Finding the Fifth C: Collaborative

Eric D. Lussier, CSI, CDT
If you are familiar with CSI, or architectural specifications in general, you may recognize the Four Cs. According to the Construction Product Representative Practice Guide, they represent the pillars of effective communication of construction specifications. One must be:

  • clear (i.e. use proper grammar and simple sentence construction to avoid ambiguity);
  • concise (i.e. eliminate unnecessary words, but not at expense of the other Three Cs);
  • correct (i.e. present information accurately and precisely—carefully select words that convey exact meanings); and
  • complete (i.e. no leaving out important info).

Formatted as per CSI’s SectionFormat and PageFormat, proper architectural specifications are essentially written for a bidding contractor’s estimator so a facility can be built as per the designer and owner’s vision and intent.

Specifications are generated or assembled in many ways, such as by a design firm’s dedicated specifier, an independent specifier, MasterSpec, Speclink, or input from a product representative or manufacturer. Regardless, no specification is an island—the procedure is a thoroughly researched method of compiling processes, systems, equipment, and materials that is being more refined as our technology, knowledge, and relationships assist us. Ask most construction specifiers where they collect product information besides Google and a personal library, and the answer is often those growing CSI buzzwords: “my trusted advisors.”

Whether for mechanical/electrical/plumbing (MEP), door hardware, building envelope, rainwater collection, concrete design, indoor sports flooring, or any of the thousands of sections of MasterFormat, most construction specifiers have their Outlook address book and speed dial list full of trusted advisors. These are the go-to acquaintances—those ‘golden reps’ that now act as more than just consultants, but essentially minutiae-focused building designers for their individual specialty.

As thoroughly informed as construction specifiers must be, it is impossible for them to know the ins, outs, finer points, standards, and details for the tens of thousands of products and systems going into a building. This does not even take into account keeping abreast of the ever-changing building product industry with new models, designs, and technologies added almost daily.

A few months ago, at CONSTRUCT & the CSI Annual Convention, the Institute asked people whether there might be a fifth ‘C.’ The overwhelming result? Be collaborative.

CSI has always touted proper building design is more than just the vision of the designer or owner. Rather, building design is both these entities, along with the contractor, material manufacturer, supplier, and all the employees working for the trades. CSI’s diversified membership is filled with thousands of allied professionals involved in the creation and management of the built environment—all have an equal seat at the table. While one party may have more ingredients in the recipe, if any one entity or ingredient is missing, the final product will be lacking.

While ‘collaboration’ has become a popular business buzzword as of late, the term has long been used by CSI. Defined by Merriam-Webster as “to work with another person or group in order to achieve or do something,” it is truly at the basis of the Institute’s mission “to advance building information management and education of project teams to improve facility performance.”

We have all heard the phrase “there is no ‘I’ in team” and it holds tried and true with CSI members. Those construction specifiers, architects, engineers, contractors, facility managers, product representatives, manufacturers, and owners understand and realize the words and drawings on paper (as in the construction documents) are not published by any one person, but by the entire project team.

Eric D. Lussier, CSI, CDT, is a trusted advisor at Precision Athletic Surfaces. He is also an enthusiastic volunteer, #CSIKraken, and president of CSI’s Vermont Chapter. Lussier can be followed on Twitter at @EricDLussier or on his blog, He can be contacted at

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