectives are shared by the players at commencement of the project, these participants are often forced to follow their self-interests survival and economic preservation.

This fragmentation provides a natural breeding ground for problems and disputes; making proper and accurate documentation all important. When left unsettled, disputes usually lead to costly and disruptive claims that delay construction progress and divert valuable management resources from productive project administration and control to preparation of evidence and participation in litigation.

With timely documentation, the owners, architects, and contractors can monitor and manage a project in such a way as to anticipate potential problems, delays, and impacts as they occur—this helps them resolve such issues successfully. It is imperative all project managers be problem-oriented while maintaining documentation during construction to identify and react to problems that may impact the contract price or performance time.

Items that must be critiqued in order to manage project documentation include:

  • changes to specifications and plans (i.e. change orders);
  • lack of meticulous CPM planning;
  • out-of-sequence activity starts;
  • no project management communication;
  • lackadaisical attitudes to documentation;
  • low team spirit;
  • delayed approval of shop drawings (log will document)
  • timely and adequate inputting of CPM schedule updates;
  • untimely response to information requested;
  • differing site conditions;
  • interference by other contractors or owner;
  • abnormal weather and climatologic data;
  • transportation or material delivery delays;
  • unusually severe inspections;
  • critical material shortages;
  • labor shortages;
  • defective or deficient plans and specifications;
  • no enigma management;
  • lack of parameters as to game plan;
  • people with whimsical and procrastination as to documentation;
  • inadequate submittal log management;
  • poor project meeting minutes;
  • daily reports that lack detail information;
  • logs of telephone conversations; and
  • coordination meeting minutes lacking detail.

One special tool for proper documentation is the project CPM schedule, which documents the start and completion dates of every activity. Construction schedules provide a major source of project documentation. The owner, through the specifications, notifies the contractor that time is of the essence. Further, the specifications require the contractor to submit a schedule meeting both the completion date, as well as the intermediate milestone dates. Schedules help with problem avoidance.

In the second part of the series, this author will offer a checklist of the types of construction information that assist in establishing entitlement and damages when a project faces disruption or delay. It will also explore ways to improve documentation.

Norman F. Jacobs Jr., CSI, CPE, is a principal at Jacobs Consultant Services, which offers cost management, schedule control assistance, project management, and claims preparation and negotiation. He has also served as an arbitrator, owner’s representative, and expert witness in arbitration and court involving multi-million dollar projects. Before creating his current organization, Jacobs provided design-build, construction management, and general contracting for developers, government agencies, and private clients for more than 30 years. He has served as the president of the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) Richmond Chapter, chaired the Virginia Associated General Contractors (AGC) Documents Committee, and been a long-time member of organizations including the Project Management Institute (PMI) and the American Society of Professional Estimators (ASPE). He can be contacted via e-mail at jcscpm@aol.com.

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2 comments on “Avoiding problems through construction documentation (part one)”

  1. I have been trying to compose a comment, but the issues raised are many and complex. However, after 35+ years as an architect and specifier, I have 2 brief comments on this treatise: 1) You are 100% correct. 2) You clearly work in a world different from mine, and I have worked for several top firms with long histories, primarily as a specifier for industrial, commercial, and institutional projects. It is a difference between theory and practice. If everyone on the project team had your intelligence, all the time in the world, and the understanding of the other team members, theory could become practice. Maybe such is the case in heaven. So, the most this article can hope to accomplish is to get a small number of people to begin to think about what is the right thing to do, before reacting to the latest hurdle, erected by unreasonable clients, harried architects, uninformed contractors, unfriendly code officials, and a cast of thousands similarly unconcerned with theory.

  2. Great article Norman. But, don’t forget the KISS principle. When you’re in the weeds with minutia, it can be difficult to keep your eye on the project goals and objectives. Byron

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