A Script for Specifications - in 3 Acts

Writing is the easy part. Knowing what to write is another story.

Act 1: Scene 1 - The Inquiry

Ring. Ring. (telephone rings in Specifier's office)

Specifier: Hello, this is Specs R Us. How can I help you?

Architect: Well, I have a project and I need a set of specs.

Specifier: Can you tell me a bit more about the project and your schedule?

Architect: It's a housing project, four stories, about 80 units; pretty much a standard kind of design, nothing special. The schedule…well, the bid set is due in a couple of weeks.

Specifier: Is a public agency funding the project, and will it be publicly bid? Do you have a specific delivery date for the bid set?

Architect: The state housing finance agency is providing part of the funding, and yes, public bidding is required. The bid issue will be three weeks from Monday.

Specifier: Okay. Can you email your drawings for us to see the scope and what will be required?

The conversation goes on with the specifier collecting information about the services the architect will need - like a draft for review and a final bid issue set.

Act 1: Scene 2 - The Proposal

Specifier (thinking to himself): Let's see. The architect sent the schematic design presentation drawings - plans, rendered elevations. Material notes - where are the material call-outs? A typical wall section would be nice. I've worked on enough housing projects. I'm sure I can get close.

The specifier starts out scouring the drawings for hints of required systems and materials, making notes, and compiling lists. He turns his data gathering into a proposed table of contents and shows what he discovered as the content for each section and the first set of questions for the architect.

After writing the proposal and attaching the contents, the specifier sends the package to the architect.

Act 1: Scene 3 - The Acceptance

Specifier (calling the architect): Hello, did you receive the proposal I sent this morning? I am calling to answer whatever questions you have because we must start this project soon.

Architect: I have the proposal. The fee is just fine. I will sign the proposal today.

Specifier: Did you review the table of contents? Is the spec list accurate? Can you answer the questions we asked?

Architect: I saw the contents and will review that later. Can you just get started?

Specifier: To start the specs and be efficient with the time, it is really important that you answer as many of the questions as you can. I will review them with you to explain what is needed, and what the options may be. Can we schedule a time to do this, soon?

Architect: Sure. Tomorrow 9 AM

Act 2: Scene 1 - The Inquisition

Specifier (calling the architect the next day): Hello. Are you ready to review the table of contents and all the questions?

Architect: Sure, go ahead.

Specifier: Do you have a typical exterior wall section so I can see the basic construction?

Architect: We are working on that. I can send it when it's finished.

Specifier: I don’t need a final drawing. A hand sketch will do. Let's review the construction. Interior gypsum board; wood stud framing with batt insulation… Will the insulation be faced or not? Are you using the facing as a vapor retarder?

Architect: Yes, fiberglass batts, faced…with kraft paper.

Specifier (continuing): plywood sheathing, weather barrier… What material did you select for the weather barrier? There is insulation in the stud space so the weather barrier should be vapor permeable. The code requires an air barrier. Will it be a house wrap type? There are some other options.

And so the inquisition continues until the specifier has all the initial data to at least start the spec. But the questions do not end there.

Act 2: Scene 2 - The Draft

Architect (calling the specifier): I got your draft spec today. What are all these notes and questions doing in the spec?

Specifier: Those are things I need your help answering. I wrote what I could with the information I had, but not all the questions could be answered. So the notes are about the final coordination to make sure the specs and drawings are consistent. You can mark up the spec with your answers. Or, should we schedule a time to review these questions?

Architect: How about tomorrow 10 AM?

Specifier: That's fine. If we can resolve all the questions, then, I can finish the spec by your deadline.

Act 3: Scene 1 - The Conclusion

Architect (calling the specifier): Thanks for your help on this project. We got through the bidding process and the owner is happy with the result. You know, there was not one bidder question about the specifications.

Narrator: Okay, okay. There is always hope. That last bit about no spec questions is always the goal.

Act 3: Scene 2 - The Moral

Narrator: Take time to communicate and document the project requirements carefully. Not all project data resides on the drawings during the design process. Much may be in the designer's mind as the design unfolds. Discovery through conversation will uncover the intent in sufficient detail to produce accurate documents.

Narrator to Specifier: Continue asking lots of questions to prompt needed information.

Narrator to Architect: Provide thoughtful, considered responses to ensure accurate documentation.

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