Uncoordinated specifications can result in chaos and even claims. The architect (and its spec writer) could do something about it – if only they could get involved from the start.
There is no doubt that times are changing in the construction industry. We are becoming more efficient, more cost-effective, more aware of the roles each participant brings to the process and, perhaps more important, we are gradually becoming more open-minded about new ideas and methods.

Clients that are professional developers are more demanding than one-off and small clients, and quite rightly so. They require their “teams” to deliver modern buildings in a shorter time, to a higher quality and at a cheaper price. The construction industry should be able to deliver this to all clients – and make a reasonable return.

So, why don’t we? The central reason is a lack of teamwork and co-ordination. There remains in the industry a sense of self-preservation and an attitude of do unto others before they do unto you. The person writing the spec could help.

Often, the specification writer has to work to a process dictated by others, and make sure that his documentation reflects what is actually required rather than what he believes should be produced. The specification has to be co-ordinated with all the other written contract documentation, not just the drawings. Too many specifications are simply based on a previous project, paying little or no heed to the contractual situation. This is a common mistake.

Remember that, on most projects, there is more than one specification, even if the form of contract envisages otherwise. For a start, each consultant produces its own, independent specification. In addition to this, the contractor and/or manager may include within the invitation to tender some trade/subcontract document sections dealing with materials, quality assurance and control, training, maintenance and design requirements. And finally, the quantity surveyor may include similar clauses in the preliminaries section of the bills of quantities. The result of all this is that these documents become repetitive at best and conflicting at worst.

Conflict often results from the fact that many off-the-shelf software products used for producing documents such as bills of quantities and specifications include clauses that mix trade sections, preliminaries and permanent and temporary works. Indeed, the Common Arrangement of Works Sections encourages this.

The key to this “new team” is the designer, which always leads the process but is all too often ignored when setting it in place

Such conflicts can have serious consequences. For example, conflicting information issued to tenderers can cause confusion leading to misinterpretation and claims. Very often, design responsibilities or criteria are referred to differently in the various documents – which is just asking for trouble.

Specifications should set the criteria for the permanent works and, if applicable, the way in which the final quality and appearance is controlled. The preliminaries should remain part of the bills of quantities or pricing documents, giving the tenderer the opportunity to declare its price for any item or obligation necessary to complete the permanent works but that is costed on a time or lump-sum basis. In the UK, the specification is not the pricing document.

The solution to the problem is co-ordination. Where a lead designer is nominated, the co-ordination role should be done by its specification writer or document control manager. He would ensure that documents use the same terminology, have a consistent format and reflect the requirements of the building contract and consultant appointments.

The lead designer’s responsibilities should include a co-ordination role from the start of the project, including selection of contracts and procurement processes. This is important because these set the level of information required for tender and contract, the type of specification needed for various elements and the responsibilities of the parties. The specifications need to reflect these requirements.