RFPs and contracts provide a useful framework for defining the parameters of any project. But when it comes to building documentation projects, such documents are often severely lacking in the detail required to ensure a successful outcome. In particular, the expectations, roles and responsibilities are often poorly defined. This leads to miscommunication and frustration across the entire project team and can ultimately result in client dissatisfaction.

Defining the client’s expectations is the most important task in the process. If the client is a novice to the field, we as professionals should discuss their expectations and use our knowledge, skills and past experiences to help them understand what is realistic and achievable. If the client is another professional, such as an architect or engineer, we should make sure their expectations are in alignment with the capabilities that are being requested or that can be provided. If the project is not delivered to the client as expected, the ramifications for individuals, firms and the entire industry can be serious.

It is also important to define the technical expectations of the client and project in writing, particularly if the project is a full 3D collaboration. In addition, if the project is a rehabilitation or renovation, determinations need to be made about the accuracy of the existing-conditions data. Another key area for any project is the deliverables, which can vary in format, accuracy, level of detail and other factors. It is imperative that the client’s expectations for the deliverables be discussed at the onset of the project and put in writing.

The next critical step is to establish the roles of each stakeholder. All stakeholders must know who is authorized to add to or modify the work being performed. In most contracts, the client and contractor have a direct relationship, but in some of the more complex agreements, an architect, engineer, project manager or other party may have authority to make decisions related to the project.  

Everyone involved must know who the decision makers and approvers are and what level of decision-making authority each person has in the project.

Establishing the responsibilities of each stakeholder is equally crucial. Owners, contractors, architects, structural engineers, surveyors, site engineers, building documenters, MEP engineers and all other stakeholders must know what they are providing to the project. In addition, it is important to review what each stakeholder requires in order to complete their effort and to outline the scheduling of the events.

Keep in mind that some of the responsibilities traditionally assigned to one party may be better addressed by another party due to advances in technology and methods. For example, interior as-built verification is starting to shift from architects to firms specializing in building documentation. Any silos or divisions that exist between traditional roles will need to be broken down to ensure effective communication and efficient workflows.

The U.S. Institute of Building Documentation (USIBD) Standards Committee is working to establish standards for a variety of topics related to building documentation. A subgroup of this committee is focused on documents to assist in the RFQ, RFP and bid evaluation processes. The goal is to help clients who receive similar proposals from a variety of qualified firms or individuals to make educated decisions based on their individual project needs. While no single document can cover all projects and circumstances, the Standards Committee will try to focus on guiding the owner in providing specifications that meet the needs of the design or construction team and are easily transferrable from project to project.

These will be “living documents,” and producing and updating them will require input and comments from all stakeholders. If you have interest in assisting in the development and maintenance of these or other standards, or just want to get involved, please contact the USIBD.