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Publication Number: FHWA-RD-02-095

Chapter 3. Specification Development

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Specification development comprises Phase II in the specification development and implementation process (see chapter 1). This chapter is the first of five that describe, in detail, the specification development process. It is intended to provide "how to use" best practices in the early specification development phase. The steps that are involved in this part of the process are identified in the flowchart in figure 5. The numbers in boxes before the titles of the following sections refer to the corresponding box in the flowchart.

1 Select the Material and/or Construction Area(s)

First, select one or more areas of material and/or construction with which to begin the quality initiative. Most, but not all, agencies select one area of materials or construction with which to begin. The reason that most agencies take this approach is that it is usually easier to select a single area for the initial effort. However, if both HMAC and PCC specifications are desired, it is conceivable that both can be undertaken simultaneously. If it is the agency's first effort at developing a QA specification, then selecting a single material or construction area is recommended.

1.1. Advantage of Selecting One Area

The advantage of selecting one area is that the area that appears to be the easiest or best suited for QA specification development can be selected. The process that is employed, and the lessons learned, on this first effort can then serve as a model when additional areas are selected. Traditionally, agencies have developed HMAC specifications before PCC specifications. (3) It is unlikely that the initial QA specification area will be developed without some misdirection or erroneous assumptions during the developmental and implementation processes. These misdirections can be invaluable learning tools that indicate what to avoid when starting a new area.

If both HMAC and PCC QA specifications are undertaken simultaneously, the time necessary to have both ready for implementation may be reduced over the approach in which one is undertaken and completed before starting on the other.

2 Procure Outside Expertise If Required

Determine if outside expertise is required. There likely will be expertise and experience within the agency for the material/construction area of interest, but there may or may not be expertise in specific areas of the QA initiative. For instance, defining appropriate lot and sample sizes,
selecting appropriate statistical procedures, or developing fair payment factors may require expertise not available within the agency. Identify precisely what areas of expertise are needed. For this, first it is important to know precisely the area(s) for which the QA specification is being developed or modified, and then to determine what areas of expertise are needed when procuring outside assistance.

Flowchart for Initial Portion of Phase II
Figure 5. Flowchart for Initial Portion of Phase II

It is best to begin the process of obtaining outside expertise very early in the QA initiative since most agency contracts for outside expertise take quite a while to execute. Beginning the process and obtaining the necessary help early will aid in accomplishing the subsequent steps and help to keep the developmental process on schedule.

3 Recognize the Need to Identify Current Practices

There is no reason to spend needless time "reinventing the wheel." Look for other agencies or sources that have developed practices that may provide guidance regarding how to proceed or what type of QA specification may be most appropriate. It is likely that other agencies or sources have experience in developing these practices. One of the first steps in this area is to establish and maintain a list of contacts with other agencies and national associations that may be helpful in providing this guidance.

4 Conduct a Thorough Literature Search

Look for other primary sources for identifying current practices. To do this, first organize a thorough literature search of such publications as those from the TRB, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), and FHWA. Also search such national association publications as the American Concrete Paving Association (ACPA), the National Asphalt Pavement Association (NAPA), and the National Stone Association (NSA).

Recent TRB and NCHRP publications are replete with new specification initiatives that can provide guidance as to the type of specification to develop and the advantages and disadvantages within each type. Some publications that should be reviewed are presented in appendix A.

5 Contact and/or Interview Other Agencies and Associations

Much in-depth information can be gathered from personal contacts with other agencies. Making personal contacts with agencies that have experience with the type of specification being developed can save considerable time in providing the right direction in which to proceed and in learning from the mistakes of others rather than making the same ones. From the initial personal contacts, scheduling interviews with the specification writers or a small group that was instrumental in developing the specification can provide in-depth information, attitudes, and guidance that are difficult to obtain from the literature, or any other way.

6 Develop an Outline for the QA Specification

Based on the preliminary information available, develop an outline for the QA specification. This may follow general outlines used by the agency for other specifications, but items may need to be added to include new QA concepts.

6.1. Possible Information to Include

The information that may be included will vary with the type of specification written. However, some of the headings that might appear in the outline include:

7 Develop Introductory Information for the QA Specification

The introductory information necessary for the QA specification also may follow the format used by the agency in other specifications. However, the required information may differ considerably from that previously used. One of the fundamental concepts in QA specifications is the separation of the functions of QC and acceptance. This may be an entirely new concept. In QA specifications, the contractor is responsible for QC and the agency is responsible for acceptance. In some cases, as discussed subsequently, the agency may assign to the contractor the responsibility for obtaining and conducting acceptance tests. Whether the agency or the contractor conducts the acceptance tests, the separation of the responsibility for QC and acceptance testing is very important.

7.1. Suggested Topics

The information contained under each subject will vary depending on the type of specification being developed. However, a discussion of some of the important considerations is provided herein. The topics suggested below could be considered as the minimum that should be developed:

8 Begin to Develop Procedures

Two distinctly different sets of procedures must be developed for the different functions of QC and acceptance. As previously mentioned, the separation of these two functions is important. Due to the evolutionary nature of QA specifications, QC and acceptance functions often have been combined or intermingled. This has been a major source of confusion. The intermingling of QC and acceptance can be traced to the first statistically based specifications that were used at a time when agencies had technicians at the contractors' materials plants. The agency technicians did the testing and determined when the product was acceptable. The contractor made changes to the process when necessary based on the agency's tests.

Although QC was often known to be a separate item from acceptance, in reality little separation occurred. As time went on, many agencies removed their technicians from the contractors' materials plants. This resulted in the contractor having to conduct the QC tests. Acceptance was often based on the agency periodically visiting the contractor's materials plant and taking samples that were used for acceptance decisions. At this period of time, there was, typically, a separation of QC and acceptance. More recently, with agencies experiencing personnel shortages, some have given the contractor the responsibility for conducting acceptance tests. For Federal-aid contracts, under certain stipulated conditions, this acceptance testing responsibility can be delegated to the contractor. (6) However, regardless of whether or not the contractor performs the acceptance sampling and testing, the responsibility for making the acceptance decision still rests squarely with the agency.


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The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is a part of the U.S. Department of Transportation and is headquartered in Washington, D.C., with field offices across the United States. is a major agency of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).
The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is a part of the U.S. Department of Transportation and is headquartered in Washington, D.C., with field offices across the United States. is a major agency of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). Provide leadership and technology for the delivery of long life pavements that meet our customers needs and are safe, cost effective, and can be effectively maintained. Federal Highway Administration's (FHWA) R&T Web site portal, which provides access to or information about the Agency’s R&T program, projects, partnerships, publications, and results.
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