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The Ultimate Guide to Construction Document Management

Bidding documents, contractor agreements, scopes of work, schedules, bill of quantities: These are just some of the documents required for any construction project—and that’s before any actual building begins. Keeping tabs on all of this paperwork, noting changes, and communicating updates to the right people can quickly spiral out of control without proper document management. But figuring out a good construction document management process is a task unto itself.

This ultimate guide will walk you through key concepts, why it matters, and—most importantly—how to make your implementation work for your organization.

Table of contents:

  • What is Construction Document Management?
  • Benefits of Construction Document Management
  • When Should Document Management Be Used?
  • 6 Tips for Implementing a Document Management Process
  • Choose the Right Construction Document Management Software

What is Construction Document Management?

Construction document management is a discipline that’s concerned with regulating the flow of documents; if it pertains to storing, finding, changing, and sharing a document, it falls under the umbrella of document management.

Construction document management can apply to both physical and digital documents, though many organizations are going digital to better handle the amount of documentation modern construction projects require.

Back when blueprints were still blue, documentation might have simply included a set of plans with marginal notations for exceptions and augmentations. Today, even the most modest construction projects begin with drawings, specifications, estimates, consultant reports, BIM files, and more. Managing them creates a single source of truth that your entire team can rely on, even as plans change.

Document Control in Construction Projects

In construction projects, document management is supported by the scaffolding created by document control. Where document management is mostly about the flow of information, document control is the process of capturing information in a consistent, structured way for each type of document. This includes managing different versions of reviews, revisions, and approvals, and maintaining archives to ensure stakeholders are referencing the most recent versions.

Thus, document control gives your team the confidence to validate facts with accurate records as evidence. Together, document management and document control generate defined digital workflows, notifications, and review processes that keep teams in sync, and bring the right people together as a project progresses. In the high-stakes world of construction — where profit margins are extremely tight — this kind of collaboration is critical to builders, investors, and insurance companies who use accountability to manage risk.

Benefits of Construction Document Management

Document management systems in construction offer stakeholders these core benefits:

1. Establishes a Single Source of Truth
Collaborating as a team requires a continual flow of communication. When you make decisions as simple as approving a purchase requisition or contractor engagement, you need immediate access to reliable information like status and pricing. In short, you and your team need a single source of truth that everyone can count on.

A modern document management system should provide a central, easy-to-access repository for all of the documents critical to a project. This centralization is key to efficient collaboration, reducing errors, preventing duplicate documents, and more.

2. Increases Communication Between and Among Departments and Stakeholders
Aside from creating a centralized storage space for critical documents, good document management can improve the quality of communication between and among departments and internal and external stakeholders, including:

  • Contractors and subcontractors: These stakeholders may not be physically present during staff and team meetings, so they benefit greatly from reliable access to information about any changes related to their defined areas. For example, say an electrician is waiting to hear about an update to moving some existing wiring. Rather than chasing down the general contractor for updates, with a good document management system, that electrician knows exactly where to find the information critical for moving forward, like approvals and updated work orders.

  • Project managers: PMs play a pivotal role in construction projects, managing not just stressed timelines but stressed budgets, too. Documentation management systems provide the framework PMs need to turn things around. For instance, by ensuring that teams know exactly where forms live and that what they’ll find is the most up-to-date version, teams can save time and prevent the waste of needless resources spent working off of outdated information.

  • Accounting: A solid document management system can automatically prompt accounting team members to review things like cost centers before material requests are sent off for procurement. The net effect is to reduce the organization’s time spent on reconciliations.

  • Job site workers: The people carrying out the work on site are often left out of a large portion of communications related to a project. However, an effective document management process ensures critical communications affecting safety, for example, reliably reach everyone in a timely manner.

3. Helps Control and Reduce Spend
Cost overrun is a perennial issue with enterprise projects, with nine out of 10 projects exceeding their original budgets. One key way to combat cost overrun is with a well-oiled document management process. Your organization benefits when everyone works from the same set of plans and knows when changes are made.

For example, a general contractor (GC) who has the most current set of blueprints, timelines, and scopes of work knows what to prioritize and when. Plus, he or she will know which changes to implement and which to disregard. Having this knowledge in-hand means the GC can focus on the right tasks at the right time, all of which keeps costs down.

4. Creates a Standard Procedure for Organizing and Handling Documents
At its root, a document management system operationalizes an organization’s handling of documents at every level. It replaces the old paper chase of finding approved invoice copies or date stamps for received materials with a few consistent clicks and keystrokes. The result minimizes administrative tasks and replaces a tornado of documents with an efficient standard procedure.

When Should Document Management Be Used?
To truly realize the benefits of document management, it’s important to utilize it at the right moments and in the right way. Contracts, change orders, RFIs, and design drawings, are just a few of the forms that should be included in the process. However, be sure to consider any idiosyncrasies of your organization’s workflow and include any other necessary forms in the process as well.

The process itself should kick in at these critical steps:

  • Initial project creation: When a project is initially created, defining documents like bid proposals or requests for proposals capture the intent or specifications of a project. Capturing project creation documents in a document management system ensures that stakeholders can quickly and easily review a project’s progress against what was initially promised in the proposals. Consider sustainability specifications committed to in bid documents, for example: How the commitment was made in the bid response directly impacts the choice of construction materials.

  • Reviews prior to document delivery: Regardless of what document you’re dealing with, it will need to be reviewed. With a well-designed document management system, you can get the right client representatives, managers, and experts involved in reviews at the right time. Further, you will capture their analyses so that they’re available for reference as the project proceeds.

  • Changes and edits: Change is continuous in a project team. High-quality teams capture, document, and communicate it effectively. Your document management system will give you tools to analyze the patterns of these changes so that you can use them to improve the quality of your work, and the efficiency of your team.

  • Verifications and approvals: Unlike reviews, which can be detailed and require extensive changes to a document, approvals should be binary: yes or no. But tracking and documenting them is no less critical.

  • Delivery: Documenting delivery is the simplest way to notate a project’s progress. Use cases vary from simple receipts like email and messaging to sophisticated bank-level validations. Whatever the approach, documentation to confirm delivery is critical to your document management system.

6 Tips for Implementing a Document Management Process

Learning about how document management manifests in the typical workflow of construction projects is one thing—implementing a document management process that works for your team is another thing entirely. Here are six tips to consider if you’re thinking of improving or establishing a document management process:

1. Assess Your Current System
It’s always a good idea to start with a thoughtful assessment of your current approach. Think about how you’re capturing the flow of activities as they progress from initiation to completion. You can start by asking these simple questions:

  • How are assessments made to improve quality?
  • What records are needed to validate steps externally?
  • What procedures seem to be working well?
  • What doesn’t work well?
  • How does a change in the system align with corporate objectives?

2. Examine Your Company Culture
Company culture is like an ocean’s current—you’ll be more successful if you work with it rather than against it. Most companies have developed a culture based on what works for them, so start there. Examine how people and departments already do things. Consider things like:

  • How do common tasks like new product development, procurement, and forecasting get done today? Determine who sees which documents, when, and what tasks they perform on them (such as reviews, sign-offs, and the like).
  • Find out what management levels are required for approvals, and how the documentation management system will impact your existing systems.
  • Get buy-in from not only management, but also the rank-and-file team members who carry out routine tasks like accounting and receiving. Team buy-in can be key to a successful implementation.

3. Name a Point Person or a Go-to Team
The implementation of a document management system is a significant company investment; it requires the accountability of a point person and/or a go-to team to delegate to and get the work done. Make sure that person’s or persons’ managers also buy in to the project before you officially assign them to the task.

4. Centralize Your Documents and Standardize Your Processes
As you assess your current systems, you should start centralizing existing documents and standardizing your processes. This can be a great time to identify the differences in approaches across the company and gain buy-in from stakeholders by involving them in the evaluation. The approaches deemed most successful can be the basis for procedures across the company.

5. Rely on the Right Software
In building your document management system, you have many different options. Since your system’s integrity will rely on the software you choose, be sure to select one that will be robust enough to handle your needs. As you weigh options, consider whether a solution:

  • Creates centralized access to information
  • Automatically generates notifications and tracks updates, which increases teams’ efficiency in executing ordinary tasks
  • Improves collaboration and communication within and among teams, especially via the cloud when working remotely or in the field
  • Reduces costs with the improvement in communications and the benefits of a seamless documentation trail
  • Integrates with existing digital processes to support workflows like change requests, issue reporting or progress measurement

6. Get Feedback and Adjust Accordingly
Always keep in mind that you’re building a system that has to work for the people who will be using it. You’ll of course want feedback and buy-in as you craft a new document management system. However, you’ll want to gather feedback as you roll out changes, too, and adjust your implementation as appropriate.

Choose the Right Construction Document Management Software

By now, you know all about the basics of document management as it relates to construction projects: what it is, why it matters, and best practices for implementing it. But there’s still the matter of finding a solution that fits your organization, which can be tricky.

EcoSys Documents offers a solution that standardizes processes and creates a central repository for all the documents necessary throughout a project’s lifecycle. It is a part of the EcoSys Enterprise Project Performance system, thereby tying document management into your critical construction processes — from project selection and estimating to contract management and project controls. As a result, teams stop wasting time performing administrative tasks and hunting for forms and files, which cuts spend and helps keep things on schedule. Speak to an EcoSys representative about scheduling a demo today.

Visit these additional resources for more information on EcoSys and Document Management:

EcoSys Products: EcoSys, EcoSys Documents

EcoSys Solutions: Project Portfolio Management, Project Controls & Project Management

Process Area: Document Management