Friday, January 1, 2010


Clairvoyance:  perceiving things beyond the natural range of the senses (from Google Dictionary)

I don’t really believe in clairvoyance, but writing specs often seems to require something of the sort.  When drawings and specifications have to be produced simultaneously and within a short time, and the project schedule doesn’t allow time for a spec writer to see and coordinate with a complete set of the drawings before bidding, it’s a real challenge to get the documents right.

Everyone who has studied CSI’s Project Resource Manual or taken a CSI certification course has gotten the message that drawings and specifications should agree, or at least not disagree.  Clients have a right to expect no less, because flawed bidding and construction documents reflect poorly on their design-professional authors, complicate the bidding process and, if the flaws aren’t corrected by addendum before a contract is signed, subject the client to extra costs during construction.

Herewith a few clairvoyance-simulating tips and tricks I’ve learned over the years:

  • Don’t wait for an official copy of the drawings. You’re better off starting project specs early even if you have to start with an in-progress “snapshot” of the drawings rather than an official “DD”, or “50% CD” or whatever the milestone is.  If you wait for an official printing milestone of some sort, you may not have time to understand the project adequately.  Ask the team for sketches, perspectives, or whatever materials the team has developed to explain the project to the client or to themselves.  If you can get your hands on viewer software that will allow you to view in-progress CAD drawings, do it.  If you can participate in contributing information to BIM models, do it.  I haven’t been able to get involved with BIM yet but I sure intend to do so as soon as I can, because that will put me into the project loop.
  • Comb the drawings, project memos and emails for pertinent factoids, and mark up a copy of your master spec table of contents.  This usually generates questions you should ask the team.
  • Ferret out a copy of the Owner/AE Agreement and read it.  Ditto consultant agreements and the Owner/CM Agreement if applicable. Start the bidding and contract requirements and Division 01 first (before the Division 02 through 14 sections) and send a draft copy to your AE project manager for in-house and client review.  Point out known issues, assumptions, wild guesses, etc., and ask for direction.
  • Question!  Pepper members of the project team with questions.  Do plan drawings disagree with elevations?  Do schedules disagree with details?  Do drawings disagree with project memos and emails?  Do details agree with AE office policy?  Ask the team to clarify each apparent contradiction, preferably by email so you can keep track of responses.  I love email for its immediacy, but watch out and don’t depend on it too much. Keep the focus of each email narrow, and send multiple emails – one for each major subject.  People have a tendency to absorb only one thought from an email message and then fire off a response, so if you send a complicated message with many questions, you may not get all the answers you need.
  • Interior Finishes:  Often interior finish material choices are made late in the CD process.  If you delay editing the spec sections for finishes until final selections are made, you may have difficulty finishing the Project Manual on time.  Talk to your interior designer and see if they will consider specifying proprietary color choices in a finish schedule on the drawings.  Then the spec section can focus on installation and workmanship standards and just refer to the finish schedule on the drawings for the actual product and color.  Thus any delay in finalizing finish materials will affect only the drawings and not the specs.

1 comment:

  1. John, what wonderful insights and advice. I, too, have given up on the Platonic ideal of completed drawings and the leisure to study them and write complete specifications based on "pencil down" drawings. Unfortunately, sometimes that means less than specific specifications! I've learned how to be somewhat vague, while not actually being misleading - "Install in accordance with manufacturer's written instructions", for example. And a Finish Schedule, whether on the Drawings or in the Project Manual, is genius. Everyone can breathe easier, especially if it's the client holding up things by not making final choices.

    When reviewing drawings, I tend to bullet point questions and observations in an email, sending one at the end of each day. This allows answers to be placed right next to the question and usually, no questions are missed.

    I request to be copied on all project correspondence; I can decide if I need to keep it. Working across different office locations makes this method of communication vital.

    Thanks for your tips and comprehension of what can be a frustrating and difficult process.