When I was (much) younger, I recall hearing a preacher in church one Sunday say (multiple times), “The road to hell is paved with folks with good intentions.”
I had no idea what he meant, but I was pretty sure it was bad. I want to borrow his words to describe something I’ve noticed about construction projects: The road to project hell is often paved with folks with good intentions.
In other words, the seeds of many construction disputes and unprofitable projects often begin with good intentions by the people involved.
At the beginning of the project, everyone has good intentions. I have never represented a client who started a project hoping there would be conflict.
I think most people want to trust the people they do business with (why would you do business with them if you didn’t trust them, right?). As a result, as a project moves along, participants discuss scope change, payment, pricing, and ordering materials, among other things.
Instructions are given and agreements are made. However, sometimes the parties do not diligently document the discussion and agreement.
This results in disagreements about what was discussed and agreed to once someone gets around to preparing a document, or worse, it leads to a surprise (some would call it ambush) claim at the end of the project.
Next comes payments being withheld, liens being filed, litigation or arbitration, people having to talk to their lawyer way more than they want to, and you find yourself in project hell.
You’ve probably heard the old saying, “trust but verify.” When it comes to a construction project, however, you should adopt the approach of:
Trust but Document.
Any time there is a discussion about any type of change or any kind of agreement is made, the main points should be documented immediately. Technology makes this more achievable than ever before.
Use Smartphones and Tablets
When a discussion takes place onsite, it can be documented quickly and easily with a smartphone or tablet.
- Smartphones. Put the terms of a discussion and agreement in an email, which can be copied to all parties participating in the discussion so that they have a chance to speak up immediately if they disagree with any information in the email. If you don’t have time to type out an email (which should be rare), then use your smartphone to make a quick video or audio recording to record everyone agreeing on what was discussed and what actions will be taken. It would be very difficult for someone to later deny they agreed to something if you have them on video agreeing with the terms.
- Tablets. Not only can you use a tablet to prepare a note or email, but certain tablets allow you to write with a stylus. This allows parties to quickly put the terms of their discussion or agreement in a document (even a prepared form stored on the tablet or in the cloud), and then sign it using it the stylus.
Once you have documented the main points of a discussion, the information can later be included in a change order proposal or change order. The suggestions above are not the only ways to use technology, but the point is that you should make technology work for you and decrease the number of potential disputes. TRUST BUT DOCUMENT. Because remember, the road to project hell is often paved with folks with good intentions.