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What Don’t You Know?



One of the goals of Let’s Fix Construction is to bring common problems in architecture, engineering and construction to the table for positive and collaborative discussion and solutions. We have complained long enough. It’s time to start fixing things.

In my humble opinion, the best way to fix something is to learn what you don’t know. Often problems are perpetuated simply because we lack a piece of the puzzle and, because nobody tells us, we keep repeating the same mistakes.

Construction Contract
© / Torsakarin

It doesn’t matter who you are, you need to know the project requirements, risks, roles and responsibilities.

The issue that I would like to address today has driven me crazy for years. What’s worse is that it is a relatively easy fix. But, we are not fixing it.

If you don’t already know me, a quick background: I have worked in AEC for 30 years—in architecture, engineering and construction. This wide-ranging experience in our industry has been a gift in that I have been able to see the process from many different  angles. Add to that a heavy involvement in the Construction Specifications Institute (No, they are not only about specs!) and I feel uniquely qualified to write this blog.

A Common Thread

There is a commonality in AEC, no matter what discipline in which you work: architecture, engineering, construction, manufacturing, product reps, owners, etc. That commonality is project delivery processes and contract administration. It doesn’t matter who you are, you need to know the project requirements, risks, roles and responsibilities. Period. No question about it. No brainer.

But, guess what? Very few in relation to the whole of our industry have this key knowledge. WHAAAAAT? How in the world do you work on a project and not know this?

So, let me ask you a few questions:

  1. How many times have you read the General Conditions, front to back, on a project you are working on? Do you even know what the General Conditions are? Do you know that they affect you, CONTRACTUALLY, no matter your discipline?
  2. What is the difference between Design/Build, Design Assist and Delegated Design? Who is responsible for what? Where is the balance of risk?
  3. Do you know the different roles and responsibilities for different project delivery methods and how they affect you? Design/Build, Design/Bid/Build, Owner/Build, Integrated Project Delivery, etc.
  4. What are the requirements for submittals on your project? Where do you find them? How many different places do you need to look?
  5. What about substitutions? What are the rules? Before construction? After construction?
  6. Why does a spec section have three parts? What belongs where? Where do parties to the contract look for this information?
  7. What is the relationship between the General Conditions, Supplementary Conditions, Administrative Requirements and Part 1 of your spec section?

Can you answer these questions? Seriously, I could go on for hours listing the things that many don’t know. 

A Basic Education

The important point here is that the items above and many more affect every one of you on a project, regardless of your job title. You can’t possibly efficiently and effectively do your job without having this knowledge. Your level of risk skyrockets if you don’t know the contractual requirements of your project (or at a minimum where to look for them) and your efficiency plummets. In a “time is money” business, this is unacceptable.

Now, you might be thinking something like “This is for the powers-that-be to understand.” That is flawed thinking. Very, very flawed.

© / SolisImages

People in AEC are getting out of school or training with the false belief that they are armed with what they need to productively enter the workplace.

Do you want to be the one that makes the mistake on the project that somebody didn’t spot because you don’t have this basic knowledge? Do you want to be the one that wastes a boatload of unnecessary hours on your project because you don’t know or understand the rules of the game? Personally, I am not fond of a trial-by-fire education. I would much rather be proactive. I would much rather know what my peers do not and share that knowledge.

Do you know the worst part? This education is not happening in colleges, the trades or by most manufacturers for their product reps. People in AEC are getting out of school or training believing they are armed with what they need to productively enter the workplace. WRONG! WRONG! WRONG!

When do these people figure out that they are missing a major piece of their education and training? It is typically when something goes wrong or when someone “in the know” sets them straight.

Now, I am not faulting anybody here. Nobody is getting this education. How in the world are you supposed to know what you don’t know?

Well, let me tell you.

Worthy Certificate

There are a lot of industry organizations that will teach bits and pieces of this education. Unfortunately, most of them are discipline focused and don’t really give you the entire picture. This is a “team” industry. You absolutely cannot work in a bubble and do your job well. I personally have only found one organization that teaches Project Delivery Education, cradle-to-grave, in a way that ANY member of ANY discipline will come away with valuable knowledge that will set you apart and will change the way you work immediately.

That organization is CSI (Construction Specifications Institute) and that education is CDT (Construction Document Technologist). Go look it up here:

The education is invaluable, very cost effective and the certificate will set you apart as an industry professional who truly understands how the entire project process is supposed to work. You will make far less mistakes, know how to find the information you need, understand the roles and responsibilities of all parties involved and reduce risk on your projects.

I have been teaching CDT, on my own time, for about four years now. I have taught everyone from emerging to seasoned professionals in every single discipline in AEC. I have lost count of how many have attended my classes but I know it is not nearly enough. I do this because it matters. A lot.

It almost hurt when an architect in one of my classes with 40 years of experience said to me, “I am about to retire. I wish I would have known these things.” Or the time an engineer asked,  “What’s Division 01?” Or maybe the time a subcontractor said, “I didn’t know these requirements were part of the CONTRACT. I thought I just had to look at my section.” Or perhaps, the product rep who didn’t understand that a design professional can’t just use manufacturer language that dictates means and methods.

I could go on for days with these examples.

The bottom line is this:

AEC Industry professionals, in all disciplines, are not getting holistic project delivery education which is creating risk and inefficiencies.

Get your CDT from CSI.

The last five lines are all you need to know. Your schools and training programs are not giving you what you need. Until they figure it out, be smart and get it yourself. Everyone you work with will thank you!

Editor's note: A version of this blog post first appeared on and has been republished on Durability + Design with permission.

About the Author

Cherise Lakeside

Cherise Lakeside is a specifier with Ankrom-Moisan Architects (Portland, Oregon). She has experience with many facets of the project team. She has worked for a general contractor, an MEP engineering firm and two architectural firms in her 30-year career. She has worked extensively in multiple areas of the industry including specifications, contract administration, marketing, business management, QA/QC and standards. In addition, she is actively involved in AEC Social Media, public speaking, writes a blog called “The Voices In My Head” and participates in She is the immediate past president of the Portland Chapter of CSI and chair of the Institute Curriculum Prep Committee.

You can follow her on Twitter: @CheriseLakeside.


Let's Fix Construction is written by a collective group of construction professionals involved in, an online impartial platform to provide forward-thinking solutions to many longstanding issues that have plagued construction. Organizers and contributors seek to better the industry by sharing knowledge, while creating open and positive communication and collaboration. Many of the posts have appeared first on and are republished on Durability + Design with permission. Author information is available at the bottom of each blog entry.



Tagged categories: Architects; Business management; Construction; Consultants; Contractors; Design; Designers; Developers; Engineers; Good Technical Practice; Specifiers; Aesthetics; Architecture; Building design; Business matters; Conferences; Contracts; Courses; Documentation; Education; Worker training; young professionals

Comment from Sheldon Wolfe, (3/16/2017, 9:02 AM)

Yes, this is a problem with education. Although all members of the construction team should know these things, I hold architects especially accountable because they're the ones who wrote the rules. AIA produces the general conditions and other documents architects use, yet these documents get little attention in architecture school. Schools focus almost entirely on planning and presentation. They seem to feel that construction documents, arguably their most important tools in communicating with contractors, are something they can learn about on the job. The problem with that is, they then have to learn about documents - and about such mundane things as properties of materials, how things go together, codes, life safety, the fact that real world clients have limited budgets, and more - from people who didn't learn about them. The school of hard knocks is a good teacher, but isn't the purpose of school to learn about the basics of your job, what your tools are and how to use them, and how to work in the real world? Those are the things that should be taught in school, leaving the entirely subjective aspects of design to be learned on the job.

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