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Specifiers' Library Who's Your Audience?
THE PATH TO SUCCESSFUL CONSTRUCTION SPECIFICATIONS

Specifications, like all construction documentation, involve communication between at least two parties. The two primary parties can be described as the "speaker" and the "audience" or the "writer" and the "reader." The two parties usually also have a direct contractual relationship but in some cases one party is preparing documentation for the other party to use in communication with a third party.

Before preparing any specifications, be sure the speaker/audience and contractual relationships are well understood. For instance, typical construction specifications are usually prepared by a design professional, but the true "speaker" is the Owner. The audience is the Contractor, usually a single "General Contractor" but actually every prime contractor the Owner has a contract with for the relevant specifications. The work may actually be done by a subcontractor, but he is not the audience until the prime contractor passes the Owner's original requirements on to him. Even then, from the Owner's point of view, the Contractor, not the subcontractor, is the audience. Being clear on the speaker/audience relationship not only helps you prepare correct specifications but will make that process easier by eliminating irrelevant concerns — you only have to address the specifications to one audience.

Although there are a great variety of design and construction entities, all are made up of people and firms performing a limited number of roles. The three main roles are the owner, the designer, and the constructor. In the traditional design-bid-build arrangement, the three roles are performed by independent people or firms. In design-build, there are only two contractual entities - the owner and the design-builder. The three roles are the same but the organization varies due to the different contractual relationship. Besides these two common situations, other contractual relationships are developed to suit particular project conditions.

If you are uncertain about the speaker/audience roles for your project, start by finding out what the contractual relationships are. Who is going to have a contract with whom? "Follow the money" is another way to figure it out — who is paying whom for what work? The charts below describe the full range of contractual relationships for which some type of written documentation is commonly prepared. Remember that specifications sometimes are called something else, especially at different stages in the design process.

Roles and Relationships   Documentation Requirements
Owner >>>> Designer: This relationship describes the situation when an owner or prospective owner hires a design professional as a consultant or employee to design the project and prepare bidding and construction documents. If the design professional is an employee, the owner role may be formalized in a project manager or may be less clearly defined. The design professional has no contractual relationship with the constructor.   Documentation in this direction of the relationship is the owner's instructions to the design professional as to type of project, location, size, arrangement, quality, and cost. There is a wide variation in degree of detail due primarily to the fact that the fee for this contractual relationship is usually not a fixed lump sum, allowing the criteria to be worked out during the design process.
Owner >>>> Constructor: This relationship describes the situation when an owner or prospective owner contracts with a construction entity to build a project designed by another entity. The constructor may be a single prime contractor (usually referred to as a General Contractor) who may or may not hire other constructor entities to perform part or all of the actual construction. The owner may also contract directly with multiple constructor entities (multiple prime contracts).   Documentation in this direction of the relationship consists of the Contract Documents (drawings, specifications, and contractual requirements), and if competitive bidding is required, the bidding requirements. The documentation is prepared by design professionals, either as consultants or employees of the owner. SpecLink is a tool specifically designed for preparing written construction documents.
The owner may also hire a
construction manager to prepare cost estimates, time schedules and contract breakdowns, which, in that case, are not the design professional's responsibility.
Owner >>>> Design-Builder: This relationship describes the situation when an owner or prospective owner contracts with a single entity to perform both design and construction of the project.    Documentation in this direction of the relationship consists of the owner's conceptual documents, which describe the project in sufficient detail, with contractual requirements and procedures for making a proposal. These documents are usually collectively referred to as a Request for Proposal (RFP), even in cases where the Design-Builder has been selected in advance. The RFP may be prepared by the owner (using in-house design professionals) or by a consulting design professional, or a combination of both. PerSpective is a tool specifically designed for preparation of RFP's.
Designer >>>> Owner: This relationship describes the situation when an owner or prospective owner hires a design professional as a consultant or employee to design the project and prepare bidding and construction documents.   Documentation in this direction of the relationship consists primarily of the construction documents. Third-party communication functions include informing financing agencies and cost estimators. In some cases, the owner requires the designer to provide a cost estimate - CostLink/AE is a tool specifically designed for this purpose.
  • During the design phase, the owner wants to review and approve the design.
  Preliminary submissions of the construction documents are commonly required, as well as documents prepared to document design decisions, such as design narratives, design criteria, and outline specs. PerSpective is a tool specifically designed for documentation of design criteria and preparation of outline specifications.
  • Once the design is complete, construction documents are prepared.
  Construction documents consist of drawings, specifications, contractual requirements (for the constructor), and, if bids must be taken, bidding requirements. SpecLink a tool specifically designed for the preparation of construction specifications and bidding requirements.
  • Before the start of construction, building permits must be obtained by either the owner.
  An important third-party communication function of the final documentation is to code authorities to obtain approval for issuance of building permits.
Designer >>>> Design-Builder: This relationship describes the situation when a design-builder has a contract with an owner for a project and now must perform the design. The design-builder hires design professionals as consultants or employees to design the project and prepare bidding and construction documents. If the design professional is an employee, the design-builder role may be formalized in a project manager or may be less clearly defined.   Documentation in this direction of the relationship consists primarily of drawings and specifications for use in instructing constructors. If subcontracts are to be issued for construction, bidding and contractual requirements are necessary. Important third-party communication functions of this documentation are to the owner for substantiation of design criteria (which may require preliminary documentation submissions and engineering calculations), to code authorities to obtain approval for issuance of permits, and to inform cost estimators. SpecLink is a tool specifically designed for the preparation of construction specifications and bidding requirements.
Design-Builder >>>> Owner: This relationship describes the situation when an owner or prospective owner contracts with a single entity to perform both design and construction. A design-builder may be a construction management entity, a conventional general contractor, a design professional, or any other entity the owner is willing to enter into a contract with.   Documentation in this direction of the relationship depend on the stage of the project. Besides the documentation required by the owner, the design-builder prepares cost estimates for his own purposes -- CostLink/CM and CostLink/AE are cost estimating tools. 
  • Proposal stage: The type of documentation and degree of detail varies widely but ultimately must be acceptable to the owner. If the cost is not fixed in advance (i.e. cost-plus-a-fee) fewer details are essential at the proposal stage and the documentation requirements are consequently reduced.
  The design-builder's proposal describes the project to be constructed. If the owner has prepared and issued an RFP, the design-builder's proposal usually consists of his time and cost proposal, plus exceptions and additions to the RFP requirements. If the owner has not prepared an RFP, the design-builder's proposal will constitute his contract documents and, as such, must include details as to scope, time, cost, and quality. PerSpective is a tool specifically designed for preparation of design-build proposals.
  • Design stage: The owner usually must approve the design and often requires formal substantiation that the construction will comply with the design criteria.

  Documentation usually requires submission of design documents, primarily drawings, engineering calculations, and preliminary specifications or other product documentation, but also including models, mock-ups, samples, and test data. PerSpective is a tool specifically designed for preparation of outline specs.
  • Before the start of construction, building permits must be obtained by either the owner or the design-builder.
  Code authorities usually require submission of detailed drawings and specifications. Owners usually require the design-builder to prepare the code documentation, which may or may not be the same documents as prepared by the design-builder for his constructors. SpecLink is a tool specifically designed for preparation of construction specifications.
  • During the construction stage, the owner may require substantiation that the construction is being performed as promised.
  Substantiation may require submittal of shop drawings, samples, lab and field test data, and reports of code inspections.
  • Upon completion, owners usually require submission of documents that will enable them to maintain the facility.
  These documents include warranties, operation and maintenance data, and project record documents.
Design-Builder >>>> Designer: This relationship describes the situation when a design-builder has a contract with an owner for a project and now must perform the design and obtain the owner's approval. The design professional may be employed by the design-builder or may be an outside consultant.   Documentation in this direction of the relationship consists of the design-builder's instructions for completion of the design and construction documents, with the proposal documents as the basis. The design-builder either employs design professionals to prepare detailed instructions for outside design professionals (similar to preparation of an RFP by an owner) or hires consultant design professionals (as an owner would).
Design-Builder >>>> Constructor: This relationship describes the situation when a design-builder has completed the design and now must perform the construction. The design-builder may contract with a single prime contractor or with multiple constructor entities (subcontractors). In both cases, the design-builder may also perform part of the work with his own forces.  The design-builder will usually have already performed cost estimating to determine feasibility of the design.    Documentation in this direction of the relationship consists of contract documents (drawings, specifications, and contractual requirements), and if competitive bidding is required, the bidding requirements. The documentation is prepared by design professionals, either as consultants or employees. Another important communication function of this documentation is to code authorities to obtain approval for issuance of building permits. SpecLink is specifically designed for preparation of construction specifications and bidding requirements.
Constructor >>>> Owner or Design-Builder: This relationship describes the situation when an owner or design-builder contracts with a construction entity to build all or part of a project already designed. The constructor may hire other constructor entities to perform part or all of his contracted work.   Documentation in this direction of the relationship depends on the stage of the project. Besides the documentation required by the owner/design-builder, the constructor prepares cost estimates for his own purposes -- CostLink/CM is a tool designed for detailed cost analysis. 
  • If competitive bids are required by the owner, at the bidding stage the constructor must submit his time and cost proposal (his "bid" or "tender").
  Submission of a bid is usually accomplished using a bid form prepared in advance by the owner. If the constructor finds it necessary to prepare extensive contract documents prior to submitting his bid, then he is probably acting in the role of design-builder rather than simply as a constructor.
  • During the construction stage, owners usually require substantiation that the project is constructed as promised.
  This documentation usually consists of shop drawings, product data, samples, engineering calculations, test reports, etc., which are collectively referred to as "submittals."
  • Upon completion, owners usually require submission of documentation that will help them maintain the facility.
  These documents include warranties, operation and maintenance data, and project record documents.
Constructor >>>> Subcontractor: This relationship describes the situation when a constructor entity (prime, sub, or any level) contracts with another constructor entity to perform part or all of the work the original constructor has already contracted to do. This relationship can exist in both design-bid-build and design-build.   Documentation in this direction of the relationship is usually all or part of the constructor's own contract documents (drawings and specifications), copied and assigned to the subcontractor with additional instructions or conditions and a formal contract. The constructor's contract documents will have been prepared by either the project owner or a design-builder. If the constructor finds it necessary to prepare extensive contract documents for subcontractors, then he is probably acting in the role of design builder rather than simply as a constructor.

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