The Future of Specification Management Will Take a Village

Posted by Joanna Sinclair on October 30, 2019

The Future of Specification Management

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Deltek recently had the opportunity to attend the CONSTRUCT Expo in National Harbor, Maryland. This annual event is one of the few that serves Construction Specification Writers almost exclusively and is a great place to interact with those who understand and utilize MasterSpec® content more than any other group.

What makes this event unique is that it attracts the leading specification gurus across North America, meaning the attendees not only want to talk about specs, but they do so with enthusiasm, perspective and assertiveness. It’s not uncommon to hear a small group of spec-writers at odds with each other about particular building products, the sections they belong in, and surrounding language.

Despite the various opinions that get raised, the discussions and debates always seem to be handled with mutual respect. The community of veteran specification writers is noticeably tight knit.

 

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It may come as no surprise that, like many gatherings of architects, engineers and spec-writers, there was a noticeable gap between generations at this year’s event. While industry veterans attend the event to network, share stories, and recognize each other’s accomplishments — a smaller, arguably fragmented, group of emerging professionals also attend. Their mission, which sounds simpler than it is, is to glean as much as they can about this intricate world of construction documents.

A number of eager architecture students came to the Deltek booth to ask questions about MasterSpec and to request any and all information they can get their hands on about spec content, editing and best practices. We were able to share with them some good news that Deltek offers free access to cloud-based MasterSpec content to all students for educational purposes.

Believe it or not, for many design students, that might be their only chance to interact with specifications before graduating with an architecture or engineering degree.

How Did Experts Learn Their Trade?

Licensed architect and Senior Administrator of Product MasterSpec, Jonathan Miller, has worked in the design world for nearly 35 years and has risen up as a subject matter expert in specifications and product research. However, it didn’t happen overnight.

“I first became aware of specifications in my senior year of undergrad,” Jonathan shared. “It was in a Professional Practice course taught by the late Clemson Dean of Architecture, Harlan McClure, FAIA. The topic of specifications didn’t come up again until my last semester of graduate school, this time by the late Ralph Rapson, FAIA, Head of Architecture at the University of Minnesota.”

Thanks to those professors, Jonathan had an idea of what specifications were, but admittedly, he had not been exposed to enough detail for it to stick. When it came time to study for the Architect Registration Examination (ARE®), which tests on project manuals and spec language, Jonathan finally realized just how important construction documents are to design.

From there, he dove into many networking and educational opportunities in order to become CSI and CCS certified, which were crucial to his ability to practice specifications and become a leader in the field.

“Within two years [of becoming certified], I had applied this new specification knowledge to compile an 800 page Project Manual for a $4 million Cancer Research Center addition. Twenty years later, I was stepping down as Chairman of CSI’s Certification Committee.”

Have Things Changed?

According to design professionals spanning multiple generations, construction documents and specifications are still are very minor or altogether absent topic in design education. In speaking with a number of Gen X and Millennial architects and engineers, it is clear that networking and mentorship remain invaluable to young professionals who want and need to learn how to read, write and understand construction specifications.

The challenge young designers face is not just in the lack of educational opportunities, but also the ever approaching reality of losing valuable firm knowledge as senior specification writers retire.

We met Charles Hendricks at CONSTRUCT who told us about his limited exposure to specifications prior to joining the workforce. Charles is now a Principal Architect at The Gaines Group and holds an advanced degree in Architecture. Similar to Jonathan’s story, Charles had to learn specifications on his own after graduating. He continues to develop much of his specification knowledge from developing relationships with subject-matter experts at conferences and from colleagues on the job.

In addition to urging architecture and engineering programs to incorporate more CDT and specification content into their curriculum, Charles advises young design professionals to fill in as many of those gaps as possible through mentor-ship. “If you want to make yourself more valuable at a design firm, learn how to write specifications. If you want to survive in the industry, at a minimum, learn how to read specifications and understand their impact on your projects.”

 

"If you want to make yourself more valuable at a design firm, learn how to write specifications."

 

The deficit of specification education impacts young engineers as well. Angela Ragusa was eager to share with us her ongoing journey toward specification proficiency. Angela is a Civil Engineer for the Port of Los Angeles and has found herself working with building specifications on a daily basis, whether working on design projects or maintaining their office master.

Angela credits her undergrad internship for her initial exposure to specifications. “Otherwise, I had zero exposure during my schooling,” she commented. To get up to speed, Angela has relied on studying previous project manuals, referring to free online resources, attending CSI meetings and events, and learning from more tenured colleagues. Although, she admits, this hasn’t necessarily come easily.

“Sometimes there is a disconnect between emerging professionals and their [senior colleagues]. There can be misunderstandings about what’s important and valued by this younger generation,” Angela said.

 

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To combat these logistical and generational hurdles, Angela believes that young designers need to take initiative whenever they can. “I would recommend to engineering and design students to learn not just design and drafting during internships but also learn about Contract Documents as a whole.”

“Understanding specification requirements are what make your design come to life… and makes your next design that much better,” she continued.

Championing Collective Knowledge

Whether you’ve been writing specifications for decades or are just beginning your studies, you have at least one important thing in common – you entered this field knowing little to nothing about specifications. Although the next few years of innovation may drastically change the way we create project manuals, the principles behind specifications will remain essential to creating a better built world. In the meantime, collaborate, compare stories, capture collective data, and take advantage of in-person events to expand your circle.

The Deltek Specification Solutions team will be networking with designers and spec-writers again this fall at Autodesk University (booth AE454) and Greenbuild International Conference and Expo (booth 1629) in November as we continue to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of MasterSpec. Come see us and bring us your spec questions and project needs.

Reach out to us anytime at SpecificationSolutions@deltek.com.

 

About the Author

Joanna Sinclair is a marketing manager at Deltek with a focus on Specification Solutions — including MasterSpec®, a product of the American Institute of Architects. Joanna has worked in the building materials and construction space for most of her career and is passionate about connecting design professionals with the resources they need to design and build better.