Changes to the Role of a Quantity Surveyor

Modified: 13th Aug 2018
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When trying to gather information on the origins of the quantity surveying profession it is not simple, several different authors have different theories on where the occupation arose from. Some feel that it is a 19th century creation, were others seem to think that the birth of quantity surveying stretches all the way back to ancient Egypt. However to attempt to obtain knowledge about quantity surveying’s past I must assess all the theories to distinguish which seems the most viable. The Kenyan branch of the RICS opens the website speaking of quantity surveying being used in ancient Egypt, and also references a quote from the bible which was mentioned in Chapter 1; “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower, will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it.” (Luke, 14:28). Seeing this as the start of the quantity surveying profession I feel is inaccurate but it can be seen as a basis from which it could have rose from. The act of planning out all you need has always been used in construction as well as other lines of work, for example a baker would not start baking until he has all the ingredients he needs. Nevertheless it may have been in such a case as the pyramids that some one person may have been assigned to ensure all materials where present and that every that was needed to construct them was there. If this were the case then it may very well have been the first use of quantity surveyors (QSs).

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The authors who have written about the subject of quantity surveying give little mention of this as their professions origin and choose to focus on more recent history to find their career roots rather than to early empires grand construction projects. Allan Ashworth and Keith Hogg are two well respected authors on the subject of quantity surveying and value in construction, so much so that they have taken over the mantle of writing the new versions of ‘Willis’s Practice and Procedure for the Quantity Surveyor’, a book seen as one of the best in quantity surveying circles. In the 2000 book ‘Added Value in Design and Construction’ Ashworth and Hogg speak of the possible beginnings of quantity surveying:

“According to Thompson (1968), the roots of quantity surveying go back to the seventeenth century and to the Great Fire of London. There is evidence to suggest that firms of QSs were in existence at the end of the eighteenth century. According to Seeley (1988), the earliest records of a quantity surveying firm were in Reading, Berkshire, in 1785. There is little doubt that other firms were also in existence at the same time. In 1802, a number of Scottish quantity surveying firms gathered to produce the first method of measurement of buildings. In St Luke’s Gospel (14:28) a story is recorded of the importance of counting the cost before you build implying that some form of these practices existed even in biblical times!” (P 12-13)

These authors seem to have no direct opinion on the matter but they do offer up the opinion of others as well as the aforementioned biblical quote. Thompson’s belief was that that after the Great Fire of London in 1666, there was such a vast amount of work needed done and that the usual way of paying tradesmen by daily rates was unfeasible due to the amount of labour used. So it was deemed that a ‘measure and value’ system would be best to allocate payment. This job was entrusted to architects but since they were so busy designing all the new buildings they employed other men to do the job; these men became known as ‘measurers’. Seeley and Winfield (1999) state that this method of measure and value surveying was common practice up to the middle 19th century but vaguely describe the aftermath that resulted in the creation of bills of quantities and competitive tendering. The origins of quantity surveying and indeed all surveying are detailed heavily in F.M.L Thompsons 1968 book, ‘Chartered Surveyors, the growth of a profession.’

The opinion shared by Thompson (1968) and Seeley and Winfield (1999) is a popular one among authors however this opinion is not shared by Colin Dent in his book ‘Quantity Surveying a Fully Metricated Text’. In his eyes the birth of quantity surveying came in coincidence with that of the bill of quantities. Dent puts it that the bill of quantities arose from costly nature that was involved in pricing jobs in the 19th century. General contractors in this era where becoming aggravated with spending money measuring, pricing and preparing a tender for a job only not to get and have to incur the costs of an unsuccessful bid. It then left the contractor having to price in the cost of unsuccessful bids into his successful ones; this did not sit well with clients who were disgruntled that they had to pay for a contractor’s previous losing bid. It was heavily thought at this time that the lowest bid was the best, but it was often the case that the lowest bid came from an omission in the contractors own bill of quantities. This would leave the contractor the task of attempting to make the money up from somewhere else in the project. Again clients were displeased with this so it was decided around 1850 that a universal bill of quantities would be made from the client and sent to the contractors to price.

Ferry, Brandon & Ferry, 2006, see it differently; they believe that it was contractors who first used surveyors to draw up bills of quantities for them to price. A group of contractors would perhaps employ one surveyor with the winning bid then paying his fee. Architects suspected foul play in these bids with excessive wastage allowed and the possibility that contractors would fix so that one bid would win before all would get a pay out from the contract sum. The architect then took over employing surveyors to draw up one bill of quantities for all to price.

Either way the bill of quantities system was seen as fair competition between contractors and gained recognition by 1880, and after it was used in the building of the Houses of Parliament and was successful it was then accepted as the most efficient and economical way of building. It is probably most likely from this point of the evolution of the bill of quantities that surveyors shook off the term off measurers and gained the term QSs as their job title.

Another contrasting view is that of Duncan Cartlidge the author of ‘New Aspects of Quantity Surveying Practice 2nd edition’. The basis of his opinion also comes from the 19th century and the formation of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) in 1834. This move was made by architects to further them surveyors/contractors and their “obnoxious commercial interest in construction”. In his view the greater responsibility for the business side construction now given to surveyors/contractors created the need to have someone in charge of the managing of capital and quantities, thus the QS was born (Cartlidge, 2006).

There are several views regarding the origin of the quantity surveying profession as I mentioned above. However when all views are looked at; an almost direct line events can be seen to occur where every stage seems to be a step in the evolution of quantity surveying. In this readers opinion the act of assessing material amounts for building and also the cost goes back to early civilisation. But it was not until after the Great Fire in 1666 that a full time job was created for someone to measure and value work done. Client and contractor dissatisfaction with payment of the final account and a fair method of tendering led to the birth of bills of quantities and it is the basis of measuring and value and the drawing up of bills of quantities that produced the traditional QS, which still exists today.

This form of quantity surveying worked well in the late 19th century and early years of the 20th century, so much so that in 1909 the RIBA incorporated the bills of quantities into its standard building contract, thus making it a legally binding document (Dent, 1970)(Ashworth & Hogg, 2000). In 1922 the first edition of the British Standard Method of Measurement of Building Works (or SMM) was adopted into the contract as a means for which works were measured. Its introduction was to alleviate confusion about which quantities were measurable (Ashworth, 1981).

The practice of quantity surveying remained very much unchanged for many years; in fact it was not until after that Second World War that the traditional techniques came into question. The government began its task of rebuilding the country after the war and gave heavy public spending during the 1950’s and 1960’s for rebuilding of houses, schools, hospitals, roads, etc. (Ashworth, 2004). This in turn saw work for QSs rise as the government had spend huge sums of money on the war and had incurred large international debt, so keeping buildings cost low was a top priority (Thompson, 1968). In order to plan this spending properly and achieve value for money in the various projects, something additional needed to be done other than simply to measure and value the works as was the traditional method. The then Ministry of Public Buildings and Works and the RICS began to develop systems of financial control and evaluation for new buildings. This laid the foundation for further exploration into cost control techniques (Ashworth, 2004). In 1957 the Ministry of Education issued a bulletin that was a milestone in the practice as it introduced new methods of working and new principles of cost analysis and cost planning (Building Bulletin No.4 – Cost Study). The bulletin initiated the idea of cost planning which set about to compare the cost of different design solutions and also designing within an overall cost framework. This meant that QSs would for the first time have to manage costs all the way through a construction project, whereas a previously they simply a drew up quantities from architect drawings at the start and helped settle accounts at the end. QSs would now have to compare different designs and different elements of buildings in an attempt to obtain cost efficiency, and then manage the expenditure throughout to ensure that the project was not over budget. This was the first use of elemental cost planning or ‘designing to a cost’ and formally introduced the QS into the design team (Ashworth & Hogg, 2000).

The 1970’s saw a huge increase in the amount of universities offering quantity surveying as an undergraduate course, in 1970 alone 30 polytechnics formed (Willis, 1987). Not only were there more quantity surveying students but there were more quantity surveying lectures, this meant that more research was being done on the profession, finding more and more ways to better itself (Ashworth & Hogg, 2000). It was in this research that the holes began to be exposed in the traditional procurement method. Studies showed that clients wee not always obtaining value for money in the procurement of their buildings (Ashworth, 2004). In 1970 -1974 the UK seen a property boom so developers were anxious to get building, this forced fast track methods of procurement to develop as the traditional method was seen as too slow. Management contracting and forms of design and build were introduced. These methods did not require a bill of quantities so QS involvement was left to cost plan and try and keep the budget. These were unchartered water for QSs and there was a lack of cost certainty but it was tolerated as property values were rising so quickly (Cartlidge, 2009). The 70’s also seen the introduction of computers something which many believed over time would end QSs. Sir John Egan, author of the wide reaching report Rethinking Construction, once told a group of graduates in 1999 that “the construction industry will no longer be needing them to count the cost of a project – computer technology would be doing it instead” (Carvill, 1999). Adrian .J Smith, author of Computers and the QS, puts it that:

“The QS and the computer have been partners in an intense love – hate relationship for over 30 years; indeed, it would be difficult to find any other profession in which the relationship between man and machine has generated, by turns, so much discussion; hope and optimism; disappointment and disillusion,” (Smith, 1989)

Of course they were not very well advanced in this era however they did give insight into how projects may be calculated and determined and began to challenge the perceived wisdom of the traditional methods (Ashworth, 2004)

During the 1980’s the quantity surveying profession started to witness radical changes to their traditional ways of working, and much of the change stemming from new procurement methods which seemed to spell the end for the bills of quantities. “Procurement, a term not used until the 1980’s, became an important area of activity, largely because of the increasing array of options available” (Ashworth & Hogg, 2006). These options came about as clients became dissatisfied with amount of time taken to procure through traditional tendering methods (i.e. bills of quantities). So new forms of procurement arose to try and meet client requirements, the main forms that were on the increase were Design and Build (D & B), Management Procurement. Clients seen these methods as more beneficial for time and also because it handed more risk to the contractor in D & B and to a management contractor in management procurement (Cartlidge, 2009). (The benefits of these types of procurements are discussed for later in this chapter). Some quantity surveying companies were very respondent to the change that management procurement brought about and began to adapt their practices, as D & B hadn’t much use for professional QS’s. However it did create an opening on the contractor’s side for more cost control as they needed to manage their own construction costs. The practice of cost modelling which was introduced in the previous decade had been studied further. While the profession was looking for new ways of estimating away from the bill of quantities, the cost modelling method was, and still is, seen as too radical and requiring too much practice from the security of a reasonably reliable yet imperfect system of the bill of quantities (Ashworth & Hogg, 2000). The emphasis of building costs was high on the agenda and it was also during this time that attention shifted from initial construction costs alone to a more comprehensive overall view of the costs over the entire life cycle of the project. Whole life costing takes into consideration the initial procurement, design and construction costs as well as fees and charges. It also takes into account the operational costs such as maintenance, repairs and energy expenses, and the cost of disposal and recycling of the building is also included (Cartlidge 2009). Eventually all of these aspects would be considered within the emerging practice of facilities management. These considerations provided yet another shift towards adding value to the industry and its clients. This recognised that to examine the initial costs of construction within the context of whole costs that it might yield an overall better financial situation for the client (Ashworth & Hogg, 2000). Two other new aspects of costing that came about in the 1980’s were value management and facilities management. Value management or value engineering arrived in the UK in the 1980’s but in some sense it already existed, as mentioned earlier the government wanted cheaper buildings after the war, so cost planning in this era focused on acceptable products for the least cost which in essence is what value can be defined as (Kelly, Morledge, Wilkinson, 2002). Facilities management was also introduced as from of project management that went much further than just managing the construction. Aspects of the building such as its infrastructure, its environmental impact, its maintenance and its communication links all came under the role of a facilities manager (Ashworth 2004). Basically it was not just managing the buildings construction but managing the building as a whole. Value management was a natural progression for QS’s as they were the experts on buildings product costs so they were able to inform the client on all options and help provide the selection which bore the most value. The RICS recognised this change when it published its report of a study of Value Engineering and Quantity Surveying Practice in 1987. Facilities management was further away from the traditional QS’s way of working and closer to a profession which specialised in project management, however with many believing at this time that QS’s were heading down that route this line of work was seen as a future possibility for QS’s.

During the 1990’s several key reports were produced that assisted in the new directions of the QS profession, they helped to formulate a future direction and strategy, emphasising the changing nature of society in general and the construction industry and the profession within it (Ashworth & Hogg, 2000). The first in 1991 was made by Davis, Langdon & Everest, one of the largest QS firms in the world at present, wrote the report “QS2000: The Future Role of the Quantity Surveyor” which focused on the changes in the construction industry and how it was affecting the profession. The important point stressed in this report was that QS’s needed to learn to manage more effectively the time and quality as well as the cost in an attempt to add value into a clients business and construction project. The report also identified widening markets and diversification for the quantity surveyor, suggesting three key areas of future activity: value management, procurement management, and facilities management. The idea of more research and development into better QS practices was promoted as it was as another way of adding value for the client (Davis, Langdon, Everest, 1991).

The RICS “The core skills and knowledge base of the quantity surveyor” report released in 1992 affirmed a lot of the points raised in the 1991 Davis, Langdon and Everest report. It also raised point that QS may need to change the way they address clients and professionals to try and make clear to clients the services they offer (RICS, 1992).

Constructing the team was a report written by Sir Michael Latham in 1994 which had far reaching consequences on the construction industry and those employed in it, including quantity surveyors. The report called for more standardisation of design and construction by establishing more functional and efficient supply chains. More transparency in costing between the professionals and clients was seen to be needed; this was of particular interest to QS’s as target of reducing cost by 30% was set by the report. The report also encouraged more teamwork in all construction teams to produce a product that all, including the client, could be justifiably happy with. This point also highlighted QS’s as they did at this time have a reputation as difficult to deal with professionals for the client (Cartlidge 2006).

Sir John Egan, a keen advocate of Sir Michael Latham’s report and known to be a person to be a person convinced of the need of change in the industry was appointed as head of the Construction Task Force (Cartlidge, 2006). It was Egan’s opinion; that while some of the construction industry learned from the Latham report, not enough was done to meet the targets set out within it. In 1998 Sir John Egan published his own report titled Rethinking Construction. This report was seen as the blueprint for the modernisation of the systems used in the construction industry to procure work. The Egan report revealed in a survey of major UK property clients that many still dissatisfied with the services performances offered by both contractors and consultants. These clients revealed that:

  • More that a third of them thought that consultants were lacking in providing a speedy and reliable service
  • They felt they were not receiving good value for money insofar as construction projects did not met their functional needs and had high whole life costs
  • They felt that the design and construction should be integrated in order to deliver added value
  • There was a failure to keep within agreed budgets and the completion schedules.

(Rethinking Construction, Sir John Egan, 1998)

These points were damaging to consultants and in particular quantity surveyors who a lot believe were one of the guiltiest of these failings in the industry. Responding to this report, in 1999 Building magazine published the article “The QS: a profession on the brink”. The magazine conducted its own survey of over 12,000 QS’s and the overwhelming feeling was one of anxiety about their future.

“The survey shows that QS’s are concerned about the rapid erosion of their traditional role, their inability to persuade clients that they can significantly contribute to their projects, and the threat posed by acquisitive rivals and by other professionals such as management consultants and accounts”

75% of QS’s asked believed at this stage that new software packages were replacing their traditional cost modelling role; in fact a senior partner of Davis, Langdon & Everest is quoted as saying that “traditional quantity surveying, especially the calculation of BoQ’s, is on the way out”. Many senior QS’s in large firms such as Cyril Sweet and Bucknall Austin believed the profession was heading into management consultancy that specialise in construction. The latter in fact now referring to themselves as construction economists. This article seemed to spell the end for the QS as it was followed by more articles that sang from the same hymn sheet (Building, 1999). “Adapt or Die” (2000) called on QS’s to find a new niche in the industry as their traditional role of measuring and drawing up BoQ’S was fading fast. It referred to QS’s as an “endangered species” and that it was a case of survival of the fittest, the fittest being the surveyor who adapts and diversifies to a changing industry.

“Many practices have already evolved, reinventing themselves as cost consultants or construction cost advisors, or diversifying to become project managers, construction managers or total service providers offering professional management services to the industry – not a word about cost in there at all.” (Building, 2000)

A year later (2001) a further article entitled “What is the use of QS’s” stated through a survey that the general public had little or no idea of what a QS does. The author suggesting that construction law was an appropriate landing spot for diversifying QS’s citing that their cost expertise could be a valuable tool in dispute resolution. The article also followed the theme of others implying that the traditional role was dying (Building, 2001).

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A lot of the articles around this time were in response to the 1999 survey carried out by Building magazine, so in that respect their fear inducing titles seemed to be on the mark. But five years on the same magazine was speaking quite differently. From forecasting that the QS profession may be on the brink, they were now stating that not only were QS’s in high demand, but that their services were on the rise all over the world. The 2004 article “Rocking All Over the World” tells of how some of the UK’s largest QS firms were expanding into foreign markets such as the Middle East, China, North America, Europe and other Commonwealth Nations. Richard Steer, senior partner of Gleeds a large QS firm, commented “Just as we’re trying to lose the name ‘quantity surveyor’ we are getting requests for QS services”. It should be highlighted from the article that while there was an increase in QS demand, it was not for the traditional QS services. “The industry was interested in professionals with expertise in sustainable construction, dispute resolution and adjudication, cost control techniques, procurement advice and also the need for an independent voice in the construction process” (Building, 2004).

It is not surprising that QS’s were in high demand in this era. The world was on the forefront of building boom as property around the world went up at a dizzying pace in places like Dubai and Beijing (for the 2008 Olympic games) for example. What should be noted form this was the services they were offering. ‘Willis’s Practice and Procedure for the Quantity Surveyor 12th ed (2007)’ depicts how the role of a QS had evolved from the traditional in 1960 into the present (see Fig. 1.1)

  • Single rate approximate estimates
  • Cost planning
  • Procurement advice
  • Measurement and quantification
  • Document preparation, especially bills of quantities
  • Cost control during construction
  • Interim valuations and payments
  • Financial statements
  • Final account preparation and agreement
  • Settlement of contractual claims

Fig. 1.1 Traditional quantity surveying activities 1960

  • Investment appraisal
  • Advice on cost limits and budgets
  • Whole life costing
  • Value management
  • Risk analysis
  • Insolvency services
  • Cost engineering services
  • Subcontract administration
  • Environmental services measurement and costing
  • Technical auditing
  • Planning and supervision
  • Valuation for insurance purposes
  • Project management
  • Facilities management
  • Administering maintenance programs
  • Advice on contractual disputes
  • Planning supervisor
  • Employers agent

N.B. some of traditional activities may still be part of a present day QS’s role such as procurement advisor or cost planning. (Ashworth & Hogg 2007)

Willis’s book also gave insight into what the future may bring for the QS, all of which are spoken about today and are considered to be the most recent QS responsibilities to have developed. Activities such as:

  • Environmental and sustainability analysis
  • Supply chain management
  • Facilities management
  • Legal services
  • Quality management
  • Automated measurement and quantification

Taxation and investment advice relating to projects (Ashworth & Hogg, 2007) (Cartlidge, 2009)

When looking at the list of traditional of activities for quantity surveyors compared to the present day role which the practice, it shows up a profession that has vastly evolved in the amount of services that it has the potential to offer to the construction industry. Yet still today QS’s are challenging themselves to take on more as to stop other professions poaching their business. Stuart Earl of the RICS in this article in the Construction Journal speaks of the need to adapt to stop outside intrusion. His article “New tools for the trade” covers the topic of the rules of measurement issued by the RICS. The ‘new rules of measurement: order of cost estimating and elemental cost planning’ is set of comprehensive rules for calculating the cost of the whole project, not just the building works which the Standard Method of Measurement (SMM) currently does. This initiative is a bid by the RICS to incorporate whole life costing into the framework of the QS role and to promote value for money thinking. Stuart Earl describes the rule as: “our professions statement of the minimum technical standard required to carry out measurement at all stages in the life of a building. If we do not rise to the challenge, others may do it for us, or worse, we may find ourselves losing out to accountants”. (RICS Construction Journal, Aug, 2009)

Michael Sullivan, the chairman of the QS & Construction Professional Group of the RICS, details a similar problem for QS’s. His article from the Construction Journal, “The vital link”, he tells of QS’s need to embrace sustainability in the industry so that it becomes a part of the quantity surveying framework for the future professionals to adopt rather than another profession. “the next generation of QS’s will want to know what you are doing about sustainability, expecting you to understand it more than others, like management consultants” (RICS Construction Journal, Dec, 2009)

Ever since quantity surveying’s traditional practices were questioned in the wake of the Second World War, QS’s have been faced with the challenge of diversifying and justifying their profession. Although on the small to medium scale the traditional practices are still alive (with some modern innovation, e.g. Information technology advancement), the large scale projects and firms are very much different (Cartlidge, 2009). And it is no surprise that the companies that have done the best are those that have adopted the Egan ethos of value for money and became more client focussed thus changed and added to the QS services they offer. It seems possibly that to succeed the QS industry hinges on the amount of services you can provide to fulfil a wide variety of client needs.


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