Common mistakes that lead to documentation dysfunction and how to address them
- The 3 common mistakes that lead to documentation dysfunction are 1) opting for retroactive documentation instead of proactive planning; 2) neglecting to appoint a properly trained documentation expert in the field; 3) failing to correctly transcribe information.
- Take a methodical approach if you are stuck in a situation that requires tracking down missing documentation, starting with a comprehensive audit of what you do have.
- A proactive plan will set you up for success, especially if you incorporate structure and organization from the very beginning.
- In the world of pipeline operations, proactive documentation is a necessity.
Pipeline operators are required to maintain documentation for their assets, including records of design, construction, inspection, testing, and maintenance. This documentation must be traceable, verified, and complete (TVC) in order to be compliant. Documentation procedures are a major part of maintaining compliance and meeting regulatory standards. Without a complete, comprehensive procedure and the right resources invested in maintaining documentation, major headaches can result.
3 Common Mistakes That Lead to Documentation Dysfunction:
1. Opting for Retroactive Documentation Instead of Proactive Planning
The most common mistake regarding documentation is also the most impactful—postponing instead of planning. The allure of postponing documentation until later often stems from the assumption that manufacturers or suppliers will maintain comprehensive records. Unfortunately, assumptions often aren’t reality, as many manufacturers may not maintain the right records or for the time period that you need. Relying on external parties can lead to a wild goose chase for critical data when you need it most.
Moreover, having to correct mistakes after the fact that were made early on can cause significant delays, especially when it comes to getting into contact with the people who can remember the information needed to fix the errors. Mistakes that could have been fixed easily if caught in real-time can make proper documentation much more difficult later.
2. Neglecting to Appoint a Properly Trained Documentation Expert in the Field
People who do not specialize or even have experience in the field are sometimes trusted with the task of proper documentation. When documentation tasks are delegated to those lacking proper training, problems nearly always arise. In such cases, the person assigned the task of documentation will often pay more attention to work that is in their area of competence and may not take the care and attention to document the whole project properly. Documentation becomes an afterthought, with the completeness and accuracy of the records inadvertently sacrificed.
To avoid this particular issue of inaccurate records, it is crucial to appoint a documentation specialist who can obtain the correct documents and knows what they are looking for, so they can catch and resolve problems early on.
3. Failing to Correctly Transcribe Information
Oftentimes, documentation involves handwritten notes. Since we’re only human, handwritten notes often result in errors and easily made mistakes. Human errors, guesses, and inferences can lead to inaccuracies that will cost you down the line. Trying to guess your way through the process of documentation is a hard and resource-intensive method.
It is a much better use of your time and resources to document correctly from the very beginning. Hiring or using experienced, trained, professionals is essential for TVC documentation. Documentation professionals are capable of recognizing what needs to be recorded and proactively planning to capture the right information before heading to the field. Furthermore, the complexity of alpha-numerical formats in traceable identification codes and the challenge of recognizing what information is important makes accurate transcription a challenge, which is another reason to seek the help of trained and experienced documentation professionals.
Addressing Complicated Documentation Situations:
If you are stuck in a situation where you must track down missing documents or attempt to retroactively fulfill documentation requirements, a methodical approach should be used:
- Start with an Audit: Understand what you have and what’s missing.
- Set Clear Objectives and Boundaries: Based on the results of the audit, set your goals for the documentation and decide how much time and effort you want to expend to reach those goals.
- Correlate and Cross-Reference: Utilize existing data to bridge the gaps and ensure consistency across records.
- Contact Relevant Parties: Communicate with project participants, vendors, and other necessary parties to retrieve missing information.
- Avoid Hunting for Extraneous Materials: Focus your search efforts on relevant details to avoid wasting resources, expenses, and time.
Implementing a Proactive, Resource-Efficient Documentation Plan
Avoiding pitfalls and setting yourself up for success with documentation from the beginning requires a proactive and efficient plan:
- Structured Organizational System: Develop an organized framework with checklists and written procedures.
- Hiring Documentation Professionals: Have experienced, detail-oriented, trained documentation experts on site when data collection occurs.
- Incorporate Checkpoints: Introduce checkpoints to intercept errors before they escalate into major issues. If you do encounter a mistake of any kind, be sure to address it as soon as possible.
- Documentation Consultation: Seek guidance from external documentation consultants to ensure compliance and efficiency.
- Set Standards: Establish qualifications and standards for on-site documentation specialists.
- Provide Accountability: Expecting project managers who are measured by cost and schedule or inspectors who are responsible for safety to proactively manage documentation during a project does not end well. To get good documentation from a project, there must be one person involved whose top measure of success is the quality of the records.
- Begin Early, Not Later: Recognize the value of proper documentation from the start to avoid costly retroactive fixes.
In the world of pipeline operations, proactive documentation is a necessity; TVC documentation is an impossibility as an afterthought. Mistakes in documentation can lead to regulatory violations, operational setbacks, and significant financial costs. By steering clear of the pitfalls of retroactive documentation, appointing trained experts, and ensuring accurate transcriptions, you can navigate the complexities of documentation with confidence. Embracing a proactive and resource-efficient documentation strategy is an investment that yields cost efficiency, regulatory compliance, and peace of mind for pipeline operators and asset managers.