Harder than it should be

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Field Documentation

Field documentation of a construction crew is a daunting challenge. Every contractor I’ve ever discussed this with has had the same defeatist attitude. They’ll shake their heads, throw up their arms and say it’s a lost cause. Worse are those that don’t even give  it much thought, not worth the trouble I suppose is what they believe.

Why does it matter?

To start with, MONEY. Accurate timekeeping directly effects the bottom line. A ten man crew rounding time, or arbitrarily submitting time for full days, will cost you thousands of dollars. If that is not enough to convince you:

  • Error checking. Have you ever had an employee claim they were not paid properly? Easy, confirm with crew leader. Uhh, what week was that? They often cannot provide conclusive information and have no backup documentation. Ask other coworkers and you get more conflicting information. You wind up chasing your tail. Unable to make an incontrovertible determination, you just pay to make the problem go away. The employee winds up feeling you were trying to cheat them, you have that nagging thought that you have been had.
  • Issues Recording. Long after project completion, an issue arises and you are facing litigation. You are sure your remember the client directed you to do something, or not to do something that directly led to this exposure. If you didn’t record it, it didn’t happen.
  • Training Documentation. Are you doing all the appropriate training to keep your employees competent, up to date and working safely? If you didn’t record it, it didn’t happen.
  • Inspections and Audits. Are you auditing your sites on a regular basis? Are you inspecting your equipment? Daily inspections prior to every shift are required by OSHA. If you do not have documentation you can be deemed negligent in the case of an accident due to failure. Again, if you do not have the documentation…

So why is it so hard?

When I was running a crew for a construction company I was given no direction at all. I scribbled notes on legal pads and called in payroll hours for my crew at the end of the week over the phone. Years later, with my own company and over 100 persons in the field, that was not acceptable to me. I tried all sorts of systems to ensure accurate and thorough record keeping.

The best system I came up with involved a packet of 15 or more forms that the crew leader was required to fill out every week. They’d turn in their completed packet on payday and receive a new packet for the next week. Seems simple enough. For several reasons, this never consistently resulted in success.

  • To begin with, crew leaders of varying levels of sophistication completed the forms to relative levels of care and comprehension. The office spent ridiculous time confirming, interpreting and cross checking the information.
  • In the spirit of procrastination, nobody could seem to consistently complete their forms on a timely basis. Only at the last possible moment were they inclined to make it a priority, scribbling abbreviated entries from memory just before exchanging paperwork for paychecks.

That reluctance to fill out the paperwork properly, on a daily basis is really the root of the problem. You cannot accurately do this from memory and if you cannot be certain that it is clear and accurate information, it is pretty much useless.

I see the same difficulties at every level of the construction business. Even the most high profile, hard ass companies are accepting rote, inadequate documentation from the field with the resignation that something is better than nothing and that they have done their duty by demanding and filing the paperwork.

Stay tuned for my next article in this series. Learn how I developed the CrewKeeper app for iPhone in order to address these problems and how, for the first time ever, I am achieving my goal of thorough, accurate field documentation from my crews with virtually no effort and little expense.

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