Per-SPEC-tives No. 257: Why Johnny Doesn't Read... Specs

by Ralph Liebing, RA, CSI, CDT, Cincinnati, OH

Why doesn’t Johnny [i.e.: too many architects, engineers, contractors, sub-contractors, suppliers, representatives and manufacturers] read the specifications?

Good question-- oddly enough easily answered.

Those “Johnnies” either don’t know they should read the specs, or they know they should and simply ignore that fact! That breaks down to about 10% for the former and 90% for the latter!

They don’t know?????? Well, sure, from our [spec writers] side of things, it is hard to realize this simple fact. But Specifications carry such a low priority and are so grossly misunderstood, maligned, shuttled off and ignored in academic circles as well as in professional circles, they have all but disappeared-- yet they exist on most every project! Why is that? How can that be? Simply, it is the height of hypocrisy that they are being done solely because solely of the factual need for them, and in spite of the distinct lack of respect for them and the lack of understanding of what they do, the protection they provided, and the value of the information they contain-- and then all but totally ignored!

Talk about stupid situations-- this is a classic, yet virtually like no other!

Look! Just as the Agreement [in Contract Documents] is a highly veiled and lesser considered document, so too are specifications. There is such a high priority and emphasis on graphic representation that the written documents are deemed nuisance simply since Johnny isn’t the most interested or best reader, Johnny need not concern himself with them. That simple! Almost ludicrous, nonsensical and pathetic! Obviously such word-mongers as attorneys, feast on words, and the twists and turns that can be imposed on and through them. Hence, the immediate use of specifications in the court room!

Two or three things really and truly, if not drastically, need to happen-- and there appears to be no current appetite for any of them.

First, there is an absolute necessity to stridently get fundamental understanding of specifications [and NO, not all the intricacies, nuances, quirks and inner workings of them] in the professional schools. There is no option here for planting the seeds of basic understanding of their use, relationships and value [and not necessarily including the writing of them].

Second, we absolutely need to teach the concept and reality of three [3] CDs just as we [in some places, at least] teach the three Rs. Students deserve [!!!!!!] and need to know these documents on sight and to understand their unique individual contributions and impact on all projects and contributing parties. Each contract document needs to be properly founded and given its true lasting and ever-present relationship to the others and to each project’s work.

Third, there is need to bring this same understanding to all those allied with, or associated with construction projects. The success of projects involves a straight line progression with no distractions via disputes, claims and other “non-essential” exercises. It needs the cooperation and full understanding of each team member to pull together, cooperate and truly understand their direct contribution and their impact on others. Specifications go a long way to setting the format for all this, IF all participants read, know about, understand and comply as required. This is not to set subservience in place, but merely to hone relationships to the point that the project moves closer and close to that proverbial “well –oiled machine”.

Now if you agree with and buy into all this [and hopefully you do] then what entity is best positioned to address these needs? Who can best bring the needed understanding to all these parties-- academic, professional and project? Where does the deepest pool of specifications knowledge and expertise lie? CSI!

© 2014, Ralph Liebing