February 26, 2020

Daily Reports – The Swiss Army Knife of Project Documentation

By: Christopher A. Henry, Associate, Jones Walker LLP 

Project “Daily Reports” are some of the most important, yet overlooked aspects of a construction project. These reports serve many beneficial roles such as holding parties accountable to their obligations, providing the basis for an as-built schedule, recording manpower, documenting site conditions, and recording any other important and relevant information that happened on the job site that day. Daily reports can also provide information to help with claims or disputes that may arise in the future, such as noting weather delays, providing backup for future delay claims, and providing information to dispute claims made against your company. Finally, daily reports also serve as a useful communication tool during the project and a source of real time information for parties that want to know how the work is commencing on a day to day basis. Because daily reports are the “Swiss army knife” of project documentation, it is extremely important that a contractor puts for its best effort when creating them.

It is no secret that a construction project can become more chaotic as the schedule progresses. Unfortunately, when that is the case, the effort put into creating these reports drops off and sometimes the responsibility of creating such reports is thrown aside altogether. I can speak from experience. Prior to entering the practice of law, I was a project engineer for a general contractor in Atlanta. As an engineer in the field, one of my many responsibilities was to enter the daily reports. Based off this experience, below are some thoughts on how to prepare useful daily reports.

1. Check the contract. The contract you entered may set forth specific requirements for the daily reports, such as where to file them, the required format, and specific information that must be included. Complying with contractual requirements is necessary for a successful project. One word of caution for subcontractors, a subcontract will often incorporate the prime contract. If that is the case, be sure to check the prime contract for any specific language relating to daily reports.

2. Do the daily reports daily. This may seem like a no-brainer, but when work is hectic it is all too tempting to push the reports aside and tell yourself you will get to them tomorrow. The problem is this often creates a snowball effect, and the next thing you know is you are a week behind on your daily reports. When that is the case, then you are forced to rely on your memory to recall what happened a few weeks ago. It will be difficult to make the reports accurate and, as a result, the reports may not be quite as reliable as preferred, if they are later needed as evidence at trial.

3. Be clear and concise while simultaneously including as much information as possible. Daily reports are not the appropriate medium for practicing to be the next Charles Dickens. Steer clear of stylistic embellishments and flourishes. A person reviewing the reports needs to be able to quickly and easily understand them. Record only what you have and do not leave the reader guessing what you meant. Additionally, be sure to cover topics such as weather, equipment on site, material delivered, the number of laborers, the amount of material installed, the quality of work, inspection results, and any impacts other contractors had on your work.

4. Keep your audience in mind. When creating daily reports, it’s easy to forget who may be reading them in the future. As a result, people sometimes draft them using phrasing or short hand that only they will understand. This is not a good habit to get into. I like to tell people that when writing reports, do not write them so that you understand what happened yesterday or that a member of the project team can understand what happened on site a few months ago, but write them so that a person you never met, and who was not directly involved in the project, can read them and know exactly what happened on the project site years later (e.g. a lawyer or arbitrator).

5. Do not be emotional. When dollars are on the line, emotions tend to run high.
If something important happened that day, you should record it, but do not use the daily reports as your opportunity to unload on the project manager or contractor that negatively impacted your work.

6. It is a team effort. Daily reports can certainly be one of the more mundane activities a construction professional will do during his or her career. As a result, the responsibility of writing them often falls on the project engineer or manager that is lower on the totem pole. Because daily reports serve such a valuable role, it is important that everyone involved with the project is experienced in writing the reports. With that being said, placing the entire responsibility solely on a recently hired project engineer fresh out of school may not lead to the greatest product. While it is good practice for an engineer to draft the majority of the reports, everyone involved in the project, from the project executive, to a superintendent, to a foreman should provide information for the reports.

7. What is not included is sometimes more important than what is included. This is especially true for daily reports that are extremely detailed. For example, if your report includes such details as the weather, the manpower, and the amount of materials used, but fails to mention any delays that potentially impacted the progress of the construction, then that will undermine any future delay claims.

Daily reports are an important aspect of any project—a true Swiss army knife. Following these steps can help you create solid and usable daily reports, which very well may prove useful somewhere down the line.

The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of ConsensusDocs. Readers should not take or refrain from taking any action based on any information without first seeking legal advice.