By Keith Robinson, FCSC, RSW, CCS, LEED AP
Last issue, I wrote about how time constraints often leave us expending our efforts to make the work “not wrong,” rather than “right.” At the same time, the people for whom we work often have higher levels of expectation. (Some recent interpretations of specifications by constructors suggest this demand may be close to perfection.)
Our construction documents are being scrutinized more diligently than in previous years, and rightfully so. At the same time, there needs to be a measure of understanding based on the time it takes to prepare a specification, the available guide documentation, and the fees proportioned to the project manual’s production.
Every project deserves appropriate documentation accounting for complexity, contractual risks, owner familiarity, constructor relationship, and delivery team experience. Expectations must be balanced so documents are appropriate to all project team members.
I have worked with interpreters who say there is no need for a specification—their basis of belief is the documents provide nothing more than an expensive shopping list of parts. This fails to recognize professional responsibility and diminishes construction to nothing more than a commodity. At the other end, there are those specification readers who hang on every word, comma, and space within the document to the extent they focus on the grammatical content and miss the constructability guidance.
Specifications represent quality statements for products and workmanship—nothing more or less. How this information is presented is what makes the documents valuable. The 2008 edition of SectionFormat/PageFormat made significant strides in arranging information within the technical specification easier to identify and extract. Still, eight years later, widespread adoption of this layout has yet to occur.
The reasoning I hear from my peers is it takes time to modify and create master specifications, and no one has the time. (This is also what I hear when it comes to moving to the ‘new’ [i.e. decade-old] MasterFormat.) So the updates languish, and the users of our documents bemoan the usability of outdated documents and uncorrected errors.
Recent statistics presented at one of the sessions at Construct & the CSI Annual Convention last month indicated the average expenditure for production of specifications is less than that of temporary toilets during construction. The average workload for specifiers has doubled, with budgets halved to offset administration time. However, the same study also showed increased time invested in specification guide documents resulted in fewer administrative hours onsite. Each hour invested on the master specification paid back across several projects.
The value proposition I make to you is the return on investment (ROI) for maintaining and creating master specifications gets your specifications read, provides the project deliverables the owner expects, reduces the numbers of clarifications from the contractor, and lowers costs to the project by appropriate allocation of risk throughout the documentation.
When you take the time to do it right in the first place, you may no longer have to fear the specter of simply being “not wrong” when pushed to deliver a project in too short a time period.