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5 Steps to Avoiding Chaos with Well-Planned Construction Document Control

Construction projects can unleash a storm of paperwork. Tracking all these documents, ensuring everyone has the final version, and finding docs that fell through the cracks may be a project manager’s least favorite task.

In this post, we’ll talk about the 5 steps you can take to make document control your friend and streamline construction. Read on to find out more.

Step 1: Assess your existing system

A well-oiled document control system needs to be compatible with the digital age. That said, why reinvent the wheel? Before you do anything else, take a look at your existing system. Identify its strengths and build on them. Do away with its weaknesses. Ask yourself these questions:
  • Is the system paperless?
  • Is it accessible everywhere?
  • Can you quickly expand it to meet growing business demands?
  • Does it have a single storage place for all documents, and one real source?
Once you’ve answered these questions, you can move on to the next steps. Incidentally, they are designed to fix your system if you’ve answered no to these 4 questions.

Step 2: Go digital

Have you ever found your office printer and shredder running all at once? If you answer ‘yes,’ then something’s gotta change.
The construction industry gobbles up tons and tons of paper, and going digital is a great way to slash paper consumption and go green. But we won’t bore you with the environmental benefits of paperless document control. Going digital is efficient. Why sift through a 1,000-page spec binder, when you can find your info by clicking ‘Control+F’? Or fight a faulty printer, if you can deposit a PDF copy of the memo into an electronic folder on the shared drive? Or, get your hands red with ink if you can mark up drawings in a PDF-reader, like Bluebeam or Adobe Acrobat?

Apart from the convenience of storing, transmitting, and searching through electronic files, digitizing your document control also lets you:
  • save precious office space
  • conserve toner and electricity
  • reduce the labor of storing and moving physical documents
  • transmit files instantaneously
  • destroy sensitive documents securely, without relying on your intern to shred them
What’s more, digital storage helps you make document control accessible to the right people, wherever they may need it.

Step 3: Make the documents accessible everywhere (to the right people)

Accessibility is a crucial tenet of document control. It means allowing your staff, contractors, and consultants to view the documents they need, see changes, and send files on the go. Like you wouldn’t want laborers to idle without equipment and materials, you don’t want your management and consultants to be stuck without the information they need. By enabling accessibility, you’re just giving the right folks their tools.

Digitization is a significant first step to expanding accessibility. But what good is your shared drive to a foreman, if they can’t get it at their fingertips out in the field? Or your building envelope consultant, who’s working from home and can’t access your intranet without a VPN?

Documents should be available to everyone who needs them when they need them. To this end, you must equip your team with the right technology. Those in the field could prefer tablets over laptops or desktops. Consultants working from their home or office’s comfort would find it easier to access your project via a cloud-based system, like Asana or Slack, rather than email.

Step 4: Create a single location and a single source

There are three key reasons cloud-based software triumphs as the optimal solution for document control.

1. It eliminates confusion that usually stems from tangled email threads and lost attachments.

2. It allows you to create one place to store documents and one source of correct information.

Let’s elaborate. Say you have several ongoing projects. With a cloud-based system, each project team, internal and external, has a single place to store project-related documents. Within this folder, your document controller can keep only the newest version of each doc – the rest can be retired into the “superseded” folder. With this approach, the entire project team knows where to dig up the info they require. They can be confident that the current document is clearly labeled as such with the version number.

3. With a cloud-based system, the entire project team can be quickly alerted of changes and shown the most current version of a document.

Step 5: Train the team on how the system works

Having one source of accurate info, in a known and accessible location, is the hallmark of effective document control. Achieving it takes more than the right technology and a plan. It would help if your staff understood, cherished, and adhered to the document control procedures.

For best efficiency, designate one staff member to keep the documents current. When a new version supersedes an old one, this document controller (aka the librarian) must promulgate the change to the entire project team.

Everyone else working on the project should be equally responsible when handling documents. Mark-ups should have their folder and version number. The team should know that internal and external communications, via email or messaging, should be stored in their respective folders. If you opt to use a complex project management software, make sure the staff stays abreast of all the updates to its functionality.

Final thoughts

Effective document control can greatly streamline construction projects. To avoid chaos, you need accessibility, fitting technology, the right people, and constant training. Oh, and please ditch the paper.
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