01 March 2021 | by

1. What clients need

No two clients are the same, and each will have requirements specific to their own business needs. However, there is also much commonality across all projects and all sectors.

Whether the building work is a project in the education or healthcare sectors, or an office space, the client relies on consultants to design, specify and supervise the works, and then for these works to be completed to the quality level specified.

Successful project outcomes, therefore, depend on good specification practice by the consultants that clients employ. Research carried out at NBS (such as the recent NBS Specification Report and NBS Contracts and Law Report) show that specification is a job that can have varying levels of quality. Here are some of the more worrying findings:

  • 59% of practices rush specification writing.
  • 55% of practices do not have enough people who know how to write specifications.
  • 35% of projects do not have contract documentation signed before construction commences.
  • 34% of projects go into dispute each year.
  • 27% of projects have had progress impeded due to poor (or lack of) specification.

The Construction Playbook, recently published by the UK Government Cabinet Office, devotes an entire chapter to the need for clear specifications. It highlighted important dos and don’ts, including the need for a logical structure, reflection of the specification in the contract and the use of plain language.

In addition to producing a building that meets the client’s requirements, the industry is also increasingly requiring a digital record of the building as a key output. ‘Going digital’ in this respect provides the following benefits:

  • Receive an audit trail of decision-making
    Clients need to understand what design and specification decisions have been made and who made them. Also, they want to know where variations occur, and to be aware of the process of assessment and sign-off.
  • Improved facility management
    At the end of a project, in addition to the building itself, the client should receive a digital record of the building. This can assist with operation and maintenance, including the scheduling of recurring tasks and ordering of consumables
  • Creation of baseline master specifications to help standardize the briefing and design process
    Where a client has a portfolio of buildings, it is considered good practice to develop master specifications centrally to make the procurement of each project more efficient. Where a portfolio contains similar building types (for example, housing, retail or entertainment) then master specifications can be more complete and more effective, as a large percentage of the materials and execution requirements are quite often the same.

2. Recommended approach

There are a number of things to consider when defining an approach to specification on a project.

2.1 Standard specification structure

It is important that a standard structure is defined and agreed for specifications at the preparation and brief stage. Using a standard structure makes finding the required content an easier task. Whether it is developed by an architect, a building services engineer, a landscape architect or a structural engineer, the information should always be in the same place.
The recommended structure from NBS is shown below, using a simplified doorset as an illustration.

Figure 2.1 – Recommended specification structure from NBS

2.2 Standard classification system

The way that systems and products are grouped in a specification will depend on the classification chosen. The chosen classification system should also be used to identify information in any drawings, schedules, models and databases. This provides a level of consistency throughout the entire project.

Uniclass 2015 is the UK Government-funded classification system that NBS follows. Uniclass is also now being successfully adopted by a broad range of construction sectors globally. It contains tables classifying items of any scale – from a large facility such as a railway down to products such as a CCTV camera in a railway station. Uniclass 2015 is the UK’s implementation of the international standard ISO 12006-2. Examples of the classification logic and hierarchy are shown below.

Figure 2.2 – Examples of classification logic and hierarchy

The specification itself should include cross references between any system and the products that the system contains; for example, the link between the roof framing system and the timber beam products, or the link between the heating system and the type of boiler product.

2.3 A consistent approach to coordinated project information

On any project, a large amount of information is produced. Even on ‘BIM’ projects, much of this will be distributed in PDF or even paper format. A standard approach for cross-referencing information is therefore extremely important. Two examples are shown in the figures below. The first shows specifications being cross-referenced from a schedule of information. The second shows annotations on drawings.

Figure 2.3.1 – Specification cross references within a planning matrix
Figure 2.3.2 – Specification cross references as annotations in a drawing exported from a model

2.4 Investing in specification masters to provide baselines for each project

The illustrations below show how clients can make use of specification masters.

Figure 2.4 – Making use of master specifications in NBS

3. Summary

A client’s approach to specification should be a significant consideration when preparing for any project. Specifications should be considered alongside other document types when considering specific information requirements.

The diagram below illustrates how improved outcomes can be achieved through a more focused approach to specification.

Figure 2.5 – Improved outcomes through a coordinated approach to specification

A coordinated approach to specification across a project team can deliver clarity and quality on a single project. However, the benefits (whether measured in quality, efficiency or reduced risk) can be much larger if applied to a range of projects for a client with a large portfolio of buildings.

“As a client and as duty holders having a standardised and digital golden thread of information is essential. The starting point of our golden thread of information is our employer’s requirements and technical specifications.
Ultimately we must have assurance that components perform as specified over the whole lifecycle, that they can be maintained to forecast budgets, and when they need replacing that we have to hand, all the information to easily pick the right replacement.”
Johnny Furlong - BIM Strategy Lead at L&Q



Further information on NBS Chorus is provided below: