Reinventing? Let's Standardize!

The construction industry in general and the architectural profession specifically, seem to enjoy the same challenge on every project. You would think the challenge is about the design - trying to optimize the response to the owner's program and the building site. But you would be wrong. That may be a challenge, but the circumstances are different for every project.

The challenge that remains the same on virtually every project is "How will the documents be published this time?" Countless hours are spent on this discussion for every construction project.

There are so many choices and so few projects to try every possible permutation. It seems like a search for the ultimate solution to fit the owner, the design team, the contractor, the project delivery method, and more. Think of the possibilities and the number of players in the process and the number of opinions from each player. The potential combinations are staggering. And the industry is on a path to try every one of them.

Specification Publication

Let's start with the very basics. Construction projects are normally issued with specifications. The pages in the project manual should be identified so everyone will know the document belongs to the particular project. Okay that's easy. Just put the project name on each page. But where - in the header, in the footer, at the left margin, at the right margin? Maybe you like it centered between the margins.

Writing a specification should not be a design exercise, although sometimes you may get the impression it is. We work with many architects, and each has their own template to be sure the formatting matches their "office standard" at least until there comes the owner standard or project standard. Once the standard format is decided, these variables should be set:

  • Margins
  • Fonts
  • Line spacing
  • Paragraph indents
  • Header text
  • Footer text

Create an office standard that clearly shows each aspect of how the specifications should look when published. Be sure to issue the standard to the entire design team, early and often - preferably before each specification issue updated to suit the issue.

Package Publication

Once the page presentation is settled, the discussion will turn to package issues. Many projects today rely on multiple contracts or early bid packages. How does everyone track the current issue of each specification and know to which package it may apply? Is each package a stand-alone? Must all the specifications eventually reside in a single project manual?

This discussion is by far the most time consuming, but it need not be. Multiple project manuals may be used when the owner has distinct, separate contracts with multiple contractors - multiple-prime publicly bid projects for example. Fast track projects can rely on sequential specification issues that are assembled into a single project manual for the entire project. Spec issues require a tracking method to know what the current documents are. Rely on the table of contents to show the current issue name or date for each specification section as indicated in the following example.

Number Title Author Issue
01 10 00 Summary Conspectus Issue 1
01 23 00 Alternates Conspectus DD Issue

Consider including the author in the table of contents, unless the author is shown in the header or footer of the spec section. Be sure there is a record of which consultant produced each specification section. Avoid adding page counts to the contents. They are not necessary and only provide one more potential coordination difficulty.

Consider using issue numbers rather than dates to identify each current specification section. Issue numbers can be set in advance and need not be revised when the schedule slips. This is a real time-saver to ensure correct identification when publishing many spec sections from multiple sources.  The table of contents can be used as a tracking tool for what is to come by showing the entire expected contents and the current status of each section.

There Is Help

There are standards that smart people who have worked in this industry a long time have created. Rely on these standards to nearly eliminate the reinvention every time. The Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) is a great resource for standard formats governing nearly every aspect of specifications.

  • MasterFormat®
  • UniFormat ™
  • SectionFormat™
  • PageFormat™
  • PPDFormat™

Follow the formats. Too restrictive you say, a format will not allow the individuality needed to identify my documents. Rest assured the look of the documents is not how the industry will know the documents are yours. The contractors, subs, and material suppliers recognize the text that they have been asking to be updated for the past five years.

Following standard formats may free you from spending time debating the format and allow time to improve the specification text.

If you need help creating a format, contact us. We will be happy to help you create a template and instructions for your other consultants.

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