Friday, 28 February 2020

Follow best specification practice - or equivalent

At BIM Show Live 2020, as part of the 'State of the nation' address, Rob Charlton (Space Group CEO) made the point that quite often what is specified does not get built. This can lead to serious problems.

This point was made by illustrating how a trip to the supermarket can go wrong. Photos from these slides are below...
What was specified

What the client ended up with
This generated a bit of discussion on Twitter. The daily challenge of battling against 'value engineering', but also the valid point that as long as there is a robust change control mechanism, then the same (or even better) outcomes can be achieved with different products for a lower price.

To continue the analogy, maybe the client will prefer Tesco cornflakes over Kellogs cornflakes.

So... how can it be ensured that the client gets the quality that the specifier has specified?

A big part of the answer is for the industry to write better specifications.

Consider the examples below...

1. Or equivalent
In the example below, naming a brand and then saying 'or equivalent' - or, indeed using similar language that is ironically equivalent, can significantly increase the risk of not getting what had been hoped for.
'Or equivalent' specifications
If I sent one of my kids to the supermarket and said 'Get me Kellogs Cornflakes or equivalent with this fiver and keep the change' - I suspect I'd be somewhat disappointed with the outcome. In fact I from experience, I know I'd be disappointed with the outcome.

Equally, if a hotel chain specified 'Kellogs Cornflakes or equivalent' to their supplier who they were paying a fixed price to supply breakfast each morning - the risk of getting an inferior product would also be greatly increased.

This topic is looked at in depth in this excellent technical article on from my ex-colleague John Gelder...

2. Specifying by brand
This next example is simple, if you know what you want and the procurement rules allow, then specify what you want. Be clear and be concise.
Be concise
It is worth making the point that most procurement routes allow substitutions to be proposed. The rules around this should be specified in the prelims.
Example template NBS clause setting out rules to be followed around substitution
3. Giving the choice to the contractor (1 of 2)
At times, the brand used is not essential, it is the quality of the product that is important.

If this is the case, specify the minimum quality level and let the contractor choose. Where relevant, specifying a third party certification scheme to ensure that the declared quality has been tested is recommended.
Specify min quality level - let contractor decide.
4. Giving the choice to the contractor (2 of 2)
In the above example, the specifier may know of a product that meets this minimum quality level. The phrasing 'deemed to comply' may be used if considered appropriate.
Using 'Deemed to comply'
5. Asking for proposals that meet the specification
An alternative phrasing used within NBS is 'Submit proposals'. It should be noted that this should be accompanied by the requirements for the submittals process and any further information. This includes (a) which party the submission must go to, (b) the timescales and (c) the method of assesment. For subjective requirements such as aesthetics (or for Cornflakes, something like taste!) the method of assesment should be made clear.
Requesting proposals based on quality requirements
So a big part of the answer to the question 'How do we ensure the client gets the quality the specifier requires?' is write better specifications.

However, this is only part of the answer. A robust change control and verification process so that all product decisions are digitally recorded is another big part of the answer (Golden thread). Is it too much to ask that client's receive record specifications at handover in addition to construction specifications at the end of the technical design stage?

Hopefully the Kellogs Cornflake example (nicely illustrated in the slide by Rob) is food for thought.

If you think your specifications could be better on the projects you work on, check out the RIBA approved CPD from NBS on Better Specification Writing:

To find out more about NBS Chorus see:

* No payments were received from Kellogs Cornflakes for the writing of this article. This blog does not recommend any particular cornflake provider.

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