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The Origin of Rework: Outdated Drawings & Specifications


It’s no news to you that outdated drawings and specs can wreak havoc on your bottom line––mainly due to rework. But, did you know the problem starts long before construction even kicks off as many pre-bid documents are outdated before they are even placed into the bid packages?

Project Examples

Outdated specifications were one reason for the cancellation of a planned project that would have created a massive communication network for first responders in the Los Angeles area. The LTE network for public safety was part of a nationwide effort under the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to overcome the communications problems identified in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 2001. Then too, outdated specifications and drawings come back to haunt projects years later, when it’s time for a makeover. 

When the U.S. General Services Administration wanted to use the Major General Emmett J. Bean Center in Indianapolis as its proving ground for the design and installation of a very large photovoltaic rooftop array, it ran into the immediate challenge of outdated construction documentation. The building, constructed in 1953, had undergone several renovations, but documentation was sparse and outdated. So, before the project could move forward, the agency had to use an expensive and time-consuming process of 3D laser scans to assemble as-built information.

Rework begins and ends with documentation.

In “The Impact of Rework on Construction & Some Practical Remedies,” released by Navigant Construction Forum, the authors conclude that a likely direct cost of rework on construction projects is about 5%. That figure doesn’t include indirect costs such as field supervision, site safety, project management, and others. When you include those costs, a median value that covers the total cost of rework on construction projects is more like 9% of the total project cost. The report also considered the effect rework has on project completion and estimated it to increase planned completion time by 9.8%.

While the Navigant study doesn’t directly break out dollar losses attributable to outdated drawings and specifications, there is evidence that poor documentation is a major contributor to the reasons for rework. For example, ‘changes in construction methods’ tops the list of reasons for rework. Drawings, specifications, RFIs, and submittals, make up the documents most involved with changes. These types of documents get routed through numerous people and rely on approvals and reviews. They are also subject to many changes themselves. When they don’t remain current with what’s going on in the field, there’s a good likelihood something’s going to be built incorrectly. That in turn, leads to more documentation for changes, which opens the door for even more errors.

So how do you limit the potential for rework?

The effects on project completion and costs are significant when documentation isn’t up to speed. In fact, the authors of the Navigant study recommend several ways to reduce rework, and all of them are based on more accurate drawings and specifications. 

  • Using building information modeling (BIM)

  • Involving stakeholders in the design stages

  • Freezing changes in design just before construction begins

  • Using third party reviews for bid-ability, constructibility, and operability

The Human Toll

When changes multiply beyond what people expect, they start to suspect the intentions of other project participants. Then the documents start to become the battleground. The contractor stuffs the pipeline with RFIs due to design document deficiencies. Or, the architect delays responding to RFIs due to loss of confidence in the contractor’s ability to build according the original specifications. Eventually, the owner is drawn into the fray, and it might even start to affect subcontractors and suppliers. There are monetary costs to these scenarios that are incalculable, yet significant. But the costs to morale and future relationships are even more destructive.

Rework in construction will never vanish from projects––it’s inevitable because projects are dynamic, multi-dimensional, and must maintain a certain amount of flexibility. However, rework can be dramatically diminished. So the goal becomes one of eliminating senseless rework. Prevention lies in accurate drawings and specifications, and that is not a pipe dream. It’s actually becoming a reality with the power of today’s sophisticated technology. 


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