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.
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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