Creating the Superhuman on Site

The quantity surveyor is sometimes seen as being theoretical, the one wearing the tie on construction sites: but that is exactly the way it should be, is it not, since he is not involved in the actual works? Why then have consultant quantity surveyors on site at all?

Is the site quantity surveyor traditionally associated with those who cannot make it in the fast lane in the city? Perhaps he is seen as a site clerk, filing, keeping lists, checking the day-work rates and putting his best foot forward when the boss comes to site. Could his biggest contribution to the project be the site measurement record for hard rock and some of the pipe supports? After all the engineers, clerks of works and the contractor can look after the real issues, can’t they?

Yet the site quantity surveyor can make a difference: it could be a position that can substantially influence the cost efficiency of the project.

Monitoring or participating?

Quantity surveyors should be a crucial part of project business; most quantity surveyors leave university imagining themselves emerging property development moguls!

It is not easy to persuade the budding partner to swap the office comfort, routine and support systems for the dust, noise and rough site conditions; in fairness, being permanently attached to a single project for too long, could limit personal career growth.

To the project manager and engineer, the quantity surveyor is there solely to calculate the construction cost. The large corporations’ procurement procedures often reduce the quantity surveyor’s contribution to basic measurement functions. They seldom associate the quantity surveyor with major decision-making and daily site events.

There tends to be a distance between the quantity surveyor and the inner workings of the project, despite that the quantity surveyor is a crucial part of project business. A site quantity surveying position can bridge the gap; it could be turned into the opportunity to change the consultant quantity surveyor from being a sampling valve on the side, to an in-line control valve that significantly influences the flow of events.

Potential on site

The approach to on-site quantity surveying is determined by the external factors:

  • Client site-management structure
  • Nature of the works
  • Contractual structuring
  • Intensity of site measurement and variations

The position must be structured to address the following goals:

  • Eyes and ears (and the proverbial nose) for the entire cost management function: enable informed decision-making and early warning
  • Custodian of site procedures for variation management and record keeping
  • Information exchange between site (execution level) and head-office (high-level)
  • Counter the effect of increasing quantity surveyor input in the contractors’ organisations on site: level the playing field for the client to be equally informed of site events

Achieving the goals

The diversity and level of skills that is required of the site quantity surveyor must be appreciated:

  • Accurate measurement
  • Comprehensive valuation
  • All-inclusive rate-calculation and pricing
  • Contract interpretation and administration
  • Skilful negotiation
  • Report-writing
  • Interdisciplinary liaison
  • Conducting meetings without conflict
  • Interaction with clients.

From this list, it is evident that such person would be hard to find, let alone persuaded to reside in a remote location.

The solution is in managing the site quantity surveyor position as a function, rather than as a person. This implies that the person on site is only one part of the function, which is executed by the quantity surveying team, in which the necessary broad band of experience and skills are available.

This leads to management and co-ordination overheads, but the functional approach has many advantages:

  • Service not dependent upon one individual
  • Staff can be rotated, enabling flexible employment terms and alternating to suit particular demands during the course of the project
  • Strong head-office involvement brings a close link between site and head-office data
  • Younger quantity surveyors, without major experience (and relatively low salaries), can be deployed on site to gain experience and earn their keep
  • Position can be defined in part-time terms, allowing the site quantity surveying function to be present even if the project scope is too small to warrant a full-time person on site.

Cloud-based project management and the multitude of mobile communication options makes this functional approach, which relies on effective communication, increasingly feasible.

It is possible, and preferable, to deliver a quantity surveying function on site, even for smaller projects. The individual placed on site must be selected carefully, but need not be the perfect all-rounder. The site quantity surveying function is highly beneficial, and is much needed to deliver the hands-on and information conscious service that would add value to the project.

It is essential that the quantity surveyor “gets his hands dirty on site”, and ensure that the cost management service adds value to projects.

Leonard van der Dussen

About Us

VDDB provides project structuring, execution and control services that makes projects predictable and controllable. Some clients prefer the full project office function, including procedures, procurement, contract administration, policies and general project execution and co-ordination, and use selected services.


The concept of analytical quantity surveying is one of numerous enhanced services where traditional skills are merged with information management tooling to provide strongly enhanced project services in a fast world which is keen for optimisation.

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