Project manager’s toolbox – startup


By Richard Law
The single most important thing to help ensure the successful execution of a new project is the organization of the information and records systems for the project. These systems provide all of the information that will be required by the project team to effectively do their jobs and these systems provide the framework for the actions that will govern the profitabilty of the project. They can be executed in a traditional format, predominantly utilizing paper documents (including hard copies of electronic documents like emails) and stored in file cabinets and plan racks or layout tables; or, they can be correlated using a computerized data management application. The basic organization and necessary information are similar in either instance.

Contract Documents

The first class of information that the project team will need is a complete collection of all of the contract documents, including one reference set of the contract drawings and specifications. This set of contract data should include copies of any agency/owner technical guidelines incorporated into the contract, any scope of work or schedule qualifications accepted by the owner/architect, and any negotiated agreements not reflected in the contract itself. It is only by knowing what is, and what is not, included in the contract that the project team can intelligently and efficiently determines what materials and methods to deliver, and how to deliver them.

Two additional sets of contract drawings and specifications also need to be provided at the very beginning; both will be for posting request for information answers, architect supplemental instructions, change directives, approved change requests, change orders, and all other official modifications to the work. One of these will be the ongoing record of all such modifications, and the other will be used as the record set, also known as the “red lined” set.

Another immediate need from the very start is a complete project team directory in a maintainable format. Project specific letterheads and logos (as necessary) also need to be created and made readily available for immediate use.

Project Filing System

The general organization of the project filing system needs to also be established at the very start of the project, before information has a chance to get randomly filed. This system doesn’t necessarily need to conform to any particular pattern, but it must be simple, consistent, and easily mastered by all team members.

Records pertaining to each sub-contract or purchase order should be archived in a more structured fashion. The easiest way to do this is to use a four-clasp folder for each sub-contractor or supplier in order to group all applicable documents into four distinct catagories in one concise location. The four clasp folders should each, respectively, contain everything pertinent to the history and final form of the contract or purchase order, the complete record of the actual administration of the agreement, all of the field and operations records for the contract or purchase order, and copies of all correspondence regarding the agreement. The use of this type of folder system will put all of the financial, operations, and miscellaneous data for each sub-contract or purchase order in one easily referenced volume.


One of the most important aspects of starting up a project is composing the submittal registry, a compilation of all of the items that will need to be submitted throughout the life of the project. While it is commonly assumed that submittals are product data, product data is, in reality, a fraction of the necessary submittals for a project.

Submittals can include samples, tradesman, supplier, and contractor qualifications and licenses, permit issuances and closures, construction schedules, coordination and erection/installation drawings, test reports, progress photos, owner training (materials and schedules), spare parts and attic stock, operation and maintenance manuals, guarantees/warrantees, and a myriad of other items. The list is extensive and can be daunting to keep track of, without submittal registry is that system, and the common tendency to “triage” the Contract Documents in order to “get by” with the minimum number of Submittals should be avoided. The best approach is really to submit every single item that the Contract Documents even remotely suggest as being desired. Each submittal Item should be uniquely referenced based upon the CSI Section and Sub-Section in which it is noted so that all items can be accounted for.

There is a common tendency to try to “triage” the contract documents in order to “get by” on the absolute minimum number of submittals. The reality is that the best approach is the exact opposite; submit every single item that the contract documents even remotely suggest as being desired. Every submittal provided to the owner/architect removes a potential conflict from the board and further stabilizes the project finances.

It’s easy to see why everything involved in setting up a project in traditional fashion is a laborious, boring, and frustrating task. The effort can be accomplished a lot quicker and slicker using a computerized data management application, where documents can be linked with a couple of mouse clicks, instead of by making multiple copies and drudgingly filing them in several places. The project directory and the submittal registry can be created and maintained far more quickly and comprehensively by using such an application in lieu of multiple spreadsheets. Many other advantages also exist. However, none of them are a shortcut around a meticulous and well thought-out project setup.

Richard Law is principal of Jadesdad, a construction management consulting firm headquartered in Charlotte, NC. He can be reached at or 704-364-1926 or at the website