Documentation Paper Trail 280px

My first job out of college was in the accounting office for a construction company. My supervisor regularly told me, "Always keep a paper trail." She obviously lived by this practice, as her filing cabinets were stuffed with old documents and printed emails, and her email inbox was regularly at capacity and she had to ask for more memory. I kept this advice in mind but never really understood the value of it until the day she came under fire for a miscommunication that was going to cost the company $200,000.

After getting out of a meeting, she quickly searched for the subject and other parties involved, and within two minutes, pulled up an email verifying that she wasn't responsible for the error. At that point, she looked at me and said, "That's why you always keep a paper trail." During a contentious situation, it wasn't all those paper files in cabinets she went to for vindication; it was her electronic files she could easily search which showed she wasn't to blame.

The blame game isn't new, particularly in the construction industry. When mistakes or problems occur on a jobsite, or even a completed project, fingers immediately start pointing at anyone who touched the job. The ultimate example of the blame game in the construction industry is when prosecutors hold construction executives and supervisors criminally responsible for accidents.

According to an ENR.com article, "prosecutors search for evidence of criminality, recklessness or hunger for profit at any expense" to convict defendants. What prosecutors are really looking for is documentation, and in response, the defendants have to find evidence to prove that they weren't negligent. And so the documentation race begins - whoever can get the most documentation the fastest wins.

Whether it's a simple change order or a drastic change to building plans, documenting changes is important, but keeping that documentation in an easy to access location may be vital should a dispute arise. Storing job related materials in binders, spreadsheets, and email folders may be convenient, but if you had to find a document right now, could you?

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