July 26, 2023
While we are on the topic of record keeping, it is a good time to talk about what data needs to be preserved for future reference. Rather than a hard and fast checklist, I suggest putting yourself in the shoes of a person new to your firm and unfamiliar with both your products and you systems. What would they need to know to help customers appreciate the wonderful thing you have designed or built? You won’t be able to save everything. After one big project our team posed for a photo surrounded by bales of drawings, reams of computer printouts, and boxes of punched cards from out state-of-the-art IBM 370 computer. A team of forty can kill plenty of trees without leaving a lasting legacy for others to build on. We had to boil all that information down to a single shelf of perhaps twenty 3 inch thick three ring binders and hope our successors would have enough information to reconstruct the methodology used to develop the design. Computer programs come and go. The hardware they run on changes almost as fast. Our knowledge base grows but the underlying principles stay the same. The physical parts of a device remain. There was no point in saving hundreds of boxes of punched cards. Those drawings eventually got microfilmed, then scanned, and finally redrawn into a series of CAD formats. Calculation summaries are not very helpful if there is no record of the procedure that was followed and the logic behind it. I have been shocked at the number of product lines my clients offered without a good understanding of the design. In the worst cases, there were only limited assembly drawing files and a few bills of material left to support an entire catalog. Once data is lost you will be hard pressed to recreate it. Protect the records you have today and make sure you have what would be needed to back up every claim in your sales literature.