Bringing the Team Back Together, Through Specifications

For independent and in-house specifiers, obtaining sufficient correct information from our design teams has long been a struggle. Some of the challenges we face include some designers' disinterest in the entire topic of specifications, persistent delays in making design decisions, and some folks' lack of sufficient technical knowledge to make informed choices. Additionally, even within one team, people have differing appetites for being contacted with questions, and often put off providing any answers at all. To make matters more complicated, design team members are still scattered to their home offices, lacking consistent meeting and collaborative spaces.

In the meantime, the volume of email has exploded. Everyone in the industry is sending more emails than ever before and keeping up with the deluge is nearly impossible.   Previously specifiers could send a list of spec questions by email and expect a reasonably timely response, now it's uncertain that any reply will arrive before deadline day.

Coming up with improved spec processes has been a primary focus for Conspectus. Building off the strategies that our groundbreaking Conspectus Cloud system make possible, we have developed and begun to pilot an innovative collaboration procedure to improve information sharing.

The procedure has several key prerequisites:

  • It should be implemented early in the design process - beginning with schematic design or even earlier.
  • Participants must buy in and consistently use it. We make the process engaging and simple so that it is easy to stick with.
  • Design team should be willing to involve other stakeholders in specifications - contractors, owner, consultants.

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On Conspectus's part, we perform several initial tasks:

  • We begin to review project information and annotate provided PDFs with expected spec section numbers, content questions, and technical suggestions.
  • We set up the project in Conspectus Cloud and begin describing its systems and assemblies based the on available information, using Uniformat to organize the information. Conspectus Cloud invitations are sent to all project stakeholders so they can review and comment on our assumptions.

Conspectus Cloud provides a highly collaborative and fully transparent platform to manage and track project information. The entire team has access, with multiple simultaneous editors, commenters and viewers, each working from their computers to write and review documents. After our initial pass through the project, we schedule an initial virtual meeting to review the drawings, information, annotations, and initial questions. This meeting uses Conspectus Cloud and Bluebeam in live screen share and permits everyone on the call to follow the discussion and to see the markups being made in real time.

At the end of this meeting, the specifications will be at the same level of development as the drawings. Everyone on the team has a much better understanding of decisions that have yet to be made, assumptions that are placeholders, and the amount of work necessary to complete the project.

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We're also finding that regular catch-up meetings are helpful for getting folks to focus on sharing new information. Just one 15 or 30 minute Zoom a week is far more efficient than tracking email strings and just a bit of conversation provides an opportunity to prevent misunderstandings.

Streamlining communication and making project information more transparent can only help improve the project documentation process. Creative and judicious use of available and novel technologies makes Conspectus an industry leader and is improving outcomes for architects and owners.

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