Use Simple Forms to Increase Information
By Paul Stout
Documentation is one of the most important tasks of project management. However, getting adequate, timely information from all of your field personnel can be difficult.
Whether you're using a simple paper system or a sophisticated electronic solution, try these practical tips to get more high-quality information from your employees.
Tip #1 - Simplify
Simplify paper reporting forms and data entry screens. Make them free of unnecessary instructions and information. Clutter is a fast track to disaster. Look at it from the worker's perspective. Most have a built-in resistance to paper work, launching mental and psychological defenses at the very thought of it. The first glance must be inviting and simple.
Example: Make instructions on the form simple. For those contractors using paper forms, consider creating a detailed, "filled out" sample version with more instructions. Laminate and distribute to each of your field personnel. For contractors using software, many have features to create descriptive notes that appear as the cursor hovers over data entry fields.
Tip #2 - Consolidate
Consider consolidating several forms into one or try using both sides of the page. How about a larger paper format like 8-1/2 x 14 or even 11 x 17 folded? (Copying is still easy because the folded size is still 8-1/2 x 11.)
Example: I once consolidated the daily report, a trench safety form and a traffic control checklist ? a total of three 8-1/2 x 11 forms ? into one 8-1/2 x 14 form without sacrificing simplicity or adding clutter. Then I added an extra work form and a daily schedule into the same form by using the opposite side. With this change, my personnel handle just one sheet of dreaded paper instead of five, and my office staff is delighted as well.
Tip #3 - Employee-friendly Forms
Your employees should never equate paperwork with writing workers' names and classifications, or all the equipment and routinely delivered supplies and materials. Once they've completed that portion of the report, they're finished. We then want them to focus on the more important project-specific, issue-related documentation.
Check daily forms for slots to record delays, disruptions and inefficiencies. Consider using tables on which to record information, with less "text" areas. Add columns to simplify and clarify options, where each column in a table is an option. Include repetitive product information on report forms. In the end, what you'll have is a partially filled-out report so your field personnel aren't discouraged. Make liberal use of check boxes for paper forms and pull down menus for electronic solutions. It makes it easy for workers to simply choose from a list of "approved" options.
Tip #4 - Train Every Day
On a daily basis, train your personnel to recognize issues and to report relevant information in the proper places as it happens. Don't hesitate to walk through an entire issue with them demonstrating how incomplete or unclear information loses credibility under the scrutiny of the change order or claims process.
The most important thing? Never give up!
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