Improving documentation in the construction industry is crucial for improving compliance and quality. Digital technologies are one of the tools that have been identified as an asset in addressing the underlying causes and delivering benefits for program, budgets and industry innovation.
Back in 2000, CSIRO undertook research to understand the main issues in terms of poor construction documentation. A survey of both design practitioners and construction sector firms found that insufficient time and budget for the design process played a major role. As a result, builders and trade subcontractors were experiencing major cost and time overruns due to variations, rework, contractual disputes and administrative tasks associated with large numbers of RFIs and extension of time requests.
Contractors reported that these issues had a direct impact on the ability to achieve quality construction outcomes. In addition, they resulted in process inefficiencies, with up to 72 percent of project administrative time allowances and 64 percent of administrative cost allowances dedicated to managing these avoidable issues.
“Of major concern, are the additional costs – that to a large degree end up being absorbed by contractors – which are caused by the delays and disruption in trying to clarify inadequate, impractical, conflicting or ambiguous design and specification documentation,” the CSIRO report noted.
The Suggested Fixes
There were two technological options identified by respondents to help reduce problems associated with documentation:
- The use of CAD (computer-aided design software) for producing project drawings.
- The use of information technology for project communications and transfer of documentation.
The Danger of Assumptions
University of Adelaide research in 2012 found that many builders had to submit tender prices and formulate initial procurement plans based on assumptions due to inadequate design documentation.
The researchers found this often resulted in a greater number of variations during both the detailed design and regulatory approval process and also the construction program. This adds costs and time to the program which may not have been accurately estimated during tendering. Where builders are tendering based on incomplete or inadequate design documentation from the architectural team it also means there will be wide variations in the tenders, depending on the builder’s assumptions. This does not always result in the most suitable builder winning the job.
During the build, documentation deficiencies can also result in major differences between the approved design and the final as-built result, creating additional pressures on builders and on the building certifiers. Suppliers and trades also reported that documentation can be a poor match for shop drawings, complicating the process of fabricating key building materials and systems such as structural steel, ductwork or precast concrete.
In addition to the need for design teams to improve the standard of documentation they produce, the research suggested measures builders can implement to lessen the impact of poor documentation.
- Establishing processes for cross-checking documentation against the applicable standards and project requirements.
- Establishing rigorous Quality Assurance processes.
- Using technology effectively to support QA processes.
- The ability to make rapid decisions onsite and communicate them effectively between the design team, contractor and relevant trades.
Restoring Confidence in Documentation
The Shergold + Weir Building Confidence Report made a number of recommendations around improving both design documentation and as-built documentation. These are particularly important for projects using a Performance Solution, where there is a need to provide evidence-based documentation to building certifiers and building surveyors.
Where there have been project variations, surveyors need to receive documentation promptly that demonstrates the variation will achieve required performance and compliance. The documentation lodged with regulatory authorities also needs to reflect the as-built project, not the original design proposal.
“Implementation of this recommendation will be challenging. It requires designers, building surveyors and builders to work to properly documented design and construction specifications,” the report stated.
The Australian Building Codes Board is addressing this and other documentation-related recommendations with proposals it has outlined in a discussion paper. It is seeking industry feedback on the issues and solutions, which have drawn on international best practice such as the process for documentation and approval used in Singapore.
A common theme in the ABCB measures is the need to ensure project documentation is coordinated, effectively managed and comprehensive. This includes the inter-linked information and data associated with a Performance-Based Design Brief, a Project Product register, Variations, any required third-party certifications, inspection records, modelling and the final inspection reports.
Consultation on the discussion paper closes on 7 February 2012 – read the report and have your say here.