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  • Writer's pictureSusan Kruger

Demystifying the "Dark Art" of Quantity Surveying

Updated: Mar 10, 2023

As Professional Quantity Surveyors we are often asked the question: “what exactly is it that you do?” Although the profession is well established in the UK and has grown in South Africa over the past 40 years, there seems to still be some uncertainty among the public about what exactly the role of a Quantity Surveyor (QS) is on built environment projects.

To address these issues, I will attempt to demystify the “dark art” of Quantity Surveying, by looking at the various skills and services that Quantity Surveyors are able to provide and how this relates to the delivery of a financially successful building project.

I hope that once the series is complete, more people will understand what a Quantity Surveyor does and how engaging the services of a qualified and experienced QS adds value to the construction process.

So without further ado, let's dive right in!

The Role of the Quantity Surveyor

Looking at it in broad terms, the role of the Quantity Surveyor (QS) can be summarized into the following 6 basic activities:

1. Establishing exactly what the client wants to build (or “procure”).

This includes understanding the scope of the work involved, estimating the value of the work the client wants to procure, agreeing on the budget, and obtaining permission from the client to start the procurement process.

2. Deciding on the most appropriate procurement strategy

There are, as they say, many ways to skin a cat, and the built environment procurement process is no different. I will discuss the factors that influence the best route to take in more detail in subsequent posts, but for now, suffice it to say that the choice of procurement strategy comes down to two factors:

1) the client's overall project objectives (most often a balance between cost, time, and quality), and

2) risk apportionment between the client and the contractor.

The choice of strategy has a far-reaching effect on the type of contract to use and how the building work is to be priced, but that will be discussed in more detail in subsequent posts.

3. Soliciting tender offers

Once the client has decided on a procurement route, it is up to the Quantity Surveyor (QS) to approach the market to obtain offers. Usually, the QS will prepare a pricing document (the type being dependent on the procurement strategy) so that offers from different contractors are based on a common set of ‘rules’ (contract conditions) and a defined scope of work. This enables the QS to perform the next activity of evaluating the tender offers.

4. Evaluating tender offers

Without the preceding process of preparing a common pricing document, comparative tenders are much more difficult to evaluate. In most instances where a QS is involved, some type of pricing document will be prepared and used as the basis for comparing different offers. Here the QS will not only look at the price, but also at the contractor’s level of experience, consistency in his pricing, arithmetic or other errors or omissions, and further risk factors such as special conditions that the contractor would like to impose on the contract and what effect they may have on the client’s risk profile. Based on this evaluation the QS will recommend the most suitable contractor to perform the work.

5. Awarding the contract

Once the client has decided which tenderer he would like to engage, it is up the QS to prepare the relevant contract documents so that the contractor can be appointed, and the contractual relationship between the parties sealed. Construction contracts are complex and need to be compiled with care to ensure that the project can be managed in accordance with the procurement strategy decided on initially. The QS, being the “documentation expert” of the building industry is best suited to perform this role.

6. Administering contracts

Once the contract has been awarded and construction begins, the QS is tasked with the financial administration of the project in terms of the provisions of the contract document.

In most contracts, this would entail (amongst others) a monthly valuation of the work done (so that the contractor can be paid accordingly), and a detailed cost report to the client to account for the overall financial status of the project and to highlight any potential financial risks.

A QS’s knowledge and expertise in contract administration is important not only for the financial success of the project but also in keeping the risk apportionment encapsulated in the initial procurement strategy in check. The QS is his client’s ally in all matters that have a monetary impact on the project, and thus his day-to-day involvement in the construction process ensures that the client’s overall project goals are seen to and achieved.

I hope that this basic summary provides some insight into what a professional Quantity Surveyor does and our role within the construction industry. Please subscribe to our blog to be the first to know when the next post is published. We will be diving a bit deeper into different procurement strategies and the relative advantages and disadvantages of each.

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