NSPE's Gateway to Private Practice January 2010 

Professional Liability/Risk Management Brief; Project Records Retention


Proper management and retention of project records does not mean saving everything. Systems must be efficient and procedures clear and simple so that the records retention process does not interfere with other administrative functions of an office. 

Keep Permanent Project Records

An effective records retention policy should be in writing and should:

  • Identify records by category;
  • Describe the length of time for retention;
  • Designate the method of storage and destruction; and
  • Establish a protocol for determining if documents not easily categorized are to be retained or destroyed.

Firms should determine what they consider to be permanent project records. Every project has temporary documents—those used to develop final instruments of service. These documents include report drafts, handwritten logs and diaries, rough calculations, and draft sketches. Temporary documents should be discarded when a superseding document is created or when the project is closed.

Permanent documents include interim documents that are provided as milestone submittals or contract deliverables. This category should also include all final documents, project correspondence, meeting memoranda and minutes, internal memoranda, logs, journals, and calendars. Handwritten telephone memoranda or site visit notes are considered final if they are not superseded by typed versions.

Professional services agreements, contract drafts, and any subsequent modifications should be maintained as well. In many instances, the final contract terms can be clarified by looking at what each party proposed, what objections were recorded, and what compromises were reached.

Firms also need to develop a timetable for when specific types of documents should be destroyed. It is essential that the destruction system is logical and that firms keep to the schedule.

Preserve Special Project Records

Priority should be given to saving files for those projects in which new building products, systems, or methods of application were used. Documents indicating that professional services, recommendations, and judgments were in accordance with the applicable standard of care and the professional services contract are basic to the retention process. Also, firms should retain files for any project that suffered an unusual number of design, construction, personality, or financial problems.

Determine the Retention Period

Establishing a disposal date for records is ultimately a business decision of the firm. One of the main factors to consider is the length of the statutes of repose in the states governing projects. Keeping project records for at least one year past the longest applicable statute of repose is prudent. Government projects may include detailed record-keeping obligations, and various federal, state, and local agencies have established rules that govern record keeping. Firms may also be committed by contract to retain project records for a specific amount of time for the client.

Maintain Records Retention Procedures

Firms should develop procedures based on the firm's specific needs and abilities to enforce those procedures over time. A sound records management and retention policy adds to the credibility of the firm should questions arise concerning a possible lack of documentation on a specific project. Such a policy often leads to reduced exposure or to the early resolution of disputes. Retaining well-prepared project records may even provide the firm with the ability to turn a possible claim into an opportunity to provide additional services to a former client.

© 2009, Victor O. Schinnerer & Company Inc. Statements concerning legal matters should be understood to be general observations based solely on our experience as risk consultants and may not be relied upon as legal advice, which we are not authorized to provide. All such matters should be reviewed with a qualified advisor. Victor O. Schinnerer & Company Inc. is managing underwriter for the CNA/Schinnerer Professional Liability Insurance Program, commended by NSPE/PEPP since 1957.


Nominate Fellow Engineers for NSPE Awards


NSPE offers several awards that have upcoming deadlines in 2010. Below are just a few of the award programs NSPE will be conducting this year.

For details, visit the NSPE Awards Web page

PEPP Award:
The PEPP Award is given annually to an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to the advancement and recognition of the role of private practice in serving the public interest.

PEPP Merit Award:
The PEPP Merit Award is presented to committee chairs or members, PEPP members serving in liaison functions or on joint activities, or to any other member who has made significant contributions. In addition, the employer of a PEPP Merit Award recipient is recognized for the support the consulting engineering firm has given to the profession through the activities of the PEPP Merit Award recipient.

Mentor of the Year Award:
The Mentor of the Year Award is given each year to the one member of NSPE who best exemplifies the ideal image of a mentor. The award may be given to an individual who has established a record of consistent outreach toward individuals in the engineering field, including engineering professionals and students, over a number of years.

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Education Springs Anew


NSPE is committed to bringing you Web seminars and workshops that incorporate the ABC's of continuing education by being affordable, beneficial, and convenient. We continue that commitment with our spring education series beginning on January 21. Online registration is now available through Shop NSPE at www.nspe.org. Register today to take advantage of these excellent education opportunities!

Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Implementing Digital Signatures

February 4, 12:301:30 p.m. (E.S.T.)

To reduce time consuming and expensive paper-based processes, electronic documents are increasingly used in engineering business procedures, from bidding and design through project completion. However, engineers preparing to sign electronic documentation are often forced to reintroduce paper into the workflow, once again extending project schedules and increasing costs.

Product Code: WS-100204

How to Position Yourself for the Next Job: Your Professional Toolkit

February 18, 12:301:30 p.m. (E.S.T.)

Participate in this informative session about managing your career and aligning yourself for your next employment opportunity.

Product Code: WS-100218


Ethics Forum Spring 2010 Series

Part I - Engineering Ethics at Work: Balancing the Interests of Peers

February 17, 12:301:30 p.m. (E.S.T)

This session will explore issues such as notification of review of another engineer's work, conflicts of interest between peers and other parties, observing improper actions in the workplace, and recruitment of company personnel by outside entities.

Product Code: WS-100217

Part II - Engineering Ethics at Work: Balancing the Interests of Employers and Clients

March 17, 12:301:30 p.m. (E.D.T.)

This session will explore issues such as procurement of engineering services by clients, observing improper actions by employers or clients, misrepresentation of engineering data, and restrictive employment agreements.

Product Code: WS-100317

Part III - Engineering Ethics at Work: Balancing the Interests of the Public

April 7, 12:301:30 p.m. (E.D.T.)

This session will explore issues such as confidentiality of information potentially damaging to the public, duty to report unsafe conditions, the influence of gifts and other compensation, and publicly criticizing another engineer.

Product Code: WS-100407


Project Management: How to Do it Right

February 23, 12:301:30 p.m. (E.S.T.)

This seminar is designed to help you better understand the steps you can take to improve your effectiveness as a competent leader of project teams.

Product Code: WS-100223

Presentation Skills for Engineers

February 25, 12:301:30 p.m. (E.S.T.)

In this Web seminar, we will highlight some proven strategies for successful presentations, drawn from the experience of one who has helped hundreds of engineers prepare for presentations where there was much at stake.

Product Code: WS-100225

How to Start Your Own Firm

April 20, 12:301:30 p.m. (E.D.T.)

Have you considered starting your own firm? During this Web seminar, you will hear the experiences of others who have gone through the process and been successful. Learn some tips for success and what potential pitfalls you may encounter.

Product Code: WS-100420

Visit www.nspe.org/education to learn more about these and other upcoming programs.

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Top Ten Ways to Motivate Employees
Herbert M. Cannon, President of AEC Management Solutions Inc.


10. Get Rid of the Naysayer
You know who they are. They complain about everything—and loudly. They complain to anyone who is or isn't willing to listen. The complaints include the most trivial of items—“Why do we only have Starbucks coffee in the coffee room? Shouldn't we have more of a choice?” I have also heard them complain to others in the office about fluorescent lighting, heating, cooling, and the quality of bathroom tissue. While these complaints are minor, it becomes a real problem when they appoint themselves to be office shop-steward to rally against company policy. They complain about the company holiday schedule. Why should they have to work on Monday and Tuesday when Christmas falls on Wednesday? As a matter of fact, why aren't we shutting down for the entire week—with pay of course! I can deal with a complainer—but I can't deal with them rallying the other employees against the company.

9. Cut the Deadwood
Yes, you are busy, but having unproductive people around only adds to the perception of accomplishing the company workload. The reality is quite different. More time is spent in reworking their drawings than is saved by keeping them in your company. Worst of all, they drag down office morale.

8. Family Events
Yes, the company that plays together stays together. Many of my client companies have family days, barbecues, or sports outings that involve both the employees and their families. While I was skeptical of these events earlier in my career, in recent years I have come to appreciate their role in creating a happy workforce. It helps office morale and recruiting beyond what could be statistically quantified.

7. Leave the Expensive Toys at Home
If you are an owner or partner in a firm, resist the temptation to flaunt your toys at work. I am talking about the two sports cars parked in the company garage, the life size mural of your Yacht, or the video tour of your country home in the Hamptons (as produced by your IT staff). Your employees will not be impressed, they will be annoyed. They already think you make 10 times more than you actually do.

6. Lead by Example
If you want your employees to get to work early, be a team player, and put the company's interest first, you need to set the example. Don't show up late, hand in your timecard two weeks after the fact, or waste your time surfing the Internet. Keep a smile on your face and meet the challenges of running a business with a positive attitude. Whatever is important to you will become important to the employees.

5. Incentive Compensation
This actually should be number one, but I harp on it so much that I moved it to number five. There is nothing more motivating to an employee than the opportunity to be financially rewarded based upon their performance.

4. Provide Opportunities
If your company is to succeed over the long term, you must provide meaningful opportunities for your employees to show what they can do. Allow them the opportunity to succeed and to learn from their mistakes. Remember that someone once gave you the opportunity to succeed—do the same for your employees.

3. Reward Extraordinary Efforts
Be sure to reward extraordinary efforts. Be generous (and public) with your praise for long hours, meeting difficult deadlines, completing major projects, and producing great design. A team dinner upon completion of a major project is a great way to reward a team and boost morale. An American Express gift card or a dinner-for-two gift certificate is a great way to thank individuals. If you are familiar with my incentive compensation program, you may be surprised to see that I am rewarding effort rather than results. Just to be clear—I have nothing against rewarding results, I just don't include it in my formal incentive compensation plan.

2. Hold Employee Reviews on Time
As an employee, there are few things in this world more frustrating than not having a review held as scheduled. Far too many firms take a casual approach to scheduling the annual review. In fact, they often need to be reminded by the employee that the annual employee review is way overdue. It is easy for those of us who have been executives or owners for a long time to forget what it was like when we were rank and file employees. If you want to motivate your employees to look for employment elsewhere, then constantly put off their reviews for something more important.

1. Consistent Reinforcement of Expectations
Employees want to know what is expected of them. If you want them at their desk ready to work at 8:30 a.m., let them know. If you want a standard title block used on all of your sheets, let them know where to find it. If you value design over all else, please let them know—but don't be angry when they blow the budget. If your expectation is great design and a 20% profit, please let them know. Whatever your expectation is in any area of the practice, let your employees know what is expected and then stick to it. When owners constantly move the target of expectations, it causes dissension among the troops.

Herbert M. Cannon, president of AEC Management Solutions Inc. and publisher of AEC Managing Partner Newsletter, is a management consultant, seminar provider, and speaker exclusive to the A/E Industry. He is available to speak at company meetings and conferences. For more information contact Herb via e-mail mailto:hcannon@aecmanagementsolutions.com. Or visit his Web site at www.aecmanagementsolutions.com 


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Synergy: The Super Roundtable HR and Finance Partnership


Synergy: The Super Roundtable HR and Finance Partnership

Sponsored by the Professional Engineers in Private Practice, the NSPE Human Resource Directors' Roundtable and the National CFO Roundtable bring together a unique community of human resource professionals and CFOs of architecture, engineering, and construction firms to benchmark current activities, discuss emerging trends and issues, participate in continuing education network with peers, and to share best practices.

During Synergy, the two groups will participate in joint sessions designed to generate discussion on issues of importance to both finance and HR. In addition, there will also be separate sessions and discussion on topics of specific interest to each individual group.

Topics for this year include:

  • Update on Healthcare Reform;
  • Mergers & Acquisitions Panel (HR & CFO impacts);
  • Crafting Compensation Competitively in the Engineering Industry;
  • HR Legal Issue Update—what's new for 2010 and what's coming;
  • SHRM Advocacy Program;
  • Developing Leaders in your Firm—Leadership Development Training Programs;
    ESOP Issues; and
  • Keeping on Track: Adapting to Changes in the Marketplace and Banking Industry.

Synergy will meet May 5–7, 2010. The event will kick off on Wednesday, May 5 with a joint dinner and presentation and runs through 12:30 p.m. (E.D.T.) on Friday, May 7.

A block of rooms has been reserved at the Lorien Hotel for a room rate of $209 single/double. This new hotel is conveniently located at 1600 King St., Alexandria, VA. The cutoff date for the group rate is April 2, 2010. To register, call 877-956-7436. Ask for the “National Society of Professional Engineers function” to get the group rate.

Early Bird Registration: January 11–March 15, $495
Regular Registration: March 16–April 30, $595

Register today. Attendance is limited.

Contact: For additional information or to answer any questions, please e-mail education@nspe.org.[ return to top ]


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PEPP 2009-10
Executive Board

Bill Clarke, P.E., F.NSPE
St. Louis, MO

Mark Davy, P.E.
La Crosse, WI

Andrea Martinez-Graves,
Tampa, FL

Immediate Past Chair 
Randy Rakoczynski,
Buffalo, NY 

Vice Chair, Northeast Region
Randy Petersen,
Washington, DC

Vice Chair, Southeast Region
Dan Dawson, P.E.,
Wilmington, NC

Vice Chair, Central Region
Kent Buehrer, P.E., F.NSPE
Maumee, OH 

Vice Chair, North Central Region 
Karen Stelling, P.E.
Kansas City, MO

Vice Chair, Southwest Region
Eric West, P.E.
Midland, TX

Vice Chair, Western and Pacific Region 
Wes Segawa, P.E.
Hilo, HI 

Young Engineer Representative 
David Conner, P.E.
Denver, CO
SSEC Representative
Pat Christians
Birmingham, AL

PEPP Staff
Kim Granados, CAE
1420 King Street
Alexandria, VA 22314
tel: 703-684-2857
fax: 703-836-4875



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