Contributed by Keith Robinson
Actually estimators do not dislike specifiers, they dislike what specifiers produce when timely and productive research is not done during the documentation of project requirements.
I never cease to be amazed at the way people read and interpret our specifications. Each reader has a different perspective; and depending on the that individual’s point of view, the subsequent communication essential to the reasons why we spend so much time and effort creating specifications.
There are many readers who view the specification as “just a listing of products”; a few weeks ago I discussed with estimators their needs, and was stunned by their assertion that the specification content does not work for them --> that the specifier did understand what they needed to do their work more effectively. Being a naturally inquisitive person; I saw this as an opportunity to as “why do you believe that?”, and sought out an answer.
There were several outcomes to this conversation; one of the most prominent points being that there needs to be a relationship established between specifiers and estimators, and the other being that the people who read the specifications are consumers. Consumers look to the product quality; the specification product is information, meaning that better information leads to a better product for the consumer.
The Issue with Product Orientated Specifications
So what are the estimators saying they need for a better product? Turns out that there are people out in the wide world of document preparation (and who may not be real specifiers) that insist on making their specifications “fair” to the greatest number of potential installers/suppliers/manufacturers/fabricators as possible. These types of specifications typically include soup-to-nuts, and throw in the kitchen sink to round things out… and perhaps the nuts aren’t edible --> they are actually fasteners.
There is also the mistake of being overly specific and considering only one product; the one that was last seen in the manufacturer’s trade show, the one we’d just love to find a home for… and that may be specialized to the point that the estimators do not know where or how to obtain the product.
Estimators and specifiers look to product listings as being examples of the performance aspects required for the project. They are not a shopping list --- pick one, any one --- product listings must be thoroughly researched and compared to the needs of the project. Fairness is achieved using a thorough investigative approach to the product listings, and realization that there may be other products in the marketplace that can deliver the needs of the project --> and is the reason why proposed substitutions should be considered when presented by the constructor (more on that topic in a different posting).
Once in a long while --- the concept of a single product specification can work; there are always exceptions to what we do, but the success of the few instances should not be seen as solution for all situations.
The Issue with Manufacturer’s Installation Instructions
The other aspect of Product Oriented Specifications is that they are usually accompanied by a simplified execution requirement stated as “Install in accordance with manufacturer’s written instructions”.
Again, once in a long while this is fine, and is appropriate when there is a very specialized item that does not depend on or influence any other elements of the building… as long as the assembly actually has manufacturer’s installation instructions, so again research – research --- research. In the usual trail of events, however, creating the statement “Install in accordance with manufacturer’s installation instructions” is not enough information.
Manufacturer’s instructions include several different and perhaps conflicting instructions, which the specifier needs to select to make appropriate to the project, or by describing enough of the actual installation instructions for the consumer to understand what is intended or required without actually stating precise site installation requirements.
Sometimes several different manufacturers are acceptable, and they may have slightly different installation instructions. That’s the main reason that specifications often rely on “Install in accordance with…” statements. Research must be done to compare installation instructions and compile common requirements and identify those that are different; enough information is provided to clearly communicate which of the different installation instructions are intended to be used in the project --> and which then makes the estimator a very happy person.
As a for instance --- a statement like “apply primer at a rate required by the manufacturer appropriate to the substrate” is preferable over a statement such as “apply primer at a rate of 400 mL/m2 for gypsum sheathing or 300 mL/m2 for concrete masonry units”. There is a point where one manufacturer could require X grams per m2 coverage and the other manufacturer needs Y grams per m2, and where the manufacturer’s rate of installation curing is directly related to a site condition.
This is also a good reason to allow drawing notes to reflect only the layer description and forego any additional descriptors. We often encounter drawing notes that pretend to be instructions rather than an indication of intent, causing a note such as “APPLY AIR/VAPOR BARRIER TO PRIMED SUBSTRATES”. The drawing note in this case should read “AIR/VAPOR MEMBRANE” --- apply the KISS Principle. Overly detailed drawing notes that are not coordinated with the specification is a sure way to drive the estimator batty --> particularly when the drawing note has potential to contradict the manufacturers written instructions where a primer is not specifically required for a particular substrate.
My conversation with the estimators had a positive outcome, we are going to work together to bring about industry accepted limits to interpretation, recognize that the various parties consuming the specification have different needs. The estimator needs clear direction to product selection and substitution procedures with project specific installation requirements that could affect price; the designer needs to see that an appropriate number of pre-construction meetings and mock-ups are listed to confirm that the owner’s design program is met; the contract administrator needs to see that shop drawings are submitted when appropriate (shop drawings indicate a design solutions) and when meetings are to occur; lawyers need to confirm that language in the specification match terminology in the contract; and so on --- with each subsequent consumer taking away specific kernels of information that lead to a complete understanding of project needs.
One of my new found peers called estimators and specifiers doppelgangers of each other --> we share similar office requirements (a square box with a door --- door contains a round hole at the top to insert drawings and a square slot at the bottom to output the specification or estimate). It was meant in jest of course, but was a good metaphor to the similar roles we perform on opposite sides of the Bid Period.
If the estimator and the specifier could actually sit in the same room during document production, or estimate preparation... a multitude of issues could be solved. There are a number of concepts surrounding these two specific skills sets that are mutually compatible, and could provide the Owner (our client) with a timelier, better quality and perhaps less costly project. Only time will tell --- it is truly amazing what a conversation can lead to... stay tuned for updates.
Contributed by Elias Saltz
By naming it “Let’s Fix Construction,” this project set forth the premise that construction is broken, or at least not operating optimally. To support the premise that construction needs fixing, I suggest it’s necessary to back up and determine what we believe are actually out of order.
I come to this project from a professional vantage point: that of an architectural school grad and an employee at architectural firms. I have been working my whole 22-year career in design firms; I’ve moved from intern to project architect to project manager and to full-time specifier. That means that I’ve been experiencing only one part of the story, but I have gotten pretty familiar with that one side.
The facility design and construction process (at least in the traditional design-bid-build or design-negotiate-build methods) is for the most part driven by the architect. The architect is the one who is presented the project goals by the Owner and is tasked with generating the design and construction documents and then helping to facilitate its execution. In this architect-centric view, the responsibility to faithfully and skillfully execute the work lies with the architect. The architect comes up with the conceptual design and develops that design, adding more and more technical detail, coordinating the work of engineering and other consultants, incorporating information from myriad sources into one package and shepherding that package through procurement and entitlement, until the job can be built by a contractor. The architect maintains responsibility through construction, working to verify that the project is being built so that it conforms to the design.
As the center of all that activity, the architect is the source of (or at least contributing to) many problems that, if solved, would go a long way toward ‘fixing’ construction. For the remaining part of this post I will describe what I see are some of the most serious of those problems, and hope for other stakeholders to add their own later. The words “many, but not all” should of course be a given in front of each item below.
The idea that we’re going to fix construction means that these and other problems should be identified, given serious thought individually and collectively, and only then I think should solutions be proposed. I look forward to working to affect the changes that the industry so desperately needs.
Contributed by Randy Nishimura
Is the architectural profession in need of revitalization or reinvention? In a provocative blog post (Please. Stop the Reinvention Talk), fellow blogger and specifications writer Liz O’Sullivan issued a rejoinder to management consultant James P. Cramer, and his article for DesignIntelligence entitled Competing for the Future. Having considered both perspectives, it’s my turn to comment.
Jim Cramer takes issue with architects who suffer from a lack of nerve and have given in to a cynical and dark pessimism about the future of professional practice. He questions why some architects dwell as much as they do upon inwardly focused priorities rather than exploring new models and entrepreneurial visions for the design professions and tomorrow’s A/E/C industry. It’s his belief that “the game has changed” and that innovation and change management need to be an integral part of the curricula in schools of architecture. He is an advocate for reinventing the profession.
Liz bristles at the notion that reinvention is necessary. Instead, she believes we must do a better job of meeting the needs that owners have now, that we used to meet, and no longer do. She points out that owners haven’t changed but architects have. We’ve unwittingly surrendered much of the design and construction landscape to others and in the process diminished our influence and relevance. Liz asserts owners will stop looking elsewhere for the services we used to provide if we simply reclaim our territory and prove our value once more. She believes in revitalization rather than reinvention.
This needn’t be an “either/or” dilemma. We should embrace all possibilities. We must address the complexities and yes, the contradictions, of current professional practice. We can revitalize and reinvent ourselves at the same time.
As I stated in my response to Liz’s earlier Take Back the Reins post and as Liz herself acknowledges, a crucial challenge confronting architecture is the exponential growth in its complexity and scope. This development prompts specialization and the balkanization of our profession because it is increasingly difficult for architects to acquire detailed expertise in all areas of focus. The problem is essentially a budgeting exercise: how do we allocate limited resources (time and money) in the development of future architects?
I argued we would be losers if we played a zero-sum game in which sacrificing design acumen is necessary to acquire essential technical know-how. Exercising my privilege as the author of that statement, I’ll now amend it by substituting “critical thinking” for “design acumen.”
We cannot afford to shortchange the teaching of critical thinking, analysis, and integrative problem solving in our schools of architecture. These are the core competencies that form the indispensible foundation of a skill set unique to architects. A classic schooling in architecture ingrains the ability to think broadly and critically. We need to view the world from the widest perspective possible, and apply critical thinking to every aspect of professional practice. To do otherwise is to abandon our duty as stewards of the built environment.
This duty is profound: Architecture is not an autonomous pursuit. Regardless of how much responsibility we have ceded to other entities, we have impactful roles to play when it comes to a wide spectrum of challenges faced by our society. We still exert influence today upon the creation of effective and grounded design solutions. We can expand this influence and revitalize our profession by once again assuming a broad leadership role on every design and construction project.
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Contributed by Vivian Volz
Are you communicating with your specifier during construction administration? Are you, perhaps, a little afraid to tell your specifier about something that didn’t get built according to the spec?
I will tell you, that’s exactly the kind of feedback we specifiers most need, in order to serve you better. Don’t be afraid.
What’s the point of communicating with your specifier once the specs are done? Well, there are a few points, and many of them can make your project better and your work better.
It’s precisely because of the feedback I get on my specs that I make myself available for construction administration consultation for every project. I also feel that this service improves my clients’ spec literacy, which makes the next project go more smoothly.
What if your specifier gets shocked or offended when you don’t enforce their spec? It’s worth examining your relationship. Think back on how you told her first, and see if it’s reasonable for her to have thought you devalued or ignored her hard work. If that’s a reasonable interpretation, apologize. A happy consultant is a faithful, dedicated consultant, after all. On the other hand, if you have a specifier who is hostile or unreceptive to your feedback, you have a choice: find out whether the relationship can be improved, or go shopping for a more collaborative specifier.
When you're a good teammate, and so is your specifier, you have the specifier you deserve. And good teammates have nothing to fear in working together.
Contributed by Eric Lussier
Attending numerous education sessions at CONSTRUCT when it was held in Nashville, I was hit with an overwhelming theme during multiple sessions. These were not just sessions geared towards construction product reps like myself, either. One was delivered by David Stutzman (@dstutzman), an independent specifier for Conspectus, called “But That’s Not What I Meant! Specifying the Architect’s Intent” and the other was “Architect/Consulting Engineer Coordination: Closing the Gap” presented by Cherise Lakeside (@CheriseLakeside) who holds 25+ years of experience for an architectural firm and currently is a Construction Specifier for Ankrom Moisan Architects of Portland, OR.
Both of these sessions were presented to full rooms, with the core of the attendants being architects, specifiers or engineers. The essential moral of each of these presentations, as is commonplace within CSI, was delivering a project under ideal conditions within a full embodied team. However, as the real world shines through quite well in construction, this does not normally occur. The issues that David and Cherise both face all too many times entail one common issue: communication. Trying to build a project takes many people from many companies covering many responsibilities. While trying to see the forest (the project) through the trees (the phases of the project, the players involved, the design documents and more), it only makes sense to share, collaborate and discuss to help attain the goal. The earlier that everyone comes to this realization, the easier it should be to complete the project. BUT, even with contracts binding parties together, I kept hearing of the same issue over and over again: that people weren’t talking and weren’t sharing and not in a timely fashion. David is confronted with trying to write a specification for a project that was only in 50% design documents “and not very good design documents” and Cherise is trying to coordinate her MEP with mere weeks left in a project schedule and with incomplete information.
Inspired by a great quote tweeted by Marvin Kemp (@BaltoCSI), “In a collaborative environment, you should listen, not wait to talk”. However, in order to listen, you do need to open the lines of communication. We’re not trying to steal the nuclear launch codes here, we’re trying to give the owner his ultimate vision. Why is it so hard to talk to those that we are working with? We’re so connected in this day and age, it is frightening. As Mitch Miller (@m2architek) shared “Technology is allowing access to more information, at an accelerating pace every day.” Before smartphones giving us email, posts, Tweets and more, there was only desktop email. Before desktop email, there was the traditional telephone and it came with a cord! Before the telephone, there was mail and courier service. Before mail there was only the telegram. Going back before the telegram, face to face was the only true way to communicate, and it is hard to mis-interpret someone when you are staring someone in the eye. However, you do still need to listen. The next quote I read today has a few meanings, but it does fit into this listening theme: “Consider where you focus your attention. Is it where it matters most?”
If you have the project in sight and the owner’s best interest in mind, shouldn’t we all be able to play along? We may no longer be a child in the sandbox at the park where we have no worries and no enemies, but a construction project does normally start with site work (our modern day sandbox) and in the end, don’t we all just want to get along and ‘play nice’?
Let's Fix Construction is an avenue to offer creative solutions, separate myths from facts and erase misconceptions about the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry.
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