Friday, May 21, 2010

Say what you mean and mean what you say, Part 1b

I recently received another slappy, sloppy, informal email from a colleague, and I realize that I'm going to have to post some of these on the blog just so you can point and laugh--um, I mean learn from them. But reading his email did more than mildly annoy me: it also sent a small shiver of memory down my spine.

Back when I first started as an intern at my firm, nearly ten years ago, I worked on a hospital and clinic project for a project manager who is no longer with my firm. A couple of years ago, this facility sued us and the contractor for a variety of design and construction issues--some legitimate and some not, in my opinion. As the only person from that project team left, it was up to me to sort through all the files and drawings--and yes, emails--from the project records to see if we'd done our job as architects. Talk about a walk down memory lane...well, it was more like being dragged down memory lane by one foot.

Two things struck me as I went through the records. One, my boss at the time kept horrible records. Supposedly, we had made decisions with the owners that absolved us of any wrongdoing in the project, but we had no records of those decisions--no meeting notes, no emails recapping important phone calls, nothing. And two, I wrote some pretty ridiculously informal and unclear messages to my engineers and contractors. Who would have ever thought that one day I'd have to send a $200-per-hour lawyer a copy of an RFI I had written as if I were Mr. T? Had I but known then, I would have thought twice about being cute in my correspondence. I pity the fool indeed.

As part of writing good emails, RFIs, and memos/letters, ask yourself two things: one, would it bother me if this was on a billboard? and two, would it bother me if this was submitted for evidence in court? Anything you work on for a project is submittable evidence, so keep good, clear records of all decisions and discussions, and make sure they're all G-rated and professional.

1 comment:

  1. I really should be working on my resume, but this is such valid insight that I have to comment as well. This is a profession. After you put in enough time it is a LICENSED profession, one where there is a great deal of LIABILITY. "Yo Peeps" is never appropriate on project related discussion. If you become friends with team members, great, but save the casual "Check this great happy hour out. The waitresses are..." exchange for your gmail account.

    I mentioned wordiness on the last comment. One way around initial length is that if I have 10 issues that I want to discuss, I'll send a shorter, but specific summary and let them know I'll be calling to discuss. From there, the larger summary of the phone call follows.

    So, the email might say -

    1. In reception Room 101, the reception desk needs to move and this will effect the placement of fixture L-10.

    2. etc, etc.

    Then in the follow up notes, as an attachment, after the call, I'll get more into the specifics..."

    1. It was agreed that due to ADA requirements at the front door in Room 101, the reception desk needed to be relocated to the location shown in sketch ASI-01. As a result, the engineer has agreed to move fixture L-10 to provide the proper amount of light over the reception desk. Sketch of revised fixture location to follow.