Lessons Learned #5: The Reasons Why You Don’t Document

The majority of contractors I have known don’t enjoy having to document their work.  They are of the opinion that construction should be about building things, not writing about them.  You would probably agree with them, right?

Unfortunately, the construction world is not that simple.  Building a project is a challenging undertaking that is loaded with risks.  It is prudent to insist that events be documented so that the risks can be identified and dealt with as much as possible.

So why is it then that contractors don’t like to give written notice or document their work?  I believe the following would be the top five reasons based on my experience:

  1. Too busy running the job to write letters. What I call being “knee deep in the thick of thin things.” If this is your excuse, then you’re either doing a poor job as a manager, or you have not learned yet that writing is essential to successful management of a construction project.  You need to build on your planning skills and do a better job delegating the details to others who you manage.
  2. Low priority. If you fit this category, then you don’t have a good understanding of the contract. Giving written notice and documenting issues that impact your cost and time for performance are basic requirements of all construction contracts. It is a duty, which if not followed, can result in serious additional risk for your company.
  3. Poor communication skills. This is probably more common in construction than in other lines of work. It is also more likely with field supervisory personnel.  Let’s face it, we value field superintendents and foremen on their ability to get the job done, not on their writing skills.  However, with their position on the front lines of the work, they are more likely to detect problems and issues before others.  They can also create the required notice on time and can leave a more accurate record of critical events.
  4. Don’t know how. Many employees today belong to a generation that has been text messaging and using social media as their main way of communicating. They are used to writing (and thinking) in short blasts of text, often written in a short-hand abbreviated fashion, based on the need to communicate quickly in those forums. As a result, they have lost their ability to compose complete and coherent sentences through years of misuse. In fact, many never acquired good writing skills at all.  They are partly the product of an educational system that continues to place less emphasis on writing skills.
  5. Fear. Most of the time when I ask contractors why they fail to document important issues their answer falls in the “fear of the consequences” category. They usually say “it will make the customer angry”, or “I don’t want to start a paper war”, or “I’m afraid I won’t get my next payment”, or even “I might be terminated if I do”.  Not only are their fears misplaced, but their thinking runs contrary to their contracts!

The lesson learned: good managers know how to document as required by contract, and do so without fear.

Want to learn more about the “PPRICK” principles for project documentation and avoiding claims?  Order my book “Construction Management: Document to Reduce Risk”, or schedule an in-house seminar for your company.

“You fail only if you stop writing.” – Ray Bradbury

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