Can it be done? Should we even try? Absolutely!
From the interest and attendance at the session I presented at CONSTRUCT 2012, the idea generated a lot of positive response. Here are my opinions about how to make it happen.
What's the Basis for Specifying Intent?
An anonymous contractor complained that architects specify intent rather than specifying the products they require. This contractor has a hard time pricing intent.
But if the architect's intent was, indeed, clearly specified there would be an improved understanding for the construction team. This improved understanding would result in better pricing, better scoping, and buildings meeting expectations.
We need to think beyond master guide specifications. The commercial guide specs and office guide specs include meaningless specification summaries. The "Section Includes" statements in each section are relegated to a simple list of products. This list is not helpful for understanding what must be built.
So let's try to write the "Section Includes" paragraph so it is meaningful to the Contractor's estimator, the Contractor's superintendent, and the Architect's construction administration (CA) staff. After all, these are the ones that must read and be able to understand the specifications. (Notice, no mention of the Architect, Owner, or Lawyers.) The project manual is written to build the project.
Borrowing from Goldwin Goldsmith's 1948 book "Architects' Specifications - How to Write Them," specifications should include a statement about What is installed, How it is installed, and Where it is installed. This information should be stated consistently, and in this order. Now consider CSI's MasterFormat, the organizational standard for specifications. MasterFormat includes lists of work results, not products, after the work of the specification section has been applied to the project.
Applying the Idea
Goldsmith's What, How, and Where and MasterFormat's work results suggest the same strategy. Rather than "Section Includes," specify work results. Replace the products list with a statement of work results.
Typical Masonry Guide Specification Section
Section Includes:Concrete masonry units
Ties and anchors
Proposed Masonry Project Specification
Work Results:Face brick veneer with CMU backup and insulated cavity at exterior walls
Let's look at the statement. What = face brick. How = veneer with CMU backup and insulated cavity. Where = at exterior walls. But what did this accomplish? The statement paints a clear mental image of what is required. The expected result is instantly recognizable. With the mental image, the estimator, superintendent, and CA staff will all know explicitly what is required.
When crafting the work results statements, start with the least - those unique project conditions representing limited scope of work. Finish with the most - those typical conditions for the bulk of the work. Make use of the residuary legatee concept to ensure all scope is covered such as:
Concrete Compressive Strength: 3000 psi at footings; 4000 psi at slabs-on-grade, and 5000 psi at other locations.
Regardless the application, all concrete scope is covered and requires 5000 psi compressive strength, unless it is used for a footing or slab-on-grade. The "5000 psi at other locations" is the residuary legatee.
Additionally, the work results statement describes a building element, exterior wall. The work results can be tied to a BIM object representing the exterior wall. Now the design team can check the content of the specifications against a schedule of building elements extracted from BIM to ensure all elements are specified.
Let's double back and look at the product list again. Listing the principal products included in the specifications will form the basis for a keynote list. The principal products should be those that will be named on the drawings and included in Part 2 - Products of the specification.
Carefully crafted work results statements can be used to confirm the architect's intent. Write the work results first. Have the design team review the statements to confirm their intent. This review will require significantly less effort than reviewing a draft construction spec and can be completed quickly. If something is amiss, carefully check the project drawings. If the specifier cannot understand the drawings, there is little hope that the estimator, superintendent and CA staff will understand the drawings either.
It's More Effort. Why Bother?
Time! Not the design team's time, rather the contractor's time. Remember the architect has been living with the project for months, perhaps years. The contractor must review and understand the project in weeks as he assembles his team and completes his bid. The easier the documents are to understand the better the bid will reflect the architect's intent.
Without understanding, the bid may be more than the owner's budget can tolerate. So there may be NO project. Worse, still, the architect may be on the hook for redesign at no additional fee.
If you wish to hear the full presentation, please write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will be happy to schedule a time for an encore presentation.