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15 Dec 2023 • Tom Haley

Where did all the quantities go?

I deal with the resolution of some complex quantum issues, both as advocate and expert, and one of the questions that I am always asking when investigating an issue is “what are the quantities?” and “how have those quantities changed over time?”.

The use of quantities, whether these are scope related (e.g. design) or resource related (e.g. production), are the cornerstone of our profession yet it surprises me how they are seldom used to understand change or measure project performance.

The effort required to retrospectively pull these out is challenging, yet they are always there, and it is a case of finding the quantities, cleaning them, and structuring them to produce good quality analysis and understand where and why loss has occurred.

When I started as a trainee QS, almost 20 years ago to the day, quantities were commonly used. Then it seems that quantities were no longer trendy and, in the explosion of design and build contracts, the risk on quantities passed through the supply chain so only those at the bottom of the supply chain produced them. BIM arrived in around 2010 and the possibilities seemed endless. These included the regularly talked about probability that quantity surveyors would be no more as quantities would be computer generated. Whilst BIM has added value to the construction process, to my mind, it has proved to be somewhat of a false dawn when it comes to producing quantities in a useful form and structure.

When quantities are used intelligently, they can provide performance insights that you simply cannot get from a finance system or monthly financial report. Those insights arise from analysis which informs a project team that cost mitigation or revenue recovery is necessary, prompting proactive action to drive waste out of the construction process.

It is an issue that I have been pondering for some time so I thought it would be interesting to hear views from my fellow professionals.

Are you seeing the same trend? Why do we overlook the use of quantities to measure performance on a construction project? Are you seeing things differently because you seem them used regularly and impactfully?

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