Quantity Surveyors are commonplace in construction, but what exactly are they? Definitions are many and varied, but modern Quantity Surveyors are responsible for the effective financial management of the construction process. One major client put it like this:

“In simple terms, as a client, the Quantity Surveyor is the person who I expect to be watching and managing any costs associated with the project, while safeguarding the position of the client in any cost-related discussions.”[1]

For contracting organisations the definition is extended to include managing income streams and value generated.

Effective financial management may result in a project making money, however this is a somewhat simplistic view given that many of the factors the QS must consider are beyond its control (defects for example). However, the nature of construction works and the contracts and procedures by which they are administered mean that there is ample opportunity to maximise opportunity whilst minimising risk. “Adding value” may be a better way to judge the effectiveness of your QS.

So how do you know if your QS is “adding value”? A project that has lost money may have been managed extremely well whilst a project that returned a healthy profit may not. What factors should you consider?

A good QS should possess sound technical skills and requisite soft skills to appreciate the big picture with all its potential future risks. Technical skills should be up to date with modern techniques and practices, whilst professional accreditation demonstrates a QS has achieved a suitable level of competence. The RICS, as the principal professional body, sets out the rules and conduct of its surveyors and regulated companies. Technical standards are defined in its “Black Book”; “a suite of guidance notes that define good technical standards for quantity surveying and construction professionals[2].

Professional membership demonstrates that a QS has undertaken structured training maintained through Continuing Professional Development whilst technical skills generally cover the following areas:

  • Cost planning, budgeting and analysis
  • Estimating and tendering
  • Procurement types and strategies
  • Contract law, including standard forms of contract
  • Value engineering
  • Cashflow forecasting
  • Cost and value reporting
  • Change control (Variations)
  • Interim valuations
  • Extensions of time, money claims and acceleration
  • Final account procedures
  • Termination of contract
  • Dispute resolution procedures

A QS must have a strong knowledge of the design and construction process and understand its role in the design team. This gives the foresight and “nous” to be able to look ahead and anticipate problems and opportunities.

Good technical skills however are not enough. Combined with effective “soft” skills, a good QS can provide proficient and supportive services that engender trust. Such skills include:

  • Time management
  • Communication skills
  • Foresight
  • Leadership
  • Empathy and understanding
  • Trust

The effective blend of solid technical skills and evolved soft skills allows a good QS to deliver services that enhance the value of the project. For example, by understanding the contract in detail, a QS may identify a variation which has been overlooked by the Client, whilst sensitive reporting may help reduce the potential for dispute where a Client may not have budgeted for this eventuality. The QS has also gained the opportunity to enhance value by pricing the Variation in accordance with the terms of the contract whilst appreciating that different contracts have different pricing regimes. An NEC contract, for example, being entirely different to a JCT form[3].

Generally Clients and Senior Management do not like surprises. A good QS will be able to set up an effective project cycle (payment dates, meeting schedules, reporting dates etc) and work to these, providing information that takes full account of project specifics with assumptions stated and alternatives evaluated. Costs are thereby managed, value enhanced fairly and clients and senior management kept fully informed. In other words the QS is adding value.

Good QSs are hard to find and may not come cheap. Although you may employ a QS, workloads often fluctuate and obtaining additional support can be challenging. Smaller companies however may question the benefit of employing a full time QS. The key consideration is how much value can the QS bring. Carefully consider what you expect from your QS, what skills it has, and what your budget is. This allows you to deploy resources effectively, possibly using outsourcing for specialist areas such as claims or to manage short term peaks in workload.

A good QS is a major asset to any organisation, bringing an abundance of skills and knowhow to effectively manage the financial performance of the construction project. Do not overlook the importance of the QS in enhancing the value of your project.

[1] Ann Allen MBE FRICS, executive director of estates and commercial services at the University of Glasgow. From the article “Client perspective: What makes a good quantity surveyor?” Steph Fairbairn; Journal Editor, London UK RICS; 6 Feb 2020. https://www.rics.org/uk/news-insight/latest-news/news-opinion/client-perspective-what-makes-a-good-quantity-surveyor/

[2] https://www.rics.org/uk/upholding-professional-standards/sector-standards/construction/black-book/

[3] Compare NEC3 Section 6 Compensation Events with JCT (Standard Form 2016) Section 5 Variations