New Hampshire Chapter of the Construction Specifications Institute

What Do You Think of The Quality of Construction Documents?  
By Peter Kray

The CSI Community Connect Page is buzzing with a variety of thoughtful responses to this question: “We often hear that the quality of construction documents has declined. If that's the case, what specifically has made it so? If you don't believe so, then why do you think you they are about as good as they've ever been, or even better?”

Below is a sample of the nearly two-dozen replies. You can read all the replies, and add your own thoughts to the conversation, right here.

“I agree that it has declined. In my opinion, the major reason for that is the habit of Copy-and-Paste from archived documents without sufficient review and quality control. This has lead to many mistakes.”
Nabeel Ali BS, CSI, PMP

“The perception that the quality of documents has declined is because of higher expectations of computer-generated documents. Constructors these days are looking for every connection and every condition to be accurately detailed, in spite of the fact that more detail than ever is included in the documents.

These days, it is refreshing to arrive on a jobsite where the contractor has asked for a specific bearing elevation and I am able to answer by giving them the criteria needed to calculate the elevation and have them establish the elevation in the field based on actual field conditions rather than giving them a theoretical elevation that is likely incorrect because it is dependent on something that was constructed slightly differently than originally conceived.

The reality is that, because of technology, construction documents are better than ever.”
Raymond Gaines FCSI, CCS, CDT, AIA

“As independent specifications consultants, Conspectus provides the opportunity to view drawings from multiple firms across the country of different sizes and we are very concerned about what seems to be an industry-wide problem of decreasing quality.

There are exceptions of course, even within a single firm, but across the board we see a steady decline. David Stutzman and I presented a paper titled "Construction Document Quality Crisis" at a NIBS conference in April 2018 that outlines what we see as causes of the problem and includes some suggestions for improving quality management. Here are some factors in the decline of quality in construction documents:

  • Lack of a coherent, consistent quality management program.
  • Poor production planning--it's that ironic architects require detailed production schedules from the contractor but do not utilize such planning themselves.
  • Mindset focused on drawing instead of creating and communicating information.
  • Increasing complexity of projects combined with decreasing fees.
  • Increasing pressure from owners and construction teams to reduce document production time.
  • Lack of in-house training for junior staff for basic drawing skills and non-drawing tasks.
  • Drawing ahead of research and decisions.
  • Lack of basic technical knowledge.
  • Insufficient time for effective off-team reviews.”

“I think time horizon and market niche plays into this discussion too much to have there be any real broad consensus about document quality trends.

I have personally worked on many projects that were built between the 30’s and the 50’s, and usually renovated and added onto in the 70’s, 80’s, or 90’s. Without question, the documents from the older eras are less ‘clear’ and less ‘complete.’  Whole concert venues were built with (13) size D sheets, including MEP and Civil!

However, coordination was simple because the strategies for building systems were simple. Details were nearly non-existant because the contractors were more skilled (think about the decline of masonry through the 20th century). Many drawings overlapped and had multiple views (plan/section/profile) on the same drawing.”
—Cam Featherstonhaugh CSI, CDT, AIA

“This subject has been revisited several times during my career. Despite a lot of talk, there has been little documented evidence of a decline in quality.

In 1997, Michael Chambers and I presented ‘Document Coordination’ for the Minnesota chapter of AIA. Our handout included reprints of several articles about document quality; some, with scary titles, tried to prove that construction documents were atrocious and getting worse.

The frequency of problems in construction documents makes it easy to accept claims that they are getting worse. In 1997 I believed those claims, but I now believe the opposite. I would argue that overall, construction documents are better than ever before.”
—Sheldon Wolfe FCSI, CCS, CCCA

“There are factors which make even things that appear measurable to be unmeasurable. It is like comparing the number of home runs Babe Ruth amassed over his career to a player of today. How many games were played per year then and now? How good was the pitching?

 Someone who knows more than me about baseball might add that the balls and bats are different. It is an interesting discussion that can be likely argued to any point desired. In general, I believe they are getting better, particularly when we consider the increased time constraints and technical issues that have been added.”
—Gary Johnson CSI, CCS, CDT, AIA, LEED AP