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Posted on Thursday, March 04, 2004 - 02:48 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

In my efforts to understand the amount of time required for writing project specifications I have come up with approximately 1.5 hours per section multiplied by the number of sections for a project. This number is the result of a survey from various specification writers in the Detroit area. In an effort to take things one step further – I am trying to establish if there is a rule of thumb for associating a percentage of a project budget for generating outline specifications, sheet specifications and of course a full blown project manual? Early on in the process I have found that PIC’s and PM’s never allow for enough time. So my question is this – Is it possible to establish that a project worth a certain dollar amount should allow for .5% for an outline specification or .75% for a sheet specification or 2% for a project manual?
(Unregistered Guest)
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Posted on Thursday, March 04, 2004 - 04:20 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

These converstations with enphatic time limits for preparing a specification section are misleading. There are so many variables affecting writing project specifications that have to be considered. Each section, each project, each writer has a different pace and set of requirements and comes with a different experience.

What is included in that 1.5 hours? Is it just word processing without thought, consideration, and use of our expertise? What about time for research and evaluation of the products being specified?

Are hours spent in meetings, phone conversations, and emails included in the 1.5 hours? Does it include time for review by others, for a QA/QC process, for when the consultants don't provide information on time and the specifier has to spend additional hours tracking down the consultant and the missing information? Does it include changes in scope after the section has been completed? Does it include multiple submissions?

How many revisions and print outs does this 1.5 hours include? Those who do public agency work know that there are minumum 5 submittals for each project. With each submittal there is an agency review and comment; there are plan check comments to be incorporated.

Are these MasterSpec or SpecText sections that have never been edited before or adapted to the office's language and common details and standard references? Some of the commercial specifications sections take more than that just to wade through them.

Does this time consider the additional time to update and make code changes in the documents, particularly if the specifier is writing projects in several areas each with a different building code or interpretation of the building code?

Are these preused specification sections that are getting new headers and footers and only a cursory review of the technical content or starting from a fresh master and properly customizing and writing for the project at hand?

Are these narrow scoped or broad scoped sections? What is the experience level of the specifier? is the master document set up for only one type of building type or multiple types? A project specification for 4 office buildings that will be basically the same typically takes less time than writing project specifications for 4 different types of buidlings. 90% of the words may be similar, but its that 10% difference that will cost you more in claims than in taking the time to do it right the first time.

Who are the consultants? Is there an interior designer or other consultant that requires lots of handholding or overseeing just to get the basic information.

Is the specification section for a renovation or modernization or a new project? Many times, the renovation and modernization projects take longer than new because of the product research and matching that needs to done as standard good specification practice.

What type of specifications do you mean? Archictectural, civil, structural, mechanical, fire protection, electrical, industrial, other? Each of these has its own time requirements.

The time it takes to produce the specifications varies. Specifications for small projects may have the same number of sections as a large project. How do you justify allowing less time for the same number of sections because the project budget is less and the scope is smaller? There are sometimes ways to economize, but that depends on the skill and expertise of your specifier and the quality of the final documents. The time savings may not even be that much. The number of sections, preparation, responsiveness of the team in providing accurate information, the involvement of the specifier, the specifier's scope of work, and so many other factors influence the time.

Considering all of these factors, time is still an estimate. It will vary between projects and specifiers.
Dick Hird PE CCS (Unregistered Guest)
Unregistered guest
Posted on Thursday, March 04, 2004 - 10:55 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

Per estimating manuals Specification fees run from 0.002 ( large projects) to 0.010 (small projects) of the Construction Cost “you” are specifying. You have to multiply your hourly rate times two to cover your firms markup and then divide that number into the fee to get the hours you deserve. Get yourself a square foot estimating manual to figure your construction cost. Never rely on what the PIC & PM say. On small jobs ($1,000,000 or less) you also need to add a lump sum amount to cover the bidding and contract conditions, if you have to do that part.
Doug Frank FCSI CCS
Senior Member
Username: doug_frank_ccs

Post Number: 66
Registered: 06-2002
Posted on Friday, March 05, 2004 - 08:39 am:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

Estimate/guesstimate/pontificate,, it just doesn’t matter what system you utilize in attempting to establish a budget for spec production. If a budget is created based upon a percentage of “fee dollars” or a relationship with construction cost, it won’t be credible. A hollow metal door spec takes 4 pages regardless of the total number of doors in the project ( 1 or 1 million). A four-story office building can have exactly the same Project Manual as a 64 story building of the same type. Construction cost and fee have absolutely no relationship to the number of hours it should take to create a complete Project Manual (or a set of drawings for that matter)!

Similar to the “Anonymous” post above, my experience shows 1.15 hours per section on average for a “Typical” bid project. This includes everything involved in creating a section from copying the “Master” into the Project Files for editing to printing the final version ready for Bid Issue. Sure the actual number can vary considerably but, for estimating purposes, it’s really pretty accurate.

The other, and perhaps most significant, issue in calculating spec hours required is the method by which the work will be contracted. We do a lot of work for Public Agencies that have very specific requirements for spec format, content, and number of Review Issues. We also do a lot of work for private clients who negotiate contracts with a favorite GC. There can be a tremendous difference in the level of specification required for these two extremes.

I maintain several versions of my Master specs. I have a real “Abbreviated” master for use on small projects (if a negotiated GC) which significantly reduces hours required to produce a Project Manual to accommodate those projects with small fees. I also have a “Medium Scope” master for use on projects that may be Bid, but only to a limited select group of GCs. I can usually squeeze a spec out within a reasonable approximation of our basic services fee, but the Owner and my Project Managers must be made aware of the level of specification they’re getting.

Of course I’m one of those “employed by an architectural firm” specifiers. Requirements of other firms, and especially those of independent specifiers, probably have vastly different experiences, and results.
Robin (Unregistered Guest)
Unregistered guest
Posted on Friday, March 05, 2004 - 10:21 am:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

I understand the need to guestimate time required. However, as an independent specifier, I am trying to educate my clients that my fees are based on the VALUE of the service I provide. Just like Architects are providing a service (not just a set of blueprints), I am bring knowledge and expertise to the project. If you are trying to budget time for your own use, thats one thing. But, I strongly encourage everyone to stress the value of our service (whether as an independent or as an in-house specifier) versus a "time" thing.
Posted on Friday, March 05, 2004 - 10:40 am:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

I feel that one of the major issues is trying to educate PM's also - that is why I raised the question. I am new to the specification game and have very little support from above. A recent example is a project with a limited fee (typical story) but it was a $2 mil project none the less. WHEN I ASKED - I was told that I had $1,000.00 budgeted - I actually laughed in the face of the PM!! If I can provide an equation to PM’s as a start point - $5 mil building x ?? = will give you an estimate of 300 hours for specifications. This as an attempt to start some conversation when budgeting hours for a project.
Doug Brinley
Intermediate Member
Username: dbrinley

Post Number: 4
Registered: 12-2002
Posted on Friday, March 05, 2004 - 11:12 am:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

Your situation seems to point to your firm needing to invest some money in creating a decent workable specification master for the building type, and then pass along a reasonable amount of fee expense to the client's project for editing that master. It is accepted practice to create a small number of sections unique to the project, and that's where a portion of your time would be more reasonable.

I doubt your firm would be competitive billing $15-20K for specs on a $2M commercial structure, especially if you're at all new to the project type.

I question whether you're ready to prepare a Division 1, and that's the first order of business for you and your PM.
Marvin Chew
Intermediate Member
Username: bigmac

Post Number: 14
Registered: 03-2001
Posted on Friday, March 05, 2004 - 04:14 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

Anonymous, I congratulate you in your ability to laugh in light of certain adversities. I think you were still light in your response for the thousand dollar budget for specifications.

The proper response would be challenging them to do it with one thousand dollars, then walking out of the door as they don't have the proper respect for your knowledge and task.
Joseph Berchenko
Junior Member
Username: josephberchenko

Post Number: 2
Registered: 08-2003
Posted on Saturday, March 06, 2004 - 04:36 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

I think an estimate based on number of sections is better than percentage of design fee or construction cost. 1.5 hrs per section seems a reasonable figure for a simple private sector job using a familiar master, though I'd throw in some extra time as a cushion for research, meetings, re-writes, etc., at least an extra 10 - 20 hours above actual section-writing time. Yes all the issues raised by the other responders can throw you off, so if you have to create a unique front end or switch to an unfamiliar format, etc., you better factor that in. Making a good estimate does takes a little experience. $1000.00 sounds low for a good spec, but I wouldn't laugh at it, that might buy 60 to 80 hours for in-house staff in some places and it doesn't surprise me that a design professional might budget that amount. It'd be hard for an independent to make a living doing $1000 specs though.
Posted on Monday, March 08, 2004 - 10:45 am:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

Mr Berchenko,
What type of in-house staffer being paid $12-16 per hr (less if you factor any type of "office" overhead/profit(now that's a laugh)) could produce any semblance of a quality spec? A "canned" spec in which headers & footers are only revised? Or maybe a spec writer in Bangladore, India? Where do these types of rates occur?
(Unregistered Guest)
Unregistered guest
Posted on Thursday, March 11, 2004 - 11:33 am:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

$12-16 per hr!! I do I get teached to write specifics so I may leave my job at 7Eleven?
Posted on Saturday, March 13, 2004 - 07:41 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

Fascinating discussion and lively too.

If I may add my two cents worth, we've been one of the largest independent specifications consulting firm on the West Coast for 27 years now and our pricing method has changed over that time span.

Before the age of uneducated project architects, job captains and 25-year old (or so it seems) project managers (when prints were “blue prints”), and when architects were truly "architects" and not CAD operators, our pricing schedule was fairly standard from project-to-project, and I must say that our fees were more than reasonable for the services we provided at the time.

In this day and age, we not only have to write the specs, but we also have to select the materials (because architects have no idea how to do it other than to select textures and colors), we have to educate our clients thru seminars and other methods, we have to hold their hands every step of the way, and to make matters worse, we have to answer questions form the field because our clients don’t read specs!

As you can well imagine, our fee structure has changed considerably since. Our fees now vary between 2 to 3.5% of our client’s fee depending on the complexity of the project, the number of submittals, the inexperience of the client’s staff, and other factors. This sliding scale does not apply to project under 10 million dollars and to remodeling projects, including seismic rehabilitation, when our fee is usually higher.

It is true that in a high rise office building, it doesn’t matter how many floors are between the second and the roof, but we cannot price our work based solely on the number of sections produced. We don’t sell bolts and nuts and doing so would devalue our work and the base of knowledge and experience that we’ve acquired over the years
J. Peter Jordan
Senior Member
Username: jpjordan

Post Number: 13
Registered: 05-2004
Posted on Friday, September 17, 2004 - 01:52 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

This is a really good thread with very good observations and data. The issue of value/cost is one that all of us seem to face sooner or later. When a firm has gotten used to cheap hacks producing specifications, they may truly expect that a specification with 75 to 100 sections can be produced for $1,000. And they intuitively know that $1,000 is about what it is worth (if that much). Their expectations of what the specification (or the specification writer) might contribute to the quality of the project (both the service to the client and the constructed artifact) is very low. In my experience, when architects have specifications they can actually use for something more than a door stop, they stop complaining about how much time/money the spec writer requires.

When I was writing specifications for a frim in Honolulu, I was told that PMs routinely plugged about 200 hours of my time into their budget (projects in the $5M to $20M range), and this covered assisting the project in product evaluation and selection, detailing, editing/writing the spec sections, and some assistance with evaluating Submittals. Their experience was that was about what I would spend, and they never questioned my contribution to a project.

I've been working in Houston for the last 7 years, and on a recent large project (in excess of $20M), I asked about how much time I had charged to the job--about 200 hours! Some things never change. On the other hand, I spent less than 15 hours producing a retail shell remodeling job. I can do a specification for a shell retail building (strip shopping center) in less than 30 hours. These are the kinds of project that is this firm's bread and butter, and I have a good master.

On the other hand, I was recently involved in a public project where 12 residential structures were going to be demolished. The client wanted to have an option for people to purchase and move the structures as well. Total project cost was a little less than $100K. I spent about 40 hours, of which more than 30 were spent assisting the Owner to develop non-standard Bidding and Contracting Requirements (from a not very good set of "master" Bidding and Contracting Requirements).

I have tried to emphasize to my current firm's principals and project managers that budgeting my time depends on (1) bid or non-bid, (2) private or public, (3) use client's front-end or not, (4) use client's masters or not (much more time consuming). I also emphasize that the effort for producing a good set of specs doesn't really scale very well (you don't produce a spec for a $5M project that is 10 percent of what a $50M project would be). I can't seem to get them to factor that into our fees, nor can I get them to understand that once the fee has been negotiated, I may not be able to work within the budget that results from that fee. As time has gone by (am finishing my 3rd year with this firm), I have gotten less resistance because people I work with can see that I do work pretty efficiently and I can contribute to the quality of service provided and quality of building.

Having said all of that, I budget an average of 1/2 hour for each section where I have a master and where I am familiar with the products/systems. If I am working on a new master, I will try to budget 3/4 to 1 hour. I can generate a set of Division 1 Sections from our masters in less than 4 hours (usually around 3. Where I am developing a section from scratch (no master or very bad manufacturer's guide specifications), I may spend anywhere from 2 to 10 hours. My "spec" time is editing/writing time (and I do all my editing directly on the computer). I break out meeting time, research time, and project set up time. For most of our projects, I will not have to produce more than 1 or 2 (perhaps 3) sections that fall outside the 1/2-3/4 hour average. Budgeting about 10 to 15 percent for meetings, research, and set up will usually take care of one of our typical projects.

So... On one of our retail shell buildings that have a construction value of $750K to $1.2M; 3 hours for Division 1 plus 45 sections (no MEP and I edit structure and civil) at 1/2 hour each plus 4 hours for 1 Section to be developed from scratch equals 26.5 hours. Since it is a small project, let's use 15% (about 4.5 hours) for the other stuff. That's 31 hours total. If no odd/custom sections, 28 hours. That actually winds up being a pretty generous budget for my work on these types of projects. Note that this does not allow for Bidding Requirements and only minimal Contracting Requirements (incorporation by reference with provisions for negotiating terms and conditions with Owner).

More complex projects will require more coordination, more assistance with product selection and evaluation, and more working with recalcitrant consultants. Public work will require more careful editing and coordination with the "front end" which may or may not be intelligible. All of this drives the time up. Such projects may require me to generate 60 to 90 "architectural" Sections. If you look at 3/4 hour per section (allowing for 10 to 15 percent of them to be custom) versus the 200 hours for total involvement, there is still plenty of room in the budget for my involvement with "special concerns."

I have been fortunate that the firms where I have been employed come around to seeing my contributions to projects as "expensive but worth it." This does not mean, however, that I am immune from the budgetary concerns that accompany the production on every project. That continues to be problematic, but an issue for the firm as a whole as it relates to our marketing, our fee structure, and our position on the our clients' perceptual map of design services.
Anne Whitacre, CCS CSI
Senior Member
Username: awhitacre

Post Number: 123
Registered: 07-2002
Posted on Friday, September 17, 2004 - 04:42 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

oooh, what I'm not seeing here is "degree of difficulty" for the project. My fees were based on a proposed table of contents AND a multiplier that ranged from 1/2 hour per section (for negotiated, multi-family residential, repetitive projects) to 12 hours per section (for public health hospital work). I also then had a flat fee for Division 1 (about 50% of my clients didn't want a Division 1, and the half that did want it, needed a lot of hand-holding and customization) PLUS an additional $1500 for each submittal to the owner. Some public owners require 3 submittals in progress and then written responses to comments. I figured each comment response time was a minimum of 20 hours of work. I also had flat fees for certain "products" -- a DD spec that would get bank financing; a high end residential project, etc.

In addition to this, I had the exceptions. A spec for a $20 million custom house could easily be a $40,000 fee... because the project could afford that. Those fees then supported the $300 fee for the Women's shelter, the day care center or the mental health facility that had teensy budgets and lots of time involvement. I balanced the ability of the owner to pay versus the difficulty of the project, and gave some repeat clients discounts because I knew their process better.

A colleague of mine said "well, I think there are $4000 jobs, $6000 jobs and $10,000 jobs." You'll get better at these estimates as you go along.
Helaine K. Robinson CCS
Senior Member
Username: hollyrob

Post Number: 73
Registered: 07-2003
Posted on Monday, September 20, 2004 - 10:37 am:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

Anne, thank-you for doing the women's shelter, the day care center and the mental health facility.
Kenneth C. Crocco
Senior Member
Username: kcrocco

Post Number: 9
Registered: 04-2003
Posted on Tuesday, October 05, 2004 - 02:37 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

Anne, your method is very similar to the one we use. Table of contents; variable multiplier (range); flat fees for known items; and separate prices for outline and preliminary project descriptions. we also have a list of reimbursibles which sometimes includes printouts.

Really, the observation I see, however, is how pathetic most of this sounds when you read through this thread. I don't feel like much of a professional with a valuable service to offer.
D. Marshall Fryer
Senior Member
Username: dmfryer

Post Number: 39
Registered: 09-2003
Posted on Tuesday, October 05, 2004 - 04:28 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

Kenneth is correct; rarely does anyone become wealthy/successful selling only their time, we need to think in terms of marketing our knowledge.

It may only take us 1/2 hour to massage a standard section, or 4 hours to write a custom section, but our skill in setting limits on the contractor's actions could save the Owner many thousands of dollars in extras or rework.

So what is the true value of our service?
J. Peter Jordan
Senior Member
Username: jpjordan

Post Number: 19
Registered: 05-2004
Posted on Wednesday, October 06, 2004 - 09:57 am:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

A microeconomist might say that the "true value" is where a willing seller and a willing buyer agree on a price. While I would agree that price does not necessarily indicate value, the market for professional services does work that way (arguements about professionalism and capability and value to the contrary). I have worked for a firm that found its marketing niche as "expensive but worth it." Clients found that the services offered by that firm offered did have a premium value over "similar or comparable" services offered by other firms. Clients who could not see the value in that premium when to other firms.

Most people want to believe that pricing is a simple matter of counting up the number of widgets and multiplying that number by how much the widget costs to purchase, deliver, and install. It just isn't that simple.

Hours and percentages and sheet count and ounces of toner used should be used to provide varying perspectives on what to charge a client. There is the overhead, cost that cannot be not directly allocated to a job, but cost that do have to be paid. Then there is profit; the return for investment and risk. Other factors may be what the client is willing to pay and what competing firms will charge. I would hope that an independent specification consultant with 30 to 40 years professional design experience and a demonstrable track record of "premium service" could reasonably expect a fee of anywhere from 10 to 50 percent above a consultant with 5 to 10 years of comparable experience. It does, however, get somewhat murky. That young "inexperienced" consultant may be a very quick learner while the more experienced consultant relies on "proven" building technology that is 10 to 20 years out of date (is he/she still specifying "polished plate glass"?). More experience should translate to large knowledge base and more efficiency in translating that knowledge base to work product. It ain't necessarily so.

Keys to proposing fees:
(1) Know what your costs are. You can go broke doing work for a fee that does not cover your costs. (This means paying yourself a fair salary.)
(2) Understand the expectations of your client. What do they want and how much are they willing to pay.
(3) Know your competition. Are their capabilities comparable? Are they busy or really hungry?

Finally, it is important to know when to walk away. If you have a reasonable backlog of work, and a client is trying to get you to "lowball" a fee; consider declining to submit a proposal. This is especially important when dealing with new clients who only seem interested in the fee. Consider that the new client that you offer a deal to attract their business will be very reluctant to pay the "standard" rate in the future. On the other hand, when a firm doing a lot of business is shopping around for a new consultant, you may want to explicitly offer a "new client discount," indicating a such markdown on your fee proposal.

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