Master guide specifications are a valuable resource for the design team. The company investment in developing and maintaining masters can be substantial representing hundreds, possibly even thousands of hours, devoted to their development to document the company expertise.
Every staff member and every project contributes to the company collective experience. Capturing the results of the experience is how each company distinguishes itself. Design experience is captured in the company portfolio. Technical experience is captured in specifications and drawing details.
When the experience is captured only in project specific documents, the experience may soon be lost. Only the individuals involved in the project may remember (not guaranteed) the lessons learned. Others in the firm will have no first-hand knowledge of the project and no memory of any experience from the project.
The only rational way to gain from specific experience is to capture the experience in a form capable of educating the entire staff. Master guide specifications and guide details offer the best hope for documenting the firm's collective experience. Each document maintained as a guide provides a means to collect what has been done, successfully.
Guides vs. Standards
It is important to create guide documents in a form that does not suggest the guides must be used as the definitive standard, without modification. Guides should be just that - guides that can be adapted for specific project use. Standards imply there is no flexibility - they must be used as is. When applied as a standard, little thought about the project specifics may be given.
Guides must also be in a form that allows new information to be added as the documents are put to use. The industry and individual firms are constantly evolving, and guides must be capable of changing to accommodate the evolution.
Details vs. Specifications
Drawing details show specific applications with specific material and product combinations to create building assemblies. The potential number of different combinations is huge and the potential number of unique intersections between assemblies is unlimited.
Assembly drawings are a means to develop guides that for a finite set of details. Show a snapshot of the typical assembly. Avoid including intersections between assemblies to avoid the limitless detail combinations. For instance with exterior walls, create an assembly drawing showing the brick veneer, insulated cavity, weather barrier, sheathing, and metal framing backup. Do not show the intersecting foundations, floors, parapets, roofs, and opentings.
Specifications include the most commonly used materials needed to create the most commonly used assemblies. The goal is to write for 80 percent. That is 80% of the sections that are required for normal project and 80% of the products that may be required. The remaining 20% will likely be custom products, systems, and assemblies that are peculiar to a single project. Maintaining a repository of these custom applications does not add significant value to guide specifications because they are unique.
Because specifications are text, they can be a teaching tool. Guide specifications contain notes to the specifier. Often these notes are instructions about how to make selections among options included in the specifications. These notes also contain detailed information collected during product research before the products were included in the guide spec. The notes may contain follow up research needed to answer questions about a product as a result of its use on a particular project.
Research documentation, whether initial or follow up, becomes valuable instructional information. It provides insight into why products may be included in the specification and what the appropriate applications may be. More importantly, the research may identify the limitations about when a product should not be used. Often the limitations are the most telling part of product information. The simple statement "Do not use this product for…" will instantly give guidance about product applicability to anyone reading the specification.
Coming Full Circle
There is no need for any staff to repeat the same research. Simply add to the collective experience. The documented research contained in the specifications will become the best starting point for answering questions from both the design and construction teams. The explanation of the rationale for the specification content will help direct additional research to answer project specific questions.
Every time additional research is completed, the specifications offer the best repository for building the knowledge base about each product. Simply record the result by adding new specifier notes to the specifications. Use the notes to teach current and future staff about preferred products and applications.
Build the company knowledge base with every question and answer.