The Contractor’s Quantity Surveyor (QS)

The role of the Contractor’s QS has often been described as part accountant and part lawyer, but with strong technical construction knowledge as well.

This article sets out to try and describe what it’s like to be a Contractor’s QS, the roles and responsibilities.

The timing and stage of involvement in projects will vary. Typically involvement would start after the contractor has been awarded the project, but increasingly an involvement in the preparation of bids and even earlier at the feasibility stage in some cases. The specific roles and responsibilities would depend on the type and scale of the contractor and project.

On much larger projects the roles are divided up among a team, whereas on smaller projects, there could be only one QS who would therefore be undertaking all roles.

In general, the contractor’s QS is there to protect the commercial interest of the contractor through cost control, risk management and value recovery processes. To do this, they need to “know the deals”. By that, we mean to have a very clear understanding of what each party has committed to deliver, how and when, with a good working knowledge of the contractual frameworks being used to manage and administer these deals both with clients and the supply chain.

Financial Management & Reporting

The QS is responsible for setting up, managing and reporting the financial control documents which vary slightly from company to company and project to project, but the consistent functions are tracking actual costs of the projects against the budget, (cost vs value) both as a snapshot at a point in time and more importantly a forecast of the end of day result.

These control documents also inform the budgets to procure the project and are broken down into each element of cost that is necessary to deliver the project including the project preliminaries and the trade/sub-contract packages.

Cashflow forecasting is integral to the role and is a vital management function of any business. The QS will be expected to plot both cash in and out on projects, with the aim to create a positive cash position.

Procurement

The QS will get involved in the procurement of all the packages and therefore must understand the scope that needs to be procured, how each package interfaces with others, what attendances are required for each, the sequence and programme for any design, lead-in and installation periods. The best way to develop this is to work closely with team members in the other disciplines including Design Management, Operations & Planning.

A procurement schedule is an essential tool for this phase of the project and it provides a series of dates and periods for each package that are worked back from the programme to ensure that procurement is progressed so as not to delay the project. It should be updated to reflect progress and monitored by the project team moving forward.

Design Review & Management

The role of the QS can involve some Design Management input ensuring that any design solution is compliant with the requirements of the contract (no more and no less) and that you can assist with cost advice to ensure budgets are maintained and designs are developed and materials selected.

Reviewing drawings as they are issued for compliance and/or change is a key task.

Supply Chain Valuation & Payment

As projects progress it is necessary to assess the progress of the various subcontractors and value that progress to make payments. This can include a combination of site assessment/measurement and measurement from drawings.

The Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Act, also known as the ‘Construction Act’ timetables the obligations of the payer and payee including the issuing of notices. The timely issue of these is imperative as failure to do so can end up being costly.

Pricing change

The words Change Order, Variation Order, Compensation Event and others are all used to describe the fact that something has or will change from the original agreement. Part of the QS’s role is to review that change and price it to the client where it is recoverable (not all change is recoverable) and agree on the costs with the supply chain.

When pricing changes, the QS will consider the direct cost of the work including scope/quantities, specification, the impact of the programme in terms of duration/sequence and any the resources/preliminaries to price, administer and carry out the change.

Client valuations

Through the client valuation process and at intervals pre-agreed in the contract, the QS will assess progress and agree on the value of that progress with the client’s commercial representative including any change that has occurred.

Conclusion

A Contractor’s QS needs to be inquisitive, self-assured, an effective communicator, be familiar with contracts, a negotiator, comfortable with numbers, have a good knowledge of construction technology and be prepared to have differences of opinion with others on a regular basis.

To perform well, a QS must be alert to what is happening on-site as well as on drawings and question anything that does not look or seem as it should or as it is expected to be. This will help to identify any “change”.

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