Standardizing Document Control

John F. Gravel

According to research from PlanGrid and FMI, 35% of construction professionals’ time is spent (over 14 hours per week) on non-productive activities, including looking for project information, conflict resolution, and dealing with mistakes and rework.

Heading into 2020, having access to the latest documents, the ability to make changes, and automize updates, regardless of where we are, seems like a small ask. And yet, we struggle to get there. The mismanagement of documents not only wastes valuable time, but poor document management also causes rework, the use of outdated drawings, and may put a project at risk of litigation if the right documentation is not memorialized properly.

Prevent your document management system from becoming a “junk drawer” by implementing and managing document control standards – for both the sake of effectiveness and sanity.

Evaluate Your Needs:

Is the current system meeting the needs of the project? Is the proposed system fast enough, accessible, and scalable? Is the proposed system cost-effective?  Is the system easy to use for the average team member?

Have a Centralized System:

We have all worked with people who “have it on a thumb drive” or “everything backed up to my external backup drive.” Having one centralized system that holds a singular record of truth is an excellent method to mitigate risks and control costs.

Assign the Right People:

Dedicate a team with representatives from all areas. Team members should have a thorough knowledge of document management principles, be able to answer questions, and act as a critical go-to for employees facing system issues.

Drive the Correct Mindset:

Implementing a standardized document most likely requires a culture change. Bad habits and routines are hard to break. Implementing rules alone may not be enough to change those habits. To change culture (the way we do things around here), constant, consistent, and clear communication is needed. If it is a valuable initiative today, it must remain one tomorrow, and the days after.


The document control team should establish workflows and develop standardized processes. Procedures will differ from project to project, depending on the governance guidelines, while the basics will remain consistent. The team should be delving into things like:

  • Revision control: How changes should be made
  • How to ensure the most current document is used, and historical versions saved
  • Document review and approval process
  • Who should be notified of document changes?

Manage, Manage, Manage, and Look for Continuous Improvement:

Cultural changes don’t end at system implementations, and they require a shift in mindset, where continuous improvement becomes part of the company culture. Processes should be continually monitored, adoption rates should be analyzed for their root causes, and corrective actions should be taken. We have even seen clients implement document control ratings as part of employee performance reviews.

This best practice is called Document MANAGEMENT for a reason. Setting up a system and forgetting it, like a “junk drawer”, is a recipe for disaster. We need the systems and tools in a “utility drawer,” to manage effectively.

Improvements aren’t easy, but standardizing document control is a goldmine of cost reductions and improvements. Like an organized “utility drawer” where anyone can find a flashlight when the power goes out, it’s worth the planning. When time is of the essence, organized systems have proven their value.