Missing Scope

David Stutzman of Conspectus wrote a blog post last week about his experience finding construction document scope omissions and other issues in a set of progress construction documents. These omissions and issues would have amounted to lots of scope of work missing from the construction documents (leading to change orders), and some potentially serious construction and building performance problems, had he not commented on them to his architect-client.

Dave asked, “So why is the specifier finding this? Well given the time, finding stuff like this and asking questions is all part of the job. This is what goes on in the background and owners are never even aware. Most owners don’t know if a specifier is involved and rarely, if ever, know who it is. Yet it is often the specifier who keeps the projects out of trouble and all without the owner knowing.”

The reasons specifiers often find problems such as Dave found are because of Dave’s reasons above, and also because of the way specifiers approach their work in the planning stages. Like Dave, I prepare a table of contents to include with my fee and services proposals. Sometimes I have the architect’s DD drawings to look at, sometimes I just have a concept design narrative.

The reason I do a table of contents with my proposal is because I approach the project from a point of view of the whole picture. I want to consider every spec section we might possibly need. Then I remove from my list what we don’t need, and there’s my table of contents – my scope.

Instead of gathering up my scope bit by bit, and building up my table of contents, by adding each section I think we’ll need, I consider all of the potential scope, and then delete what I know we don’t need, subtracting from my master table of contents to get down to my project table of contents.1

For me, creating a table of contents is not like building with Legos, it’s like sculpting stone; in creating a table of contents, I just chip away all that is not part of the project.

Like Dave does, in my proposed table of contents next to the sections that I expect to be someone else’s work, I indicate that. I’ve never had an experience as extreme as the one described in Dave’s post, but I regularly have similar experiences on a smaller scale, where some necessary project scope is just missing from the work of architect/consultants/specifier. I’m often the first person to notice the omissions in progress sets, even though I don’t ever see other consultants’ proposals.

As most design professionals who have worked with specifiers know, we are extremely detail-oriented people. We get deep into the details. However, in order to know where to go to dive deep, we have to lay out our plan of action first. We see the big, big picture. That’s partly because we often prepare Division 01, which prompts a whole lot of questions about procedures during construction, and a whole lot of questions about what is in the Owner-Contractor agreement. It’s partly because we lay out our project road map (table of contents) very early, so we don’t get burned, fee-wise.

I never approached projects in this manner when I worked as a project architect. There was no listing of all the drawings that I might need anywhere in my office or anywhere else that I knew of. I actually don’t know any architects who approach projects in the same way most specifiers approach projects.

However, this approach would be a good way for an architect who is the owner’s prime consultant on a project to approach the division of design work, and to verify that all design work, and the production of all construction documents required for the project, is assigned to someone, and is accounted for in consultants’ proposals if the architect isn’t doing it. This would help ensure that the owner is getting what he thinks he’s getting for the contractual design fee – a completely designed project. This would also help prevent massive change orders due to missing scope during construction.

If an architect can’t take this approach, he or she should at least note all explicit exclusions by consultants in their proposals, then verify that the architect or another consultant is covering that work, and if not, verify that the owner does not need that work to be done. If the owner does require that work, the architect should get that work added into someone’s scope before construction begins.



1. CSI’s MasterFormat is the Master-Master Table of Contents, but I usually just use MasterSpec’s complete Table of Contents as my Master Table of Contents, plus some additions of my own.

9 thoughts on “Missing Scope

  1. Liz, thank you for mentioning my blog and sharing your procedure to help explain how specifiers work and why we often discover the scope holes and document inconsistencies.

    You mention that drawing lists to help guide drawing production are not common. Project architects should consider a rigor similar to specifications for creating drawings. Develop a cartoon drawing set, blocking out the content of each sheet. Sure it may change as the design progresses, but at least there will be a map to follow and a guide to measure progress. Perhaps having this simple aid would help eliminate some of the mad scramble near deadlines when the team finally realizes what remains for the project to be completed.

  2. Dave stole my comment! Though I don’t always do it, I am a strong advocate of both the TOC and cartoon set being developed by the project architect and/or project manager early on the in the project. On larger projects with our university clients, it can also help ensure that our whole team meets the submissions requirements and expectations of our clients at each design phase submission.

    Some our staff are learning these things on their own. In a recent lunch n’ learn presentation in our office on project roles, I beamed with pride when a young architect mentioned that she develops the TOC without our in-house spec writer to prepare herself for the initial conversations with him! I mentioned the cartoon set at that time and got a lot of blank stares from younger staff which let me know I have work to do on that front, but we’ll get there.

    I think “rigor” is the important concept of this discussion. We have been hired by our clients to perform professional design services. We approach the pure design aspect with a certain rigor and we should also approach our documentation efforts with the rigor required to meet our contractual requirements. As you and Dave have pointed out, we don’t always do that as architects, relying on the highly skilled spec writers to assist in finding those holes.

  3. Hi Liz (and David and Marvin)

    Thanks for summarising the documentation planning approach that I also advocate (including the “cartoon set”) – usually to puzzled looks!

    Most of our colleagues are (unsurprisingly) visual people, who just want to start drawing, then draw some more … and more. As I’m sure you find, the project specification is typically an afterthought, towards the end of the contract documentation stage.

    I regularly ‘amuse’ myself by doing a private audit of the completed contract drawing set, and find I could typically ‘throw away’ 20% (and often more) of the drawings if the team had adopted a three-pronged approach to documentation (I impolitely call this the ‘Wholly Trinity’)

  4. I meant to add that the “three-pronged approach” comprises drawings [to show arrangements and quantities], schedules [to describe selections] and the specification [to define standards and quality] – and a rigorous approach to all three: “say it once and say it in the right place!”

    But I’m sure you knew all that!

    I also tell (puzzled) team members my approach is “what can we schedule and specify? What’s left over we will draw” – rather than the usual approach of preparing lots of drawings, with the schedule and specification produced towards the end of the documentation stage.

    As well as “cartoon sets”, I also promote the preparation of a draft ‘materials and finishes schedule’ before drawing anything – this then becomes the reference source for the drafting team.

  5. People “who just want to start drawing, then draw some more … and more” show their inexperience. One needs to have a grasp of the whole picture before diving into the details. The organization of a set of drawings and specifications (and this includes schedules) can be seen as analogous to the building design process: you need to program before developing plans and elevations, let alone doing wall sections and details.

  6. Good articles, Liz and Dave. I also use the approach of submitting a Table of Contents with my proposals. However, rarely do I actually produce the ToC myself. I created an extensive and comprehensive Spec Section Checklist that I require clients to fill out in order for me to offer a fee estimate. Once I receive the “completed” Checklist, I review it – ideally against a “current” set of drawings – and then have a follow up conversation with the architect to finalize the Checklist (“I noticed that Joint Sealants wasn’t selected. Perhaps we should include this Section.” Or, “Aluminum Frames is really used more for interior doors and not the Entrances and Storefronts, so we can probably eliminate this Section.”). It also gives me a chance to clarify what Sections may end up being written by other consultants (gulp!) and which consultants may intend to use my masters.

    I also use the phone conversation to discuss Divisions 00 and 01 when the project will be by a CM. As most of you know, CMs often like to/prefer to/insist on (?) providing these documents. I discuss with the architect the pros and cons of using these documents in lieu of mine, and when the architect confirms that the CM will provide them, I make the usually fruitless request to see a copy as soon as possible. “As soon as possible” is typically the hour before, or a day before if I’m lucky, the specs are to be issued.

    Once the Checklist is “approved,” I am confident that the flat fee that I submit will cover most contingencies as the project moves forward. Of course, my agreement contains language regarding additional work and changes of scope of work, things that go above and beyond a common change of EPDM to TPO roofing; or EIFS to composite panels.

    Overall, I get positive feedback from architects on this approach. I’ve been told that it helps them think of materials that they may not have thought of otherwise; at least not until well into the design phase.

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