Power of Documentation

by Cathleen Jacinto, SE, PE

Don’t trust your memory. If you listen to something valuable, write it down. If you come across something important, write it down. And here’s what’s important about your journal. It’s all the ideas you took the meticulous time to gather. It’s one of the greatest proofs that you’re a serious student.”

The above quote by Jim Rohn refers to the importance of documentation – the accumulation of our knowledge and experience. As engineers, practicing good documentation will not only build your own efficiency, but also minimize future errors.

Below are a few tips to document your work:

• After a project deadline – but before clearing your desk of the project – add one more helpful task. Create a new document and summarize the various structural elements you designed (i.e. deep grade beams, seismic loads with R>3, end-plate connections, etc) and include tips to remember next time you design these elements. (you might also want to create this document during the course of the project and add information as you progress through the project.)

• Start a document of lessons learned – Write down the cause of RFIs or field issues that resulted in a good deal of rework. Why repeat?

• Start a library of sample calculations – it can be organized by design element and material.

• Start ‘cheat sheets’ on a variety of design topics (or contribute to already established lists). For example, document software model settings, what to include in Specifications, shop drawing review checklists, takeaways from webinars, etc. It does not need to be comprehensive. It can be one bullet point long until your next lesson learned.

There may come a day when you need to refer to your ‘professional journal’ when a colleague asks a question, or even for a resume. This is an accumulation of your experiences. Consider how valuable this documentation will be after 20+ years.

The checklists recently released as part of our SE University subscription (and part of the SEU Resource Center) is an accumulation of experiences from structural engineers. We invite you to utilize these checklists to build your own ‘professional journal.’ (See the SE University Blog for more information on these checklists.) Feel free to share any of your own lessons learned with us by emailing [email protected].

We hope this will help you and your office grow your accumulation of experiences. Jim Rohn tells us to ‘Be a collector of good ideas for your business, for your relationships, for your future.’

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