Sunday, July 8, 2012

Quality Assurance - How accurate is your documentation?

Robust supervision and training of staff will help them to understand the significance of accurate documentation. Organisations should not lose sight of this, particularly in the current economic climate.

In a recent article I discussed the importance of drawings and the consequences that are likely to occur in a construction project if they contain inaccuracies or omissions.  Drawings are one of the main components of tender documents, however, as important as they are, they are only a single component of the documentation. 

Drawings must reflect precisely the detail contained in the specification, and vice versa.  Any conflict between the two will lead to confusion from Contractors during the tender period, (assuming that the Contractors have read the documentation fully, which does not always happen!), and possibly disputes on site when the selected Contractor realises any inconsistency.  This can then lead to an embarrassing explanation to the Client, particularly if the Contractor tries to claim that his tender price did not include for the inconsistency and ultimately results in a dispute for which the Consultant is likely to be held accountable.

Consequently, the process of preparing tender documentation and in fact any documentation that is to leave the office, should be undertaken with care and attention, with organisations having robust quality assurance processes to ensure that the documentation is checked at various stages. Junior and new members of staff need to be trained and supervised throughout the whole process so that they understand the significance of preparing tender documentation and that each component cannot and should not be prepared in isolation.  Experienced and senior members of staff should not be excluded from the quality assurance process as they too are likely to make errors or omissions.  The point is that through the supervision and quality assurance processes, any errors or omissions are identified before the documentation leaves the office.

In today's challenging environment where profit margins are tight and staffing levels have been squeezed, it would be very easy to allow documentation to be issued as a result of sometimes poor or non existing supervision and quality assurance procedures. One of my former organisation's quality assurance procedures was that no documentation could leave the office until it has been signed off by a senior manager. I can remember many days when members of staff would pile drawings, specifications and all sorts of other documentation onto my desk for checking.  Now considering I still had my own workload, reading through and checking all of this documentation was challenging, however because I was signing the information off I had to take the time too look at it properly, which often meant working long hours, or taking work home. I am sure many reading this article will understand, having been in similar situations themselves. Although it was sometimes tempting to skim read documentation and drawings I was always aware of the implications, to my organisation and personally, if inaccurate documentation was issued.   Inevitably, errors in signed off documentation would sometimes be identified, however by adopting robust procedures we kept this to a minimum, and after all we are only human and we will sometimes miss something.

Those who prepare the documentation often do not appreciate the time that is necessary to read through and check what they have produced.  In some circumstances members of staff would bring documentation to me for checking and expect me to look at it, there and then and sign it off immediately, because of an imminent deadline (often down to their own poor time management!).  This is where mistakes can be made, and any organisation that works in this way or allows this to happen, even in isolated cases, are likely to keep their solicitors very busy! Organisations must have clear policies in place so that everyone understands and complies with quality assurance procedures and also has respect for the time of those who will be checking it.

As stated previously robust supervision and training of staff will help everyone (not just technical members of staff), to understand the significance of accurate documentation. Organisations should not lose sight of this, particularly in the current economic climate.  Client's are much more likely to cultivate relationships with those who they feel confident will deliver a project effectively and in a professionally manner.  Allowing inaccurate documentation to leave your office is not professional and gives a very negative impression.  There is a lot of competition out there and it will not take long to sour a relationship,  'youre only as good as your last project', comes to mind, so ignore this at your peril.

Above, I have used the example of tender documentation, as from experience I know the problems that can result from in inconsistencies in documentation. Tender documentation is a topic I will cover in more detail in a future article.

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