Office Master Guide Specifications - An Investment

Many may consider office master guide specifications an expense. Developing and maintaining guide specifications requires a considerable amount of time and many resources. Specifiers rely on commercial masters such as MasterSpec, SpecText, and Speclink as a basis, but these must be tailored to fit each particular firm's practice.

Time is required to research materials and tailor the masters. Library resources including codes and reference standards are required to confirm products are specified correctly. Prudent specifiers will check the entire detail of commercial masters as products are selected to ensure the result is well coordinated.

None of the time and resources needed to write office masters is directly attributable to a billable project. So, normally, the expenses are charged to an overhead budget. Times being what they are, overhead charges are subject to extreme scrutiny. When guide spec development and maintenance is a dedicated effort, the cost is easily tracked; the benefit is not.

How can guide specs be an investment?
When I make a personal investment, I expect a return - something of value that I would not otherwise have. Earning may be tangible or intangible, but they must be perceptible. Invested cash will earn additional cash. Invested volunteer time earns self-satisfaction.

Time and resources invested in guide specifications will earn improved efficiency and quality. These earnings will provide a tangible return every time the guides are used on future projects. The investment will also yield intangible rewards by helping educate every staff member who uses the guides.

This past weekend, I spent considerable time updating a single master guide specification section for a potential client. A significant update (nearly starting over) is necessary due to lack of maintenance. Now, the draft is completed,

  • product data sheets are collected,
  • references researched,
  • comparisons made,
  • editing instructions created, and
  • drawing coordination notes developed.

This initial investment need not be repeated, ever. The basis for the guide spec is documented at the point in time the master was created. Now the guide enters maintenance mode.

Maintaining a guide specification requires a limited, occasional effort. The maintenance investment is an expense that every future project will share. There is no need to dedicate a budget, a staff, and resources to maintenance only. Maintenance becomes a simple part of doing business.

Continued guide spec investment
So the set of office master guides is complete - well never complete, but complete enough to be useful. The goal should be to have a set of guide specifications that include about 80% of the required sections for typical projects. That last 20% of custom work will be left to each project as the design unfolds.

The investment does not stop, however. Development will be continuous. Occasionally new guide sections will be required as the firm practice, building science, and the industry evolve. Codes will dictate broad reaching updates as each new edition is adopted. Reference standards will be revised, replaced, and even abandoned. Sometimes a single reference change will affect many guide specifications.

Improved knowledge base
Unlike drawings, each specification section can be written as a guide for future use. "Wait," you say, "standard drawing details serve the same purpose." I agree. Details, yes. But plans, elevations, sections, schedules and the rest - No! Drawing standardization is not the same.

Guide specifications provide a convenient, and easily shared, location to collect the combined knowledge of an entire firm about every construction material and system typically used by the firm.

  • The specifier's product research and editing instructions inserted in the guides.
  • The construction administrator's review and response to RFIs and field conditions.
  • The project manager's contractual considerations.
  • The project architect's product selections to meet project needs.
  • The designer's product adaptation for specific project conditions.
  • The librarian's product updates.

Each team member has knowledge to contribute. The knowledge is cumulative, built slowly, over time as the guide specs are put to use. Capturing that knowledge - both good and bad experiences - provides continuous quality improvement and informs the required guide spec maintenance.

Kindergarten Spec Lessons
Participate. If you are part of the team, actually read the spec. Every specification reader is a potential contributor.

Gather knowledge. Share with others. Teach each other while improving quality along the way.

Avoid repeating mistakes!

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