Message From the President: Navigating Specifications

Prez_LRKeith Robinson, FCSC, RSW, CCS, LEED AP
I have friends that often influence my approach to specification writing. One such friend is a ship navigator, who drew many comparisons between his role on the bridge and ours as specifiers. I liked the comparison so much I thought it might be worthwhile to share based on the exact word parallels.

Essentially, a navigator is responsible for steering and navigating the ship, and, when required, may directly supervise other members of the crew and their assignments. They have the authority to direct the ship and crew during a voyage, and can modify planned routes when necessary to account for the safety of the boat, crew, passengers, and cargo. Navigators undergo extensive training and must be certified to act in that capacity, and also require in-depth practice in boat handling and experience as a crew member.

The navigator can be an enlisted crewmember or an officer; the role is not seen as additional to his or her duties, and the role is independent of rank or seniority in relation to other crew members. (Although it is possible for the navigator to command the ship, this does not happen unless granted by a commanding officer.)

The similarities were remarkable when we compared our roles, particularly in the sense we both prepare outcome documents from a set of updated masters by adding our own experience when setting up new projects (or ‘voyages’). Our ideal is not to be ranked or categorized, but the concept illustrated shows the relative position of the specifier within the project team.

A specifier is responsible for providing materials intelligence and communicating performance requirements of the project, and can assume duties of the project manager when required by supervising other members of the production team and directing detailing outcomes to account for the building’s performance. Specifiers undergo extensive training and can be certified to work in that capacity (e.g. Certified Specification Practitioner [CSP] and Registered Specification Writer [RSW]), and require extensive knowledge in construction materials and methodology, as well as past experience as a detailer or construction administrator.

The specifier can be a technologist, an engineer, or architect. Again, the role is not seen as additional to the duties of that person, is independent of educational background and professional status, and does not denote seniority in relation to other team members. Although it is possible for the specifier to make decisions on design intent; this does not happen unless such authority is granted by the professional in charge.

When you think about it, the specifier sets the course of the project and has direct influence over the outcomes… and there appears to be a pretty tight kinship with navigators. Happy sailing!

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