In 1988 I went to work for a large commercial-residential
electrical contractor. One of the first projects I worked on
was a program to document what was happening on site. Under
this system, every site employee, from superintendent to
apprentice, was required to fill out a daily job journal. The
journal sheets were in a paper tablet containing multiple
preprinted NCR (no carbon paper required) forms. At the end of
the week, the employee pulled out the originals and turned them
in with his time sheet. The copies stayed in the tablet so the
employee had records to refer to for the rest of the
The author's employees use a daily
job-journal sheet to document who was on site, what work was
done, and if anything happened that might become an issue with
the customer or subs.
Write It Down
We asked employees to write down what they worked on, which
other employees were on site, when people arrived, and any
problems they encountered. Such information can be valuable if
a company ever gets sued, if a customer refuses to pay, or if
an employee claims to have worked more hours than he really
We also asked employees to record what the weather was like and
if any of the subs had been late or had not shown up. Most of
our work was commercial, so the contracts contained a
liquidated damages clause that allowed customers to reduce our
"pay" for every day that the job ran late. With good records,
we could prove the delay was not our fault and make the
responsible party pay.
Record cost data. Sometimes we used
the journals to collect information for the estimator. If the
estimate was tight in a certain area, we told the crew to break
that portion of the work into finer detail and record it in the
journal. This gave the estimator cost data he couldn't get from
the accounting system.
Get a signature. If the customer
wanted one of our employees to work late (overtime) or make
minor changes, we instructed the employee to write the request
in the journal, read it back to the customer, and ask him or
her to sign it so that there would be no confusion about the
agreement. You might think people would be reluctant to sign,
but they usually weren't; they were trying to push things along
and didn't want misunderstandings any more than we did.
The journal was not intended to take the place of change orders
for big-ticket items, but it worked for small items that
couldn't wait. If a dispute arose, we could point to the
journal as proof that the customer had authorized our
In the beginning, employees resisted keeping records because
they thought it would take too much time. But they soon
discovered it wasn't that much work, plus it protected them
from getting into the middle of a "he said, she said" debate
when customers verbally authorized something but refused to pay
for it later.
I later married a general contractor and joined his business.
We wanted to do a better job tracking costs, so we instituted a
job-journal system similar to the one I'd used before. The
journal pages are preprinted NCR forms with blanks to record
the date, job, and weather (see example, previous page).
There's a place for employees to take notes and a space where
we require them to sign their names.
We ask employees to keep track of who shows up when, what the
customer asks for or authorizes, and anything else that would
be relevant in the event of a dispute. Our lead carpenters
might write a page per day and spend 15 minutes doing it. A
helper would have less to record so would spend less time.
Whatever this costs in labor time is offset by the money we
save through a reduction in the number of disputes.
Legal value. Our attorney tells us
this is acceptable documentation as long as both copies of the
journal pages are turned in by the end of the job. Because
there's more than one copy and the office holds the original,
site personnel can't add information after the fact.
Fortunately, we've never had to use these records in court, but
at my last job we successfully used them to prove our case in
an audit of a municipal building project. One reason we
prevailed was that we had better records than the city did.
"Our lead carpenters might spend 15 minutes
a day on the job journal. Whatever this costs in labor
time is offset by the money we save by reducing
Typically, the information our employees record in the journals
is not earth-shattering. For instance, on one recent day the
homeowners visited a job site to approve a shipment of tile. We
wrote down that they saw the tile and agreed it was what they
wanted, and that the correct amount was there. The page with
this information went into the folder for that job. Odds are we
won't look at it again, but if there is a problem we can show
that the owners inspected the tile and okayed it.
On another occasion, we came in on Monday morning and
discovered that the owner had worked on the job over the
weekend. We had not agreed to this, so we told the owner we
would not warranty the items he had installed. We wrote this in
the journal and asked the homeowner to release us from
liability by signing. Later, when the item stopped working
because it had been incorrectly installed, the owner asked us
to fix it at no charge. We produced the job journal and showed
him that it wasn't our responsibility.
In yet another case, an owner gave our subs directions without
our approval. The subs told us about it, so we wrote it down in
the journal, took it to the homeowner, and asked her to sign.
When it came time to pay, the homeowner stated that she had not
authorized the extra work. We produced the job journal, showed
her the signature authorizing it, and got paid. Without this
documentation, our company or the subcontractor might never
have received payment, or we might have ended up in court,
where it would have been our word against the owner's.SaDora Hampsonis co-owner of Classic Construction Inc.,
a remodeling company in Everett, Wash.