Is document management in today’s projects good enough?

by Camilla Fuglesang Eide | January 09, 2020

Is document management in today’s projects good enough?

It is important to be able to act quickly and to continuously make decisions in projects. This in turn requires all project members to be able to see what decisions and changes have been initiated by you, members of the project group, the board or other decision-makers in the project.

All this is a prerequisite for the project being implemented correctly and for ensuring you actually build what you are supposed to. But don’t be fooled – the process looks much easier on paper than it is in reality. Not least because there are many different methods of document management in the construction industry. 

 

From post-it notes to Excel – six challenges

  • With many different systems for registering different types of information that all project members need to be up to date on, challenges soon arise. It’s easy to miss logging in or recording events and decisions during the project. Not least if you are on the construction site, carrying out inspections, sitting in meetings or away on other activities out of the office. And, if you haven’t given the right people access to the right information, it quickly becomes problematic. 

  • Meeting minutes and other relevant documents can easily be forgotten in a binder or project portal.

  • Unfortunately, post-it notes are still used to some extent. It’s a typical pitfall for communication. A note can easily be forgotten or disappear in the pile of other information that quickly fills the desktop on a busy day at work. There is a big risk that the information won’t reach the right recipient, and then problems will immediately arise, regardless of who the culprit is. Talk about unnecessary risk – letting a small post-it note create problems!

  • An appendix or outlay risks the same fate: disappearing in the paper jungle. Even if the amounts aren’t big, it can easily cause irritation and unnecessary disputes.

  • To-do lists in Excel are easily forgotten and thereby rarely updated. It is also time-consuming to create Excel sheets with good overviews and correct formulas. It often ends with everyone having his/her own updated version saved locally on his/her computer, resulting in actions not being coordinated or communicated to the right person.

  • A major challenge in the construction industry is the extensive information flow in each project. This quickly results in overflowing inboxes and significant accumulations of emails. Before you know it, there is chaos, which is difficult to sort out. Important decisions can suddenly take disproportionately long to make and have major consequences.

 

The consequences of inadequate document management

Inadequate document management is hardly an unknown phenomenon in the building and construction industry, and it often has legal consequences, to a greater or lesser extent. It can also result in lawsuits – in other words, a nightmare scenario for project managers.

The lack of a functioning document management system can have major consequences, even after the completion of a project. Questions can arise about the grounds on which a decision was taken, actions were implemented or other project information, and then you are the one responsible for the errors and deficiencies. 

In the eye of the media

Whether it is a big or small project, in the public or private sector, there are many examples of legal cases just a button click away. In Norway, the extension of Stortinget (the Norwegian Parliament building) recently came into the spotlight, as the total for the construction project increased from NOK 1.1 billion (which in itself is unreasonably high) to a staggering 2.3 billion.

Stortinget blamed the developer and sued the planner for the tidy sum of NOK 125 million. The case was widely written about in the media, probably because of the enormous sum, and it was the taxpayers who had to foot the bill. In projects like these, it is especially important to have your house in order. To read more about this legal case, click on link.

When the consequences come knocking on the door, many people refer to disclaimers, give unclear answers, make excuses or accusations, and create new conflicts. How do you really know who said what, did what or made the decisions if there is complete paper chaos? Although the case above concerns a high-cost project, project managers can lose sleep over much smaller things than this.

 

So, who pays?

To find out who should pay the bill in situations like these, it is extremely important to be able to trace the documentation. This allows you to go back and see who made a certain decision – and that is best done with a digital audit trail. 

By having complete control over all documentation, the company can save huge amounts of money previously spent on expensive legal fees, as it is usually lawyers who get the mundane task of creating order among the meeting minutes and email correspondence and unravelling everything that has happened when the company finds itself in a precarious situation with a dispute or legal process as the result. 

With a digital audit trail, this kind of work can be avoided. Such a system ensures continuous cooperation and interaction, with all information easily traceable afterwards should the need arise. This way, lawyers don’t have to spend hours on detective work. 

Another cost-saving advantage of digitalisation is that you can trust that decisions are taken by the right people at the right time and in the right way throughout the project. This also makes it easier to ensure that you build what you should within the agreed framework. The risk of disputes is also reduced.

 

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by Camilla Fuglesang Eide

Camilla Fuglesang Eide, Head of Marketing