3 ways to fight the black hole in plan review

Black holes might be a celestial phenomenon, but there were times during my tenure in government that I was sure they followed me around and swallowed paper I routed to colleagues or agencies. If this was my experience as a government worker, imagine what a typical government process looks like to constituents.

Plan review, a process essential to our communities, is a moment that can look like a black hole to those submitting projects, and perhaps to you, as you try to complete reviews in a timely fashion. From the moment paper plan sets are presented at the counter to the time project managers receive approved plans, it can seem like one giant mystery. While waiting for the completion of the review cycle, you might wonder if plans were lost or if other offices are even working on their portion of the review.

Throughout the paper-based process, submitters and reviewers are in the dark.

Some jurisdictions have abandoned paper plan sets because of how expensive they are to create. Many review offices realize they often create plans electronically and then print them at an added cost. Add re-submission to the equation, and submitters assume a financial burden that is completely avoidable.

Recognizing this, plans are often accepted on CD. But, while this addresses cost to submitters, neither paper nor CD plan sets help reviewers and coordinators see into active review processes and understand what stages or tasks staff have completed.

Is your plan review process a black hole?

The real black hole in plan review is the lack of process visibility brought about from physical files. Unfortunately, the process can be a contentious local issue because the cost to develop projects rises each day that it takes to get a certificate of occupancy. A transparent process with frequent status updates makes it easier to manage developer expectations.

But, in a manual process like plan review, frequent updates are hard to sustain. It adds to staff workload and becomes more complicated with each additional reviewer on a project.

Project plan review is such an important part of the development of our communities that it deserves something better than a murky process. Here are three ideas to get started on your black hole escape plan:

1. Go paperless

Black holes start with physical files, whether they are on CDs or in plan rolls. With digital files, you can share and secure information while increasing process visibility. And, by reviewing and marking up plans on a single central file, you save time and support collaboration among reviewers.

2. Provide a submission portal

A submission portal that accepts digital files makes submission convenient and reduces over-the-counter visits. The same portal can accept marked-up plan sets, deliver correspondence and provide status updates that help eliminate the mystery of review progress.

3. Automate your process

Accepting digital files is great, but using workflow to assign and route plans increases visibility into what reviews are underway or completed. It also translates into automatic notifications for submitters and staff of new tasks or project review completion.

If you find yourself looking for ways to escape a plan review black hole, going paperless is the first and most important step. Providing convenient online submission helps to meet the expectations of your development community, while automation, along with digital plan sets, increases process visibility.

These steps are all key features offered by electronic plan review solutions. Escaping the black hole is essential for good customer service and the growth of your community.

Terri Jones is an enterprise advisor with Hyland’s Global Services team. Before coming to Hyland, in her 10-plus years in both state and local government, she’s managed IT departments, implemented ECM strategies and written legislation and program policies. As an enterprise advisor, she uses her background in IT deployment, change management and strategic planning to lead workshops that help Hyland customers get the most from their solution investments.
Terri Jones

Terri Jones

Terri Jones is an enterprise advisor with Hyland’s Global Services team. Before coming to Hyland, in her 10-plus years in both state and local government, she’s managed IT departments, implemented... read more about: Terri Jones