How Specifications Can Ruin a Good Project

How Specifications Can Ruin a Good Project

Pat Klingberg Machine Design

How Specifications Can Ruin a Good Project

Since August 2014, 315 Machine Design has been providing engineering and project management services for a client on a liquid natural gas (LNG) export facility project.

The LNG project’s general engineering and construction contractor hired our client to design and build a cooling system to remove the heat from the natural gas compressor motors.

This large design/build firm along with the end customer wrote over fifty (50) specifications detailing every aspect of the cooling system’s design. However, when developing these specifications, they made a critical and often overlooked ─ when multiple people, or groups, write specifications covering large projects ─ mistake resulting in numerous delays.

The mistake was the lack of consistency in the sections of the specifications and the meaning of each.

Below shows the first three sections of a generic outline I have used many times in the past. These sections should be the same no matter the type of specification written.

1.0 Introduction

1.1 Purpose
1.2 Scope

2.0 References

2.1 How to Apply References
2.2 Codes
2.3 Standards or Recommended Practices
2.4 Cross-referenced specifications

3.0 Definitions
4.0 …

The introduction section defines the purpose and scope of the specification. The purpose defines the intent, such as consistency, of the design. The scope defines the extent to which the specification covers.

The reference section defines where the user of the specification can find additional information that must be followed to comply with the specification. It begins by defining how the references are to be applied; basically, the hierarchy.

International, national and local codes are provided. Then normative standards or recommended industry practices are provided.

Finally, the most important, but most often neglected section – cross-referenced specifications.

The cross-referenced specifications carry great importance because this is where linkages between the main project specification(s) and additional specifications are made. For example, if a specification is written for a machine to be installed in a high humidity location, cross-references could be defined for types of materials, electrical requirements, and coatings just to name three.

If it is desired to keep the specifications as generic as possible for multiple projects, then a master document must be written to define all the reference documents to be applied.

If these cross-references are not defined sufficiently, sub-suppliers will be confused on which specifications apply and when. This specification confusion will slow down all phases of the project: design, build, verification and installation.

The definition section provides definitions of any abbreviated or industry-specific terms or phrases used in the remainder of the specification to provide clarity to the supplier. Words, like shall or must, can also be defined in this section if the writer has had experience with suppliers taking liberty with the specifications.

The remainder of the outline is flexible to the type of specification written. Product specifications may define site and service conditions, design and validation requirements, and shipping requirements, just to name a few.

A well-thought-out project specification structure and definitions can save countless hours and money ─ and eliminate waste.

Additionally, each group writing specifications will understand the absolute basics that must appear in each. All sub-suppliers will understand the flow of the specifications and where to go to obtain further information.

The writing of multiple specifications can be a daunting task, but with proper preparation, it can be less of a struggle.

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Pat Klingberg
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