As I’ve been mentioning, construction project communication is vital to project success, and furthermore, communication has to be intentional—it has to be something to which you devote time and attention. The quality of your communications matters. For example do you know how easily your project team can access construction plans and specs? Or if everyone is aware of the project changes and issues that affect their work? If you’re not sure (or answered with an “uh huh” or “really?”)—please read on.
Project Document Management: Your Communication Strategy
In construction, creating better communications doesn’t have to be an abstract goal. Because some very specific documents are created and used throughout the life of a typical construction project, these documents can serve as the center of your communications strategy. The degree to which you control, share, and track communications around these documents is a reasonably good measure of how intentional and effective you are at project communication. So focusing on a plan to improve project document management is a great start to better project communications. Let’s look at a few important improvements that most contractors can make.
It’s obviously to your advantage if your partners have easy access to your project documents—from owners or other contractors employing you to the subs and vendors you employ. Web-based repositories are the obvious answer for solving the easy access challenge. But this raises other concerns, security usually topping the list. With good administration and strong encryption, web-based storage can be made just as secure as your own company system.
Accessing the often vast amount of information surrounding a project is just step one. To paraphrase what the owner of an electrical contracting company told me not long ago, “We do our best to go through all the plans, RFIs, etc. But much of it isn’t relevant to our part of the job and it’s often anybody’s guess whether we’re looking at the latest document version.” An effective approach to sharing project documents must include a way to ensure that everyone is using the same (and latest) version, and that there is structure to the way the documents are presented – so folks like my electrical contractor friend can quickly find the information that matters to them.
Project managers are used to logging information—job progress, change orders, labor, weather, and so on. Logging the activity surrounding your project documents should be no exception. And with the right system in place, should be no additional burden. Document systems designed for construction should generate audit trails of changes and additions to the body of information associated with a project. And should provide the project manager with visibility into who’s been accessing, reading, and marking up what documents.
Companies I talk to are starting to think more seriously about how they communicate and share information. But the level of sophistication in addressing this important issue varies greatly – from companies who just use a public drive to share information with their own staff to those using construction-specific systems that manage the flow of information for all partners and participants.