Documentation of the design and construction process is something that is not terribly hard to do but it seems to be equally as easy not to do. In the rush of business, so many things seem self-evident at the time and their documentation seems almost superfluous. But, memories fade, staffs change, and information becomes unavailable. An old Chinese proverb states, “The faintest of ink is more powerful than the strongest memory”. Printing and posting the proverb near the telephone can be a helpful reminder to document telephone calls. Most Consultants will agree that no matter how good their documentation was, when the claim came, they wished that they had more documentation and that it was better! Additional incentive to document comes from trial attorneys who say that in professional liability cases, the litigant with the best documentation usually wins. The following sections address documentation of various parts of the design process:
Telephone Calls – Telephone call documentation begins with good note taking during the conversation. Many firms have a preprinted form for documenting telephone conversations – keep a supply of the forms close by. The person initiating the call should complete all the applicable information (date, time, person, subject, etc.) before starting the call. If the other party calls, just note the caller’s name and time and fill in the rest later. Take notes while talking, using a shorthand technique that can be filled in after the call. Use the initial of the caller followed by a brief statement of what was said in each statement. Use of a telephone headset can be helpful.
Direction received by telephone from a Client can be conveniently documented by sending it in an email to the design team members with a copy to the Client, requesting verification of the direction received. Seeing the written summary of what the Consultant understood the direction to be will alert the Client to any possible misunderstanding. If the direction requires a contract amendment, the Consultant should include that the amendment is being prepared.
The method of archiving telephone conversation documentation will vary from one firm to another, depending on the firm’s protocol for document control. However, it is not likely that keeping the documentation in more than one place or format will be criticized, especially if there is a claim or controversy. Retaining handwritten notes taken during the conversation can add credence to the formal documentation.