The Importance of Project Documentation in Construction


Construction management, in addition to a job that requires expertise in building, also hinges on one critical element: documentation. Every piece of our business requires documentation, from accounting to fleet management, contracts and building documents. Clear documentation clarifies expectations, establishes official agreements, records building elements, protects all parties involved in the building process, and most importantly, ensures the client is satisfied with the end product.

Documentation is so critical that we even have a saying about it: If it wasn’t documented, it wasn’t done. In other words, if you can’t prove that something happened ‘on paper,’ there’s no way to prove that it happened at all. No one ever wants to be in a difficult situation, so it’s important to understand the many facets of documentation and why each piece is necessary.

Building Plans, Specifications and As-Builts

A main component in construction documentation are the building plans and specifications that are drawn up by design teams. These outline the dimensions, details, materials to be used, structural components and more. They serve the purpose of directing not only how the building should be built, but as a record of what was constructed in the form of as-built documents post-construction.

Building documents are drawn by architects and engineers, with specifications that accompany the drawings to include minute details such as caulking types, grout, paint colors and more. The intent of these documents is to capture every component of the building and all associated landscaping, excavation, structural and architectural elements, and building systems like electrical, mechanical, plumbing and fire protection systems.

When documents are distributed to contractors, they help review them with a different lens for constructability and to fill in any details that may be missing. Contractors use Requests for Information (RFI’s) to submit questions to clarify any missing details they may find. These RFI’s serve as a virtual paper trail to document these questions and confirm changes that may be made. Finally, these documents serve as a record of the building. Any changes that take place during construction are detailed in a final record set, which is filed by the contractor, design teams and owner for future reference.

Project Management Documentation

Successful project management teams understand the ins and outs of construction, and they know that a lot is at stake for clients, which is why it is critical to track a variety of items to note progress, and accurately depict details of the work. Some of the items tracked include:

  • Subcontractor and owner contracts
  • Project schedules
  • Submittals, including due dates, date received, date reviewed, date sent and returned from the design teams, and distributed back to the original submitter
  • Permits and inspections
  • RFI’s
  • Change proposals
  • Change orders
  • All communications with owners, vendors, the local jurisdiction and the project team
  • Weekly Owner/Architect/Contractor meetings
  • Equipment rental logs
  • Weather or other work delays

These items aren’t all encompassing but cover many of the items of documentation that must be retained and maintained by the project teams. Equally as important, verbal conversations should be followed by written correspondence to the involved parties to confirm what was discussed. As previously noted, ‘if it’s not documented, it’s not done,’ and all parties involved want to make sure projects are done to the client’s expectations and standards.

Job Costing and Accounting Documentation

Being fiscally responsible is always part of the conversation, and why tracking expenses of the work is so critical to project success. This task involves the project management teams, as well as accounting teams. Every cost in construction is allocated to phases, so that each can be accounted for on every item of the building. With this method, a contractor or owner could see what the footings cost, or the concrete curbs and sidewalks, the walls, roof structure or any other building component. The process to capture all these costs requires a systematic approach. When items are purchased, they’re recorded in a contract or purchase order. When invoices are sent in, they are matched up with the contract or purchase order and assigned to the appropriate project and phase.

In addition to materials, all labor activities must be tracked and accounted for in phases. Payroll tracking is the key to making sure labor hours are appropriately allocated. Along with standard invoices and payments to vendors and staff, accounting departments track lien waivers and lien releases, file those with the appropriate projects and provide this documentation with requests for payments. All conversations are also kept as a record of any discussions relating to payment.

Other types of accounting documentation include:

  • Sales tax tracking
  • Employee tax documents
  • Retirement plans and pre-tax deferrals, or garnishments
  • Audit reports
  • And more

Documents must be maintained for many years and are auditable by project owners, depending on the project contracts. Additionally, most construction companies voluntarily complete annual audits to verify financial health.

Information Technology in Construction

A good Information Technology (IT) department can make or break a construction company’s ability to properly complete their work, securely store information, and quickly access documents. From software utilization to communications, security from computer viruses and data storage, the role of IT is essential. IT services may include a variety of tasks, including:

  • Asset tracking for inventory purposes, as well as for tracking in the event of damage or theft.
  • Data storage for back up documentation.
  • Multi-factor authentication systems for access to company systems.
  • Storage of all email documentation company wide.
  • Encrypting of all data transferred in and out of the company, particularly to protect banking information of clients, trade partners and employees.

The world of technology is always changing, with new software programs, threats from phishing or malware attacks, and an ever-increasing pace of business. IT departments in construction are always on their toes.

Documenting Safety in Construction

A large part of construction work is maintaining a safe workplace, which requires extensive planning, implementation, and documentation. When companies have any number of employees, maintaining records of new-hire orientation, safety training, disciplinary discussions and/or actions and site safety plans are all important. When using equipment onsite, another safety component includes equipment pre-use inspection reports and maintenance records. Not only do the pre-inspections provide an opportunity to repair systems that may be faulty before putting that item into use, but they also provide backup documentation in the event of a mechanical failure, incident or injury. Safety documentation is required to track safety metrics as a company, but also for OSHA inspections and record-keeping.  In the event of a workplace injury or incident, these documents can help determine whether a contractor was negligent in their duty to keep employees safe.

Two more common safety items that are, in part, documentation, include site logistics and site signage. Extensive planning goes into site logistics, with traffic routes, temporary utilities, fencing and barriers, safety and shade stations, emergency gathering areas all laid out in these plans and distributed to everyone with site access. These logistics strategies include planning for site signage, with directional signage, ‘no trespassing’ signs, contact information, PPE and COVID notifications, among other items. It’s critical that jobsite be clear for workers and visitors in order to keep everyone safe. 

Licensing, Bonding, and Insurance

Construction companies have a significant number or licenses to track and maintain, as well as bonding and insurance requirements. These items must be tracked for the general contractor as well as any lower-tier subcontractors and suppliers. Having proper licensing and insurance in place for every company working in construction protects all parties – the trades, the general contractor, the owner, the public, and sometimes even the local jurisdiction.

Common licenses include:

  • CCB licenses
  • Business licenses for the state, city and/or county
  • Vehicle licenses

Maintaining insurance is a complex but important part of contracting, with a variety of insurance types carried by contractors in different capacities. These may include:

  • Liability insurance
  • Workers compensation insurance
  • Professional liability insurance
  • Auto insurance
  • Pollution liability insurance
  • Builders risk insurance

The insurance limits are often different for each project, making the challenge of maintaining proper insurance a daunting but important task to track, implement and maintain.

Crew Scheduling and Human Resources Documentation

The last documentation item that we will cover includes crew scheduling and human resources (HR) documentation. The nature of construction is that crews change their work locations on a regular basis, perhaps changing states where wage rates or tax structures differ from site to site.

Several strategies must be employed to track these changes, from ensuring that jobsites are properly staffed, to making sure their pay is accurate.

In addition to payroll and location tracking, employee start dates, end dates, drug testing, and performance metrics, as well as training must be monitored. These documents are particularly important in the event of a dispute due to termination, or an accident onsite.

Final Thoughts

Documentation in construction is extensive and has significant repercussions in the event of a dispute, accident or employee issue, or even in the midst of changing laws and regulations. The quantity and complexity of this information takes a large amount of work and coordination to track accurately and completely, but is necessary for the protection of the company, it’s employees, trade partners and clients.