Collecting Project Spec Data - What Works?

The July 1st CSI Specifying Practice Group meeting focused on how to collect project data required to write specifications. Group members Louis Medcalf, FCSI, CCS who, during the session, was with Gresham, Smith & Partners now practicing as Gresham Smith and Patricia Gallup, RA, CSI, CCS of PSA-Dewberry, and group leader David Stutzman all shared examples of tools they have used and discussed the benefits of each. 

Louis Medcalf showed a table of Project Decisions by Phase. The table includes a column for pre-design, and each design phase for a construction project. Most interesting is the row in the table titled "Design Purpose." Each of the table entries relates directly to the phase purpose. And a goal is stated for some table entries at various design phases. Imagine the cost management goal for DD phase is to have sufficient information to establish a GMP. The corresponding construction information goal is to complete all product decisions affecting cost.

Noble goals, indeed! And consistent with the AIA Owner-Architect Agreement documents. Medcalf noted the table is used to help manage projects and the information that is created and documented at each phase. Stutzman interjected that recently it seemed that CD phase definition has changed. Instead of Construction Documents, it seems to be Continue Designing. Medcalf indicated delayed design decisions can be costly especially when significant design revisions are required as projects near completion.

Stutzman demonstrated a project table of contents in Microsoft Excel format that Conspectus creates when proposals are issued and then refines as projects progress through design. The table of contents includes a description of what is believed to be included in each spec section. Additional information, such as that found in basis of design documents, is included in separate columns as it become available. The file is distributed to the architects with notes about what data they must furnish. The architects use a separate column to respond to comments and questions and to add product selection data. The contents is a master document that uses Excel's auto filter function to quickly "edit" the file to show only the subject that are appropriate, without deleting any information.

Patricia Gallup showed a checklist in Microsoft Excel format that she uses with PSA-Dewberry's project architects. She explained the form is 21 pages long, and there are many selections to be made to complete the form. She has used the form successfully as a starting point to begin drafting the specifications. However, Patricia did report there is some reluctance to completing the form. Patricia is considering revising the form so it can be completed more efficiently as an electronic document.

Stutzman demonstrated a second checklist using Microsoft Word. The checklist was created for a client that builds a single building type at many locations. The file is actually a form using checkboxes, fill-in-the-blanks and drop-down menus added to the file using the Forms toolbar. The owner required the project architects to complete the checklist electronically. Having the owner make the demand of the architects ensured the form was completed for every project. Once completed, a macro is used to compare the form to the default status. Changes the architects make are displayed as red text to ensure the changes are easily found. This allows the client's standard specifications to be edited quickly to mach the checklist.

There seems to be no single answer to the question of how to collect project data or what tools to use. There are multiple approaches and various degrees of success. The right approach seems to depend on project circumstances, the people involved, and how much influence the specifier can exert.

Join your colleagues in discussing current issues by joining the Specifying Practice Group. The group meets the first Thursday of each month from 3:00 - 4:00 PM eastern time. The group meeting topics are for everyone who must read or write construction specifications.

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