Specifications Risk Management

There are many risks in construction projects, and specifications alone cannot mitigate construction risk in all areas. Good specifications, however, provide valuable benefits to architect/engineer (A/E) design team, owners, and other construction project stakeholders for managing, reducing, and mitigating many risks. By engaging well-qualified professional specifiers to create project specifications, project teams will realize inevitable risk benefit.

Every construction project, whether it is a capital improvement project or a maintenance project, requires four elements to form a proper contract: the agreement, the conditions, the drawings, and the specifications. The agreement and conditions are prepared by attorneys trained in law. The drawings and specifications are typically prepared by A/Es trained in design and graphic contact documents.

Specifiers create the non-graphic contractual requirements responsible for controlling the construction quality and cost. Contractors and subcontractors rely on the specifications for scheduling, bidding, and purchasing goods and services required to complete the construction project. So specifiers are best positioned for managing construction quality and cost risk issues.

Why are architectural and engineering designers accepted as specifiers? Standard industry contracts require A/Es to deliver drawings and specifications. However, the industry does not expect every A/E firm to have all required capabilities within their own firm. Consultants are expected - and necessary to effectively respond to the owner's project requirements. Indeed, owners insist A/Es hire specialty consultants, and even hire some consultants directly, when beneficial.

Goldwin Goldsmith, FAIA, in his book "Architects Specifications - How to Write Them" captured the state of specifications writing when he quoted the opening remarks from a 1918 lecture series:

“The writing of architects’ specifications is a task approached by many with trepidation, by some with the careless confidence of ignorance and by a few with the studious determination to succeed.”

One hundred years later, not much has changed. Though he spoke of architects, the same applies to engineers. A/Es choose their profession to design, not to specify. Specifications writing is forced upon A/Es with the expectation of success. Professional specifiers do choose their career with the expectation to be among those few determined to succeed and determined to satisfy the owner's project requirements.

Professional specifiers are the project's advocate, simply by doing their job. Specifiers challenge the A/Es to explain what they intend and to make decisions needed to complete the construction documents. Specifiers routinely discover inconsistent, missing, and incorrect drawing data while collecting and organizing specifications information. Relying on A/Es as specifiers to check their own work does not produce the same result.

The professional specifier's independent, analytic review provides substantial, proactive risk management during the design process when the risk can be eliminated most effectively. Without the specifier, the challenge of the A/E will not be lost, but only delayed. It will be taken up later by the bidders and contractors as RFIs and Change Orders during bidding and construction.

Owners furnish drawings and specifications to contractors with the implied warranty that the documents are complete and adequate to describe the project. When the contractor builds the project to the documents the contract is fulfilled. The contractor cannot be held accountable for defects in the drawings and specifications.

What is the certainty that both the drawings and the specifications are complete and adequate? Can project teams and owners tolerate the inherent risk when designers create specifications?

Control of the risk. Engage professional specifiers as your specialty consultant, advocate, and risk manager.

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