Managing the Paper Trail (Or “The Job isn’t Finished ‘till the Paper Work is Done”)
Tim Bigoness (Originally published in rAVe Pro Newsletter, 12/14/2005)

We’ve all been there at one time or another. You’re at a critical point of the project and faced with a particularly nasty issue that hinders your progress and stops you cold as you frantically search for any documentation that will help solve or work around the issue. It could be something encountered on a previous installation or a setup trick for a certain piece of equipment, or a wiring issue at the jobsite that should have been addressed while the walls were still open – but the bottom line is, not installing this project with adequate documentation is costing you time and money.

How can we as professionals ensure that we have the answers we need when we need them? First off we must take a more structured approach to project management. Many people I’ve talked with over the years have described their basic management system: a bunch of file folders plastered with sticky notes, copied and distributed to everyone working on the project. This system quickly breaks down once the folders get to the field, as any changes to the project (made by anyone) immediately render the files out of date. This obviously makes it difficult to keep everyone on the same page and creates confusion when communicating project issues with other departments, trades, sub-contractors, suppliers, and oh yes – the client.

As our projects become more and more complex, so does the amount of information we need to track, manage, and ultimately deliver to all internal and external constituents. Technology can help organize and structure the vast amount of design, specification, product information, installation instructions, pricing information, job costing, and contracts which now make up the majority of system integration projects.

Many of us look at paperwork as something to be feared or dread, much like that term paper we never quite got around to finishing or our annual exercise with the IRS. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Accurately tracking project information and documenting the process actually helps make it easier to do the job better, faster, and at a lower cost – ultimately making us more profitable.

So to that end I’ve put together the Top 5 reasons to have better documentation:

5. Makes a better impression on clients – A well organized, detailed, nicely designed proposal will instill confidence in the client that you can complete the project on time and within budget – and help you win more often.
4. Knowledge = Power – Documenting the process makes it easier to learn from past mistakes, and gives your team members a heads up on what to avoid for future projects.
3. Improved communication (internal and external) = Competitive edge over less organized players – see #5 above.
2. Streamline processes = reduced time and costs, enabling you to make more money per project and complete more of them.

And the number 1 reason for better documentation is: Happy customers = lifetime customers = a more profitable business.

Aside from the basic tools such as Microsoft Excel and Word, which many people use to track projects (as they are readily available on your computer with no other investment required), D-Tools System Integrator can help you better track your projects and accomplish the lofty goals listed above.

D-Tools System Integrator helps you streamline your entire process from design to engineering to management to reporting. Project files are shared amongst team members so one comprehensive project file is shared by all. Project designs and engineering drawings are created via Visio or AutoCAD or both directly within the software. Equipment lists and drawings are dynamically linked, ensuring accurate proposals, contracts, and management reports. All project data is driven via D-Tools extensive manufacturer database, which tracks up to 40 fields of product attributes such as dimension, SKU, pricing information, labor hours to install, etc. Available modules allow for integration with QuickBooks, Peachtree, and other accounting software.

Summary: Better documentation can help you Improve your entire business process – which can have a dramatically positive impact on your bottom line. Products such as D-Tools System Integrator can help you save time, costs, and fuel future revenue growth. Regardless of the size of the project or company, improving your documentation can not only help you get the job, but help you get the job done faster, more efficiently, and better prepare you for the next project.

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