Specifications: The Do’s and Don’ts

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Back in February 2013, one of our first blog pieces discussed ‘Getting The Basic’s Right‘ when it came to specifications. A year later and we still come across Architect’s making the same mistakes over and over again. Schumann Consult are in the business of providing quality specifications to Architect’s, but we realise that we can not support everyone. We do however have some advice which we would like to pass on, something which I discussed in my latest article in the Architects Journal Specification magazine as part of my regular monthly column.

Very often, due to time pressure and other external factors, project specification production is not given appropriate care and attention, which is unfortunate because they are very important contractual documents that protect the design, the designer and help to secure best value and quality for the client in an often complex procurement and construction environment.

This lack of attention can result in claims, disputes and disappointment, which is not good for any of the parties involved, so here are some basic do’s and don’ts.

Give the task sufficient time and don’t leave specification production to the last minute. Start preparing the specification as early in the design process as possible and make sure that the required deliverables at each design stage are fully understood. For example, an outline specification is often required at Scheme Design, so make sure this is prepared such that it is useful and fit for purpose (e.g. final cost check and client sign off).

Never take a specification from a previous project and try to adapt it to suit. This is a recipe for disaster, as it carries forward any errors in the original document and compounds them.

Use a template or base document that can be relied upon in that it is relevant, project neutral and up to date with regard standards, codes, performance criteria etc. Use a format that is widely used and understood in the project location (e.g. CAWS vs CSi), with clear and complete nomenclature for ease of reference and no numerical gaps. Every single clause and sub-clause should therefore have a unique reference.

Consider using a series of simple codes for every product, material or system included in the design, which can be used on the drawings and referenced directly in the specification. These codes are totally flexible and can be easily used in the various formats or BIM models. Using specification clause numbers for this purpose can lead to problems related to elements which are specified in multiple clauses leading to claims.

Understand what type of specification is required to suit the design appointment and procurement route. This is very important because in the world of specifications one suit does not fit all and they have to be tailored accordingly.

Understand the difference between preliminaries and specifications. Designers should leave the preliminaries to the quantity surveyor, as they are pricing documents that deal with non-measureable and temporary works’ items. Preliminaries should not (QS’s please note) try to specify permanent works of any kind because the days of specification via Bills of Quantity and Preambles are long gone.

Determine at the outset which elements of your design will require post contract detailed design input from a specialist who will provide appropriate warranties and guarantees, and do not name products unless you are 100% certain that they are fit for purpose, and what you definitely want. When instructed to name three products (e.g. when working overseas) remember that the contractor will always price for the cheapest, and remember that under OJEC regulations the naming of products is not allowed.

Proofread all documents before they are issued. This is often overlooked because of time pressures, but is a critical task. Never try to proofread your own document, because you will often read what you think it says, rather than what it actually says. Proofreading is a specialist skill that requires detailed spelling, grammatical, punctuation and technical abilities.

Remember that the design process often continues after the construction contract has been signed, so prepare the specification accordingly. In novated D&B situations this is especially important, as the designer will have to deliver detailed solutions to comply with the contract specification, so make sure when preparing it that you are confident that solutions exist.

Finally, remember that specifications are as much about process and controls as they are about products and materials, so make sure that equal attention is given to what has not been completely designed at tender stage and how these elements will be controlled in a lump sum contract.

Nick Schumann

Nick Schumann

Founder and Director at Schumann Consult Ltd
Having built the world’s largest specification consultancy and developed innovative methods for the implementation of new design management techniques Nick is considered to be one of the world’s leading authorities in his field writing, lecturing and providing advice to many industry leaders.
Nick Schumann

Posted on March 7, 2014 in Specifications

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