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Mastering Construction Document Management: A Step-by-Step Guide (2024)

June 27, 2024


Construction is a complex industry with a lot of moving parts in each project. Document management plays an important role in construction jobs. However, it is often overlooked. The below guide will help you understand what document management in construction is, its benefits and challenges, and strategies for success.



What is construction document management?


Document management for construction is used in projects to organize, store, and share any documents related to a specific project. 


These documents can include: 

  • Blueprints and drawings
  • Permits
  • Approvals, contracts, and agreements
  • Specifications (for materials, building methods, etc.)
  • Change orders


Acting as a single place for all project-related information, a document management system can help you keep accurate records, cut costs, and improve communication across construction teams. 



Document management responsibility and support  


Managing documents throughout a construction project shouldn’t fall on one person alone. Rather, this effort should be collaborative and include team members from various roles. Here’s a breakdown of those roles and related responsibilities:


  • Construction managers: As overseers of the entire project, construction managers are responsible for ensuring all documents are organized, up-to-date, and accessible. They also coordinate with other team members to manage documents.
  • Project engineers: Project engineers are responsible for reviewing and distributing documents, tracking changes, and maintaining accurate records. They play a vital role in document control, collaborating with architects, contractors, and other stakeholders. 
  • Document controllers: These professionals handle version control, document distribution, and archiving. They specialize in managing project documentation, focused on maintaining consistency and accuracy.
  • Architects and designers: They create and update design documents, including blueprints, drawings, and specifications. Architects ensure that design changes are properly documented.
  • Contract administrators: Contract administrators manage contracts, change orders, and other legal documents. They are also responsible for tracking contract milestones, payments, and compliance.
  • Subcontractors and suppliers: These team members submit shop drawings, material data, and other relevant information. This is critical since sending these items on time is what keeps the project moving.
  • Technology Solutions: Construction document software and tools (such as a document management system) support you in organizing documents by automating workflows, tracking revisions, and strengthening collaboration.



Benefits of document management for construction 


Effective document management has big benefits for construction companies and their projects. Think about it — even the most talented construction crews wouldn’t be able to start work or deliver the right outputs without essential project details to guide them.


Using software to help manage projects can improve collaboration and team communication, control costs, reduce errors, maintain compliance, and more.



Improved communication


Project details change on a day-to-day basis. Good document management ensures that changes and updates are reflected across designs, purchase orders, schedules, and other critical documents that teams rely on. Using a document management system to keep teams updated improves productivity, eliminates silos, and ensures everyone is on track during all phases of a project.



Fewer cost overruns


Crews can better control expenses for a project when budgets, contracts, and change orders are tracked. While it’s common for projects to go over budget, that risk is minimized for crews using document management systems. Everything from planning to implementing adaptive processes can prevent delays and added costs.  



A single source of information and truth


With a construction document management process in place, key team members have access to the same information. This increases accuracy and helps cut down on errors while ensuring next steps are clear across all stakeholders. A centralized document repository maintains consistency in a project, streamlining decision making across blueprints, permits, contracts, and more. 



Easier audits and inspections 


Well-organized documents make the audit and inspection process easier. Any construction job requires safety and environmental inspections. Audits play a key role in mitigating risk and making sure larger construction projects are compliant. Compliance is more manageable because crews can easily prove they are following all required regulations and standards. Plus, auditors always appreciate when companies provide clear, transparent records.  



Reduce the possibility of mistakes 


On any project, minimizing errors is always the goal. Mistakes happen, but when they occur on a building project, for example, these errors can be costly. When everyone on your construction project follows a standard process for things like tracking changes, managing approvals, and handling invoices — errors are less likely to happen. 



Mitigate safety risks 


Safety for construction crews is a big deal. Emergency procedures, safety plans, workplace hazards, accident reports, and other health and safety-related documents need to be part of project documentation. And everyone involved in the project must have access to these documents. Accidents can happen when information is outdated, so ensuring everyone has access to the latest safety documents reduces risk. 



Provide more accessibility to crews 


When crew members can easily access documents during a construction project, everyone wins. Whether in an office, working remotely, or in the field — being able to pull up the latest version of a document helps keep projects moving forward on time, as planned. 



Related read: Schuster Concrete Companies redesigns and innovates business processes to drive growth



Common challenges in construction document management


Managing a high volume of documents, multiple vendors, and changing regulations during a construction project comes with plenty of challenges. Here are a few of the most common:



  • Poor version control: When multiple people are contributing to different documents, it’s easy to lose track of changes without a proper document management system. 
  • File disorganization: Documents are created daily during projects and if they are disorganized it can lead to inefficiencies, delays, and difficulty locating documents when they are needed. 
  • Document sharing: Collaborators on your construction project need to be able to share documents easily. Even more important than the ability to collaborate on files is keeping them secure. 
  • Field access: For projects to succeed, crews must receive accurate information in a timely manner. Maintaining security is a challenge when documents are not managed in a way that makes them easy to access from anywhere.
  • Security and confidentiality: Sensitive documents are part of every construction project. Managing the safety of this information is critical to comply with data protection and privacy regulations. 



What types of documents need to be managed in each construction phase?


There are three key phases to a construction project. Each phase has specific project collaborators and types of documents that need to be managed to complete a job.



Pre-construction phase


The list below outlines what documents and stakeholders are involved in the pre-construction phase of a project:


  • Project proposals and feasibility studies: These are overviews of how feasible a project is, including cost estimates and potential risks. Project managers, architects, and engineers all collaborate on these documents. 
  • Design and planning documents: From architectural drawings to material specifications — designers, architects, and engineers must work together to effectively manage these documents.
  • Building permits and environmental approvals: These are required to begin any construction work, so project managers and legal experts must have these finalized and approved before going into the second phase of construction. 



Construction phase


The list below outlines what documents and stakeholders are involved in the construction phase of a project:


  • Construction plan: This outlines the scope of work, budget, schedule, and a breakdown of different workflows. Project managers and contractors collaborate to build out the plan and communicate during the project to make sure it is followed.
  • Change orders and modifications: Updates and changes to an original contract are done through change orders. Since these are considered additions to the plan, project managers and contractors also collaborate on these documents. 
  • Project agreements: This includes contracts, purchase orders, and other legal agreements. Project managers and legal teams are responsible for working together to get these documents.
  • Safety reports: A critical part of documentation for construction projects, safety officers and on-site workers must record and report on safety measures, incidents, and compliance. 



Post-construction phase 


The list below outlines what documents and stakeholders are involved in the pre-construction phase of a project:


  • As-built drawings: Once construction is complete architects and engineers provide these drawings to show the final construction including any changes made in the construction phase. 
  • Systems and maintenance guides: Facility managers and maintenance staff develop checklists for the various tasks, inspections, and maintenance a building needs to keep it in top condition. 
  • Certificates of occupancy: When a construction project is completed, project managers and local authorities work together to issue these certificates, confirming the building is safe for people to be in and meets all code and usage requirements.



Strategies for effective construction document management


Effective construction document management is key for streamlined workflows, cost savings, and successful project outcomes. With 72% of construction firms worldwide facing project delays, and U.S. contractors dealing with an average backlog of nine months, it’s important to use strategies that can help overcome these challenges.


  • Your construction teams should use templated file structures to organize all project files and maintain consistency across projects. 
  • Automating document management also enhances efficiency and accuracy during contract phases, invoicing and payments, collection and renewal of certificates of insurance, and more. 
  • Creating templates for different types of documents helps keep your project consistent and can guide future document creation. 
  • Using tools like cloud storage and construction management software allows remote access and helps keep documents secure.
  • Centralizing construction data and clearly assigning roles and responsibilities to work crews and project teams makes it easier to access information, ensures consistency, and enhances collaboration.



Selecting the right construction document management system


When selecting a system to manage your construction documents there are few considerations to keep in mind.



Questions to ask when assessing the right tool:


  • Does the tool align with my company's needs? 
  • Is it user friendly? 
  • Is it effective in supporting hybrid work environments?
  • Can it integrate seamlessly with existing tools we already have in place? 
  • Can it replace old/disparate tools that aren’t working? 
  • Does it have security baked in? 


Follow these steps to help choose the best solution:


  • Security: Solutions with strong encryption and access control features offer better document protection.
  • Comprehensive training support: A complete training program is key for all involved in a project to be able to effectively use the system.
  • Cloud infrastructure: Cloud systems offer scalability, accessibility, and data redundancy, so consider solutions that run on a cloud-based infrastructure. 
  • Project complexity: Systems should align with the level of complexity in your construction projects, accounting for scale and project specifics.
  • Editing features: Collaboration on plans, contracts, blueprints, and other project files is essential. Multi-document editing capabilities should also be a top consideration. 



Related read: Eggemeyer Associates Architects modernizes file sharing with a robust solution



Future trends and technologies in construction document management


There’s a lot on the horizon for construction document management systems. 


Cloud-based tools cut costs and make maintenance easier by providing a central place that can be accessed from anywhere. This allows for easy document sharing, smooth collaboration, and real-time updates.


AI-powered document management greatly improves accuracy and efficiency through automated classification, indexing, and smart search features. Blockchain technology can help ensure that records are secure and cannot be tampered with, boosting authenticity, traceability, and transparency. Analyzing how documents are used along with their metadata can inform how to best optimize processes in the future. 


Mobile apps will also allow users to access, edit, and collaborate on documents from smartphones and tablets. Security will be important here to keep information safe, but you can expect document management on mobile devices to further support streamlined integrations with existing tools and platforms. 



Using construction document software for success


Getting document management right greatly benefits your construction business. With numerous trends and new technologies available, now is the time to implement a software system that can streamline your document processes, making them more efficient and secure. This is also an excellent opportunity to future-proof your document handling and management strategies. Use the provided information and steps to guide you in finding the right software so you can truly work smarter instead of harder.