Why Bang On About Document Control?

Document control – not exactly dinner party conversation

To a lot of people document control is probably one of the most boring topics under the sun.  Making sure the right document gets to the right person! Riveting stuff.  Or put another way. ‘How to clear a room in two easy steps.  One, walk into room.  Two, start talking about document control.’   And to be honest I’m not “passionate” (yes I know that word again – drives me nuts too) about it per se.  But it does support something that matters a great deal to me and that is human interaction – yes relationships.

A Brief History

About 9 months ago I almost quit the industry for good.  Yep I did.  An industry I’d been part of for over 30 years.  And you know why?  I was treated shabbily.  I had been working with a builder for 7 years and was made redundant.  Pretty typical I hear you say.  Yes I agree.  I became collateral damage in an industry that has turned into something that resembles a ‘War Zone’.  An industry strewn with the bodies of people, both builders and subcontractors, who have gone to the wall, lost houses, families and sometimes their own lives.

But I didn’t quit. I still wanted to work in the industry and somehow make a difference for the better. Why?  Because of people like Jeff and Matty.

Jeff and Matty

I got a call recently from one of my subbies, “Jeff” whose house was all but destroyed by the floods earlier in the year.  He wanted to thank me for putting him in contact with ‘Matty” another subbie I know who supplies and installs carpet. Jeff was not fully insured so had to pay for a lot of the rebuild himself.  And this not long after he had a builder go broke on him owing him nearly $300,000.    I asked him why he wanted to thank me and he said because Matty had replaced all the carpet in his house for nothing.  Matty had not even known Jeff before that but he was someone in trouble and he wanted to help.

And this is only one story, out of many.  In my own experience I hear them time and time again.  The quality of these people is humbling to say the least and the industry is full of people like Jeff and Matty.  And people like them are worth the effort.  The effort to find a way better way to do things and help build a more just industry. One where people and relationships are valued more highly than money.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m no communist. I know we are in business to make money – it allows us to live and take part in the community.  But not at the expense of others.  That’s where the crime exists.

Common Understanding

Communication remains the Number One element in building and maintaining good relationships – personal or business.  The critical factor in measuring the effectiveness of communication is common understanding. Understanding exists when all parties involved have a mutual agreement as to not only the information, but also the meaning of the information. Effective communication, therefore, occurs when the intended message of the sender and the interpreted message of the receiver are one and the same.

Making sure the right information gets to the right people, at the right time, is the goal of project communication. To be able to do this with the least amount of human error, you must have one central repository for all project documentation that all key participants have controlled access to. Developers, consultants, builders, subcontractors and suppliers.  This is a key element in gaining that common understanding.  Another is to have a mechanism whereby people can ask questions if some areas aren’t crystal clear.

Your Document Control System

So to be an effective communication tool, a good document control system has to contain the above mentioned elements and more.   A central repository, a Q&A mechanism, permission-based user access, automatic addendum generation and logged activities .  It also has to have some flexibility built into it because we are dealing with our fellow man.  And as we know human beings, (ourselves included), make mistakes and miss deadlines. Flexibility like, enabling the system so a subcontractor can submit a price even though the deadline has passed.  It’s called ‘give and take’ and does not detract from the integrity of the system because it is all tracked and transparent.

The Long and Short of It

So that’s why I continue to be a part of the industry and bang on about better document control systems. Because they are simply a better way of communicating and form a platform upon which solid relationships can be built. I co-designed and developed etender.net.au with the above principles in mind. What has come out of that creative process is a transparent communication system that is technically robust and people friendly.  And as Kent Jenner from KJ Constructions says “Carmel, I don’t need to trust anyone as long as there is a transparency in documentation”.