How to Get Good Specs Done Fast

Monday, August 24th, 2015
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As designers, we need to produce a written specification with each project we do, no matter how small.

Not doing so is a liability, pure and simple.

For many designers, spec writing is a time consuming, laborious, boring chore. This does not need to be so. There are various reasons why designers have difficulty with spec writing. The four main ones I see are:

  1. Designers are more graphics orientated and not are not ‘writers’
  2. Spec writing is done infrequently so familiarity is absent
  3. Designers work with spec masters which are not user-friendly
  4. The ‘writer’ is also the project designer, so other issues interrupt writing.

Let’s quickly look at each of these four reasons.

Designers are more graphics orientated and not are not ‘writers’

While designers are generally more graphics orientated, they should take some comfort and confidence in acknowledging that reading and writing (other than related to specs) is a big part of their life anyway.

The ‘user-friendliness’ of  the spec master that is used plays a very big part in the ease of writing experienced by those who are graphically orientated when writing specs.

In my opinion, a user-friendly full version spec master (short version specs rarely give full protection) is vital. A time consuming and difficult part of spec writing is adding to the spec. A good master will contain only common construction details relating to all building materials that builders all across Australia are familiar with (the spec is your ‘back-up’ document). The writer simply deletes from the master what is not in the project in order to produce the project spec. Project-specific information is put on the drawings and in the schedules. Also, if the spec has it that the builder is to source and work to proprietary product manufacturer installation specs, there is no need to repeat manufacturer installation specs in your spec.

The three main spec masters on the market are ArchiAssist, SpecPack, and Natspec.

Spec writing is done infrequently so familiarity is absent

A designer using a user-friendly master spec will be greatly relieved of this problem, as outlined above. A larger practice engaging a full-time spec writer or outsourcing spec writing is not necessary with a user-friendly master.

Designers work with spec masters which are not user-friendly

This is a pretty obvious problem. Using a master spec which is not user-friendly will drive you nuts and the resulting spec will likely drive spec readers nuts, potentially leading to big on-site and legal problems.

Again, using a user-friendly master spec will greatly alleviate this problem.

The ‘writer’ is also the project designer, so other issues interrupt writing

This is a common problem, and I always recommend the practice allocate a separate team member specifically to write the spec. The project designer needs to concentrate on the overall running of the documentation process and resolving micro-design issues.

With a user-friendly master spec, the allocated spec writer does not necessarily have to be a full-time spec writer, nor do they have to be extremely experienced, but they do need to be qualified.

Just as you are allocating a spec writer to ensure spec writing duties do not interrupt the project designer, conversely you need to ensure the spec writer is not interrupted by other duties. The spec writer’s role and responsibilities should be clearly and specifically defined and adhered to if you want spec writing efficiency. For maximum efficiency this delineation of role and responsibility should apply to all team members.

Spec writing does not need to be as big a headache as it has traditionally been. Granted, it is challenging to get really good protective documentation (and impossible to have perfect documentation) but it is doable for all of us.

However, consider that one error can be a nuisance, and then subsequent errors can start to erode the contractual relationship. Before you know it, you have a fight on your hands and no client will refer you on, let alone come back for repeat projects, if a contract has been marred by dispute.

It is worth it to get your specs as good as humanly possible. Don’t let them fail you!

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