Most people are aware of the often-used quote regarding the three lessons a party to a dispute should learn, “the importance of records, the importance of records and the importance of records[1]. Sound advice indeed, however, from practical experience one story comes to mind. The writer was involved on a major civil engineering disruption claim where the Client assuredly advised that it had kept a full set of daily allocation sheets from the start of the project. However, on review, the information they contained was incomplete, erroneously filled out and lacking necessary detail such that the forensic analysis of the data required considerable interpretation (to put a positive spin on it!). Not good when the analysis would be subject to rigorous scrutiny. So yes, you need records, but there is a lot more to it than that. The following top tips give some thoughts as to how you can improve your record keeping.

[1] Max Abrahamson Engineering Law and The ICE Contract

“More so now than ever I’m supporting a lot of clients with claims and disputes over unagreed changes to contract. Without sufficient record keeping throughout the project, recovery of entitled charges and time is somewhat difficult to substantiate, which unfortunately makes for a very costly experience.”

Emma Railton-Hoad, Owner, Hawk Surveying

1. Edit standard proformas

Standard forms save a lot of time, however remember that your company is not standard. It is a unique, individual business entity that operates and implements processes in a manner that has made it the way it is. Consequently, utilise standard forms but ensure they are regularly reviewed and amended to meet your specific requirements. Otherwise the data captured may not be as relevant or comprehensive as you need. The forms may also need to be adjusted for different projects, so constantly review the applicability of the forms that you use.

2. Sign and date records

Site records in particular, such as daywork sheets or labour allocation sheets, should provide an accurate indication of what work was going on, by whom and where at a specific point in time. To ensure that this is the case, the records should be signed and dated by the author on the date of production. This ideally should be the at the end of the day the work relates to, or as near to it as possible. Without this, they could be challenged by the Client or in formal proceedings as made up after the event and their validity called into question.

3. Explain the purpose of forms

People hate filling out forms. The process gets even more difficult if those filling them out do not understand why they are doing it. If the purpose and importance of a form is not clear staff are unlikely to be motivated to complete them, either accurately or at all. Explain the purpose of the form and how it gets used further down the line. Explain how allocation sheets can be used to produce as built programmes or disruption analyses and without the accurate source data the company may have less chance of recovering money it was otherwise due.

4. Teach staff how to fill out forms

Once your staff know the importance of a form and how it is used, it is vital that the form is completed correctly. For example, if the location of the work carried out needs to be recorded, staff should use a consistent set of location descriptions. Terms like “entrance hall” or “staircase” may mean something to the person filling it out but to those using the form it could refer to various entrance halls or staircases. Try and standardise responses as much as possible without compromising the quality of information recorded.

5. Ensure management responsibility for record keeping

A senior manager should be responsible for ensuring the accurate and systematic collection of data. Too often systems are put in place but no checks are made to review and scrutinise the data at regular intervals. On too many occasions Hawk has reviewed records only to find them incomplete, inaccurate and poorly filled out. Unless senior management take full responsibility for reviewing and checking the data the record keeping process will not be given the importance it deserves.

6. Review records weekly

Tied in with the above, it is recommended that relevant records are reviewed and audited each week, or, as a minimum, at the monthly internal project review meeting. It is best to identify issues and missing records as soon as possible so that deficiencies can be rectified whilst those on site with the detailed project are still around. Don’t get to the end of a project to find the information is not what you expected.

7. Update forms regularly

As part of the review of data, check that the forms are actually recording the data that you require. If they are not, don’t just leave it, amend the form to suit your requirements. There is little point filling out information that is irrelevant or unusable when an amendment to a form could make considerable improvements. Be proactive and don’t think that because you are implementing a record keeping system it is perfect. That is very unlikely to be the case – just ask those on site filling out the forms for their opinion, you’ll soon find out what is wrong.

8. Consider all the types of records

Project records come in all varieties these days it’s difficult to track them all. From the usual allocation sheets, through quality records, health and safety records, minutes of meetings, correspondence of all types as well as photos and video…the list goes on. Because there are so many different records utilising different formats it’s important that there are clear responsibilities for keeping records and managing them in a consistent and methodical manner. Be proactive and ensure senior management get involved rather than just assuming it can be left at site level.

9. Data management systems

Given the volume of data, most projects will implement some form of data management system. These can be an asset to help conveniently store and access project information. However consider functionality and ease of use. Hawk has been involved with some major projects where the document management system required extensive in-depth training which did not assist in useability. If the system is too complicated it may get used incorrectly or discourage those from using it at all.

10. Consider Subcontractor’s records

If you are a main contractor you should carefully consider subcontractor records and how they are integrated into your systems. Think about what records you require subcontractors to produce and how you will use them. If subcontractors are producing allocation sheets establish whether the information they contain aligns with your systems. If you need these for example, for producing an as built programme, you want to ensure your subby is aware of how you want the data collected and that it includes information consistent with your own (remember the “entrance hall” and “staircase” examples above?). You will also need to ensure subcontractors are also methodical and systematic in producing and submitting records. If you have to rely on subcontractors’ information, then you must ensure that you are given what you require.

There is so much that can be said about record keeping. It is a vital part of the management of the project yet in spite of its central importance it is usually not given the attention it deserves, even on major projects. Ultimately, the records you keep are the foundation of all commercial management processes, from valuations to cost value reconciliation, to claims. Without quality records your submissions are going to be easily and validly criticised which will ultimately affect your bottom line.

If you have any questions or queries relating to record keeping under any forms of contract, please do not hesitate to contact us.