Exploring the role of a Quantity Surveyor

Having lived and worked in UK, UAE, Asia, and Australia; I’m always surprised and fascinated by the regional differences in both the understanding of, and expectations from a Quantity Surveyor (QS).

With respect to understanding let’s first consider the name. A common misconception is that all we do is measure quantities.

Another misconception is that the only post contract role for a QS is that of a Contract Administrator. But a QS does so much more!

To illustrate the point the AIQS utilises 12 core competencies to assess a candidate’s suitability for full membership of the institute. Measurement and contract administration cover only 3 out of the 12 competencies. RICS competencies demonstrate a similar proportion. Other core competencies include cost estimating/planning, procurement advice, contract practice, tendering, project financial control and conflict avoidance. In addition, there’s contract/commercial management, change and value management and risk management.

Measurement is a fraction of what a QS can do!

To put it in context measurement and contract administration represent just a quarter of what a QS can do! Another misconception is around relevance and specialism.

I’m regularly told that one cannot apply principles of change and value management when valuing complex works across industries and sectors, but I fundamentally disagree. I have successfully applied these principles in valuing change associated with some of the most technically complex sectors and projects such as high-speed rail signalling, date centres, long distance fibre networks, special airport systems and subsea production systems.

A consequence of the above misconception regarding the QS, is we now put too much emphasis on the ‘claim’ with all its quasi-legal bells and whistles. The industry has come to rely far too heavily on tools like Excel and P6. This over-reliance on software tends to lead to inflated expectations and as a result, the number of disputes has increased. Without the basic QS principles, one cannot adequately risk assess one’s position and there’s little chance of alignment with the other side. In the early days of my career delay/prolongation/disruption were dealt with as part of the valuation of the change/event, and agreement on an ongoing base was the norm. If matters remained unresolved the process of detailed valuation and discussion served to re-align expectations resulting in a reasonably straight forward final account negotiation.

Has a change / event occurred?

I often find myself resisting any negotiation about a claim until I’ve satisfied myself of the basic question ‘has a change/event occurred?’, but often I’m pressed to set such matters aside and move straight on to discussing the ‘claim’! This should be resisted because the danger is that the discussions become so advanced that the basic QS questions remain unanswered and become forgotten. The claim itself then becomes the entitlement!

Our dependence on claims has also led simultaneously to an over-reliance upon often misunderstood complex legal principles. It takes years and years of in-depth legal training and experience to fully understand these principles, and the associated precedents, and apply them to the dispute in question. Each contract is a combination of a unique set of documents and a unique factual matrix, and only a qualified and experienced lawyer fully understands and appreciates how such a contract may assimilate with these legal principles and precedents, if at all!

In addition, this quasi-legal approach can serve to distract management time from the project in hand and in the long run, rarely affords clients and contractors the ‘financial win’ they seek. This reliance on claim-dispute-arbitration/litigation is a hugely costly and combative route to take. And with a good QS, could be avoided altogether.

The problem with either relying on software or the quasi-legal approach is that you tend to hear what you want to hear – there’s a danger of falling in love with your own position. This is inherently dangerous, and a good QS can help to avoid this by applying those basic principles of measurement and risk. QS’s and other contract commercial professionals should stay within the four corners of each unique contract and resist the temptation to enhance a poor position by over reliance on exotic legal principles and precedents. Utilise them as alternative arguments for the purpose of commercial negotiation if you must but don’t fall in love with them!