February 2009 Newsletter

Product Data Sheets & Guide Specs

**** The 4specs Perspective

It's submittal time; do you know where your product data is?

Have you ever invited your guide specification to sit down next to your product data sheet and have a talk?  Do they get along, or are they estranged?  When they talk, is it about two different products?

Specifiers organize the product characteristics in a project specification in logical ways. Product data sheets should follow this logic; the same characteristics, same order, same tests, same results. And by the way, there's a big difference between product data sheets and guide specifications. Although they contain much of the same data, they are formatted differently in order to address different needs.

The majority of the project team members involved in reading and approving your product submittal may not understand the details of the submittal's technical language, but they will recognize that when the specification says ASTM X 999 Type II and your product data sheet submittal says ASTM X 999 Type II as well, and the test result numbers look the same, that this is a good thing and maybe your product will get approved and your product rep will get her commission.

Do you stand on your head when you read?

Probably not much; but most product data sheets are read on computer monitors, as PDF documents, so why are they composed in portrait mode instead of landscape (because most monitors are wider than they are tall)? Marketing people love print hard-copy, but the specifier is using it less and less. It might be time to redesign your sheet format so specifiers don't have to scroll up and down on their computer screens in order to read each column on your product data sheet.

Maintaining your product data sheet library, or, how many copies of the out of date ones do we have left?

We know a manufacturer who is waiting to update their product data sheets until they have used up all of the print copies in the marketing storage closet from when they redid all the sheets five years ago. But technology and standards have changed and those old product data sheets don't have the sustainable characteristics documentation on them that are required for LEED projects. The fact that the physical properties of their products have changed and they now don't agree with their own guide specifications is more of a problem than they might think. Can you say "competitor's" website?"

Product data sheets must be fleet of foot. They should always reflect the product that is going to ship next month. Are there new options to be selected? Can you do custom colors now? Does new ASTM X 999 test data help you to be more competitive?

I'm on a manufacturer's site right now. Great products! Great representatives! and a national technical rep that's the best. I know the product that I want, but it's been six months since I specified it and it took me five minutes to find it on the website. There"s a good array of technical information here, but there is no single document of one or two pages length that summarizes the data in the format that I need in order to finish editing the specification. Plus, I build a pile of product data sheet PDFs on my projects for our clients and their contractors, and there isn't one here. Oops! That's a problem!

To conclude, for now

This paper is a condensed version of an ongoing rant. To hear more of the rant, feel free to give the author a call. SpecGuy specializes in helping the parts of the industry talk to each other, through producing specifications and technical documents and training materials, and telling people what we think they should be doing, in exchange for money.

Phil Kabza, FCSI CCS AIA


Colin Gilboy
Publisher - 4specs
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