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27 Mar 2024 • Tom Haley

Going beyond the numbers: the inspiration behind The science of Quantik™

I was reflecting recently on the mind-boggling growth in subscribers to The science of Quantik™; more than 1,400 in just three months. In those reflections, I realised that I have yet to share my inspiration behind the articles.

We started with a construction productivity bang, and this was quickly followed with articles on data science and generative AI. Then the lightbulb came on and I realised that explaining the inspiration behind the articles might be a good article topic in itself; so here goes!

My experience as a QS

I have been a quantity surveyor (QS) for more than 20 years. I am passionate about what I do, and I am proud to be a QS (even if my two young daughters do like to remind me that it is boring).

I started as a main contractor’s QS and, as I fast tracked within a large contracting business, I held roles in specialist subcontractor and manufacturing business units. I even spent time working in Hong Kong and Australia, gaining eye-opening international experience.

In that experience I found that the core QS skills are, give or take, nearly always the same. There is always a slightly different flavour depending on the specific requirements and the risk allocation. For example, in main contracting your focus tends to be stakeholder and risk management whereas in specialist subcontracting and manufacturing businesses a QS tends to be more focused on engineering solutions and productivity controls.

These slightly different flavours apply internationally too. Here in the UK, the QS tends to have a seat at the top table on construction projects. In Hong Kong, the engineer tends to reign supreme, but the QS role is still valued. In Australia, the QS role tends to be contract administration focused but there is a developing appreciation of the value a QS can add to construction projects.

These experiences have given me a broad perspective of the QS role, and I am always reflecting on what QS’s do, how we do it, and how we can add even more value.

We are scientists

An overlooked fact is that QS professionals are, in a career sense at least, born scientists.

One of the key requirements of our role is to provide numbers and valuations that our stakeholders trust. We do this by reaching into engineering science, accounting science, legal science, planning and programming science, and beyond. In my experience it is always the case that the more scientific the methods we use to produce numbers, the higher the reliability.

This point really came to the forefront of my mind when I undertook the RICS expert witness course. The course leader said that the courts use expert evidence because it is given by “people of science”. As QS’s our expertise is valuing construction works and our evidence assists the resolution of disputes because it is, or should be, authoritative.

Science is at the very core of everything we do.

Reflecting on the last 20 years

When I reflected on this point, it led me to wonder if we have become, or are becoming, less reliant on science in the way we work.

When I think about why this might be, I wonder if technology has caused difficulties for the QS role. Maybe we haven’t kept pace? Maybe technology is not as intuitive to use as it could be? Maybe it’s a bit of both?

I have sat in variation meetings where the discussions are just noise. Defining what has changed, the quantities of the change, and the applicable rates seems very difficult to achieve where the relevant data to perform these tasks is held in different places (the contract, the BIM model, financial systems etc).

When it comes to cost forecasting, I see examples where some struggle to get the numbers to calculate correctly. Tying together the programme data, financial system data, design data etc to perform this task is not straightforward particularly when using spreadsheets which are very prone to error.

Then there are tender processes where the norm has become to bundle up every document that might be relevant and dump these on the next person in the value chain. What we end up with is a lack of scope definition and prices that don’t fully reflect the risk.

In those reflections, I have come to the conclusion that we need to reconnect with science or, better still, expand our use of science to be more productive and improve our performance. There are so many tools and applications available to us that will help but we haven’t yet fully unlocked the value.

The science of Quantik™

It is through this thought process that The science of Quantik™ was born.

The objective of the content is twofold. Firstly, I want to help subscribers become better QS’s by applying science or, if you are non-QS, help you develop your understanding of the role. Secondly, I want to explore how QS science can be combined with developments in other scientific fields to improve the way subscribers work.

The science of Quantik™ will help people advance their careers by improving their skills and knowledge, and by pushing the boundaries of what’s possible. This could be through revisiting some of the fundamentals, or by exploring advancements in technology.

Final reflections

Less final reflections this week and more an insight into what is coming up.

In the medium term, The science of Quantik™ will be Quantik’s way of sharing content. We might expand the series into podcasts, webinars, videos etc but, for the time being at least, we will continue exploring topics through the articles before venturing into other areas.

In the shorter term, I have been thinking a lot recently about a wide range of topics including financial failures in the construction industry, the benefits of platform construction, and even going back to basics with contractor QS principles.

Expect these to feature soon.

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We publish insights through our LinkedIn newsletter, titled “The science of Quantik”, which are light bites of information covering news and insights relating to the construction industry and quantity surveying.