Message from the President: The way we have always done it

By Paul Gerber

“But that is the way we have always done it.” Nothing makes my blood boil as much as this statement. Human nature makes us resistant to change, and I am sure we can all tell horror stories of “the way we have always done it.” Last fall, I came across an example that left me banging my head on the desk. Working on a project, one of the firms was responsible for producing a document. Whenever the document was requested we were told, “Oh, it is still a work in progress.” The project manager suggested I have a look at the document from the last project to see what I could expect, with some changes.

The document from the past project arrived and I almost fell over in disbelief. It was more than 100 pages. With a quick review, I surmised it should be about 15 pages using industry best practices. Not wanting to deal with the same issues on this project, I pulled out my red pen to send some constructive feedback for improvement.

The document was scanned and sent off to the firm. A couple of days later we received their response, and I paraphrase: “We are not sure about the concerns that were identified. We have been doing it this way for the last 30 years and we have never had a problem.”

I am referring to very fundamental communication problems here. The document lacked basic understanding of what to address where, did not employ the principle of saying it once in the appropriate location and cross-reference, and things were not said in a clear and enforceable way. I will not even talk about the lack of use of MasterFormat to identify required work results.

My firm’s identification of concerns related to increasing risk and liability were simply dismissed because “it is not the way we are used to doing this.” I think this reaction occurred because they did not understand the underlying message being delivered.

How can we as an industry deal with something so fundamental to the success of our projects when we encounter this basic lack of understanding of how to produce effective documentation? Basic education, such as the Principles of Construction Documentation (PCD), is a good start. This is a great course for practitioners, whether they have three months or 30 years of experience.

I challenge you all to look at how you perform a task, and then be brave and forward-thinking enough to embrace change to help you be more effective and efficient, even if only for a small task.

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