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3 Reasons You Should Care About Construction Documentation

There are several reasons why we should care about how we document construction projects, how we put it together, how we file it, how we use it, and how we can make it better. Let’s talk about some of those reasons.

Litigation Avoidance

Sometimes we end a project in a dispute. This dispute is not resolvable simply through negotiations. We might have to mediate, we might have to arbitrate, or we might have to litigate, God forbid.

Clearly, project documentation is essential to success in these kinds of processes. The truth of the matter is that sometimes, in some of these formats, documentation is the only thing that matters. It is given more credibility than oral presentations, arguments, or other information. People do not rely on memory as much as they rely on what is written down.

Another reason we care is very often disputes can be resolved by looking at the facts and understanding what happened. If those facts are written down, it is much easier to recall them. It is easier to recall their significance. It is easier to recall their context. It is easier to discuss them frankly. Once we know who knew what and when they knew it, often many of our differences of opinion can be resolved successfully.

One of the things about good documentation is that it can prevent us from having to go to mediation, arbitration, or litigation. It allows us to resolve our issues on our own. We don’t have to throw the issue over the fence and let somebody else resolve it for us.

Improved Communication

I think the most important reason that we need good construction documentation is that it is essential to effective communication. It is essential to the way we deal with each other on a construction project. It is essential to ensuring that everybody is in the right place at the right time, doing the right thing. And we use documentation to help us accomplish that basic goal.

If I look at the disputes and issues I have come across on construction projects, some of the most difficult and the most frustrating are the ones that result from a surprise. We just didn’t know what we were getting into, or perhaps we got a phone call from somebody who said:

“Where are you and how come you are not out here now doing what you are supposed to be doing?”

If we rely on oral communications, those kinds of problems can happen. When we rely on written communication, schedules, and other documents that we have available to us, that problem is less likely to happen. It can certainly help us reduce or eliminate surprises. It rewards those who are thinking ahead and planning. It helps us anticipate the kind of problems we might get into and come up with successful solutions to avoiding those problems, as opposed to forcing everybody to live through them.

The Best Offense and Defense

In construction disputes, the best offense and defense is a well-organized, well-documented project file that contemporaneously records the facts. I think it is true that the facts will very much determine the outcome. The facts are important and if the facts are properly recorded, they can be immensely useful to our resolution of our differences. All in all, good documentation matters. It preserves the truth. It helps you avoid litigation. It serves as a great communication tool. And it serves as both your best offense and defense if your project lands in dispute.

Scott Lowe is a Principal of TRAUNER and is an expert in the areas of in the areas of critical path method scheduling, construction claim preparation and evaluation, and specification writing. He can be reached at scott.lowe@traunerconsulting.com.

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