Keeping bits of knowledge to yourself may give you some kind of power, but teamwork can only work if all the facts are shared for the common good.
It may be stating the obvious, but written specifications are a relatively small part of the giant scheme of things. They are but one document in a morass of information used by designers, contractors and managers for procuring major projects. On small scale buildings, they often do not exist at all, and all the information necessary to complete a building can be incorporated on detailed drawings and preambles to pricing documents.

Specifications in any format should be seen as the transmission of knowledge from one party to another. The golden rule is that the format will be different for different projects and there is no need to produce unnecessary volumes of paper. But generally, the larger and more complex the project, the greater the need for clear, concise and co-ordinated information flow between the parties involved in delivering the design and construction. On such major projects, the “team” – that is, the client, designers, managers and builders – can be extensive, with many layers of management.

Our industry is going through a period of self-evaluation, testing itself against other industries seen as having had similar problems, in an attempt to become more efficient and profitable while delivering a better product to our clients. Success or failure depends largely, however, on how we use and transmit knowledge.

The new systems being proposed and adopted all seem to recognise the need to manage the flow of information, and realise that sharing knowledge is essential. Yet we all experience reluctance to share on a daily basis, because knowledge is power, and power is what drives careers and protects positions. Human nature dictates that knowing something others do not provides an advantage and a greater measure of control.

The designer rarely believes knowledge is power; he believes knowledge should be shared for the common good

This, of course, cuts right across the new prognosis of teamwork, shared responsibility and so on which is at the core of many practical daily problems, and specification writers fall right into the middle of it, as their sole aim is to pass on knowledge.

In my experience, successful major projects have a number of common characteristics:

  • An understanding of and respect for the problems faced by others in the team
  • Clearly defined goals people believe in
  • The acknowledgement that little can happen without proper design, which should reach minimum levels before a contract is entered into, plus agreement on how the post-contract design will be controlled, often with out-of-house specialists
  • Trust, openness and clarity of purpose, so the client gives the industry a fair opportunity to make a profit, within clear parameters
  • An openness and honesty in dealing with problems without a culture of blame
  • Collective involvement and flexibility in the procurement process
  • The enforcement of doctrine during construction.
Until the traditional ideology is pushed aside, we will continue to be faced with disputes, a tarnished image and low profitability. People and their functions are still stereotyped and knowledge is often only shared when forced. When was the last time a lawyer talked to an architect or specification writer about the process of design, document production or problems associated with a particular project before producing a contract? The choices given to clients by these experts rarely take into account the views of the person responsible for driving the whole process, but, in my experience, where such discussions do take place, the project benefits enormously.

If a client realises from day one that its budget or his programme requirements provide the designer with certain problems and it is made aware of them in a clear and concise manner, ways of progressing can be worked out without the need for severe penalty clauses, which seem to be the only tool available in many instances. Specifications and drawings can be prepared in such a way as to take account of these requirements if the procurement and contract processes are flexible. The problems arise when designers are given impossible dates to produce a level of information that others deem necessary.