The focus of this blog is construction-related topics. The purpose is discussion, so please feel free to comment! See Specific thoughts for thoughts from the daily life of a specifier.

22 March 2015

Haystacks: Do construction documents do what they're supposed to do?

The purpose of construction documents is simple: They tell the contractor what is needed to complete a project.

How best to do that has been a subject of debate for a long time, even though a basic set of rules has been used at least as far back as the 1940s. In his "The Case For the Streamlined Specification", published in the July 1949 Construction Specifier, Ben John Small referred to a book titled "Specifications" that was written in 1896; the older book apparently discussed some degree of streamlining.

That's fine as far as it goes, but if the intent is to clearly communicate with the contractor, are we doing as well as we could? Architects and specifiers have a nice collection of rules for organizing information, but do they make sense for the contractor? Our rules are fairly consistent, and they are generally accepted by design firms, but can they be improved? A large project many take a year or more to complete, yet we still have inconsistencies and conflicts. Is it fair to expect a bidder, who typically has only a few weeks to figure out what we want, collect subcontract bids (many of which are incomplete or include qualifications), decide how much to include to cover the inevitable problems, and arrive at a competitive price?

Can we do better than asking contractors to find the critical information in a haystack of information that is less important?