#020 Day in the life of a QS (post-contract) 🕡
Updated: Oct 17, 2021
Hello folks 👋
Following the last post, I’m going to describe the day in the life of a QS when mainly doing post contract work. I have a solid year of experience doing this stuff now, clearly, this doesn’t make me an expert but it might give you a brief insight into what a post-contract role might be like. Post contract work is often referred to as commercial management - bear this in mind when scouring other sources.
When I talk about post contract work, I’m referring to all the QS activities required after the construction contract is signed. This is not a strict definition and in some commercial management roles, you may be involved in work at all stages e.g. estimating, procurement and post contract commercial management.
Like the last post, I’m going to draw on examples I’ve recorded previously as part of my APC diary.
7:30am - 9am: APC work
A lot of the technical competencies have aspects that are heavily related to post-contract work. I would say none more so than Project financial controls and cost reporting. Although this is a narrow competency it is interlinked with the others so I spent a lot of time preparing for questions on my experience thus far and how it relates to the technical competencies.
9am - 10am: Preparation
A good thing about my current role is that I don’t have meetings first thing in the morning. It’s great because it gives me the time to prepare myself for the day ahead. This usually involves looking at my notes from the day before and preparing a task list.
I’m working in a large team which is responsible for the delivery of various projects. The values of these works range from sub £10k to £1m. Each of these activities is owned by a different project manager. The commercial team is responsible for monitoring the finances of all the projects regardless of the project manager. This means that I am in contact with several project managers throughout the week. Some projects require more attention depending on their specific activity that week. It’s my job to be on top of each of the projects, understand what work is being carried out and whether any issues pose a commercial risk to the end client. By commercial risk, I mean anything that could cause the client any problems in terms of time (project completion) or money (how much that activity costs).
In the background, I am usually logged into whatever contract management software the client uses. I only have experience of CEMAR and ASITE, I’m sure there are more out there. I prefer CEMAR, it’s a lot more intuitive and it tells you the important stuff you need to know without overcomplicating it. I haven’t been using ASITE for that long but so far I’m not the biggest fan.
10am - 11am: Meetings
The day usually begins with meetings with either the project team or your immediate supervisor. Discussions usually cover key issues you are facing, tasks that have to be complete and any looming deadlines. When you’re working on complex projects it’s good to have these meetings so everyone is on the same page. In a COVID world, a lot of these meetings are via Teams or Zoom.
We usually have two meetings in the morning, one with the wider project team and a shorter one with my commercial colleagues.
The project team meetings usually involve the project managers providing brief progress reports on the individual projects and raising any issues where necessary. It’s also a forum for the commercial team to raise any issues about project funding.
The commercial meetings are much shorter and we usually distribute tasks within our small unit. The point of this meeting is to identify and resolve those issues which are stopping projects from being funded and suppliers from being paid.
In large public sector organisations, there are set protocols that must be followed to enable projects to be funded and for suppliers to be paid. This is to prevent any commercial risk and to avoid any problems with the funding authority - in this instance it would be Department for Transport!
10am - 1pm - Cost Reports
The commercial role is quite varied and no day is the same. I think I do prefer this type of work over the pre-contract positions I’ve held in the past. One of the key activities you may find yourself doing in a commercial post is producing cost reports. This is great because it allows you to get the experience required for your Project Financial Controls competency!
Cost reports can vary in complexity and the ones for the project I am currently on are probably the most complex I’ve seen. These cost reports are updated with actual costs from a system called SAP. SAP essentially houses the client's financial system and the cost reports are fed live data from it to present an accurate picture.
The cost report process is pretty straightforward no matter what report template you use. The end objective is always the same. The client needs to know what the final cost of the project will be. Obviously, this ‘final cost’ may evolve, this is why we do monthly cost reports to give the client a current financial report every month. This will allow them to get funds in place to pay the suppliers!
During this time I usually hold meetings with project managers to understand if the forecast from the month before is accurate and whether there are any potentials works to be forecast going forward. This is done across all the reports/projects I am working on. Very rarely do you get projects without any variations. So what we are looking at here is the impact of instructed and anticipated variations. Please check out my Project Financial Controls post to read more about this.
1pm - 2pm: Lunch
3pm - 5:30pm: Applications for Payment
During this time I carry out valuations for my projects. In a COVID world, this (for me at least) has been a desktop valuation backed up by a Project Manager's comments. This essentially means I’m relying on the PM or client Construction Manager to tell me whether the work has been done so I can pay the supplier. In some instances where the PM has not seen the work, we may request pictures of the work as well backup documentation for labour, plant and material.
The valuations are typically conducted on excel spreadsheets. I've seen many templates in my time and in most instances the pricing document is similar to the document issued by the supplier during the tender stage. Each period (or month) the contractor will issue an Application for Payment. A good supplier will format the spreadsheet for you so all the columns where you have to make the amendments are in place. In some instances, the contractor will issue a fresh template every period so you have to copy across everything you have assessed thus far from the last assessment into the new one. Once a template is set up you just need to look at each activity, assess the progress to date, and deduct what you have paid previously (which gives you the payment in period/month). It is better to value the works as a whole each time rather than only what has been done each period. This allows you to make corrections and hold the supplier to account.
After this is done I draft a certificate and send it to the Project Manager who issues it to the supplier either via email or through the contract management system (ASITE or CEMAR). Typically this is a straightforward process as the certificate identifies the overall contract value, the value of the works done to date, the amount previously paid, and deducting the two gives you the amount to pay in the period. I also have to produce an SAP Service Entry Sheet number which essentially connects the certificate to the purchase order. You won't have to worry about this step if your client doesn't use SAP!
A few caveats to the above:
The tasks I've highlighted above don't necessarily all get complete in one day. Working in a commercial role is very team orientated, and you need to navigate the commitments (and diaries) of project managers.
The tasks above are just a small portion of the tasks involved in such a role. There are other aspects that will be covered in a separate post such as:
Tender Management i.e. creating tender packs, dealing with queries during a tender process, and tender evaluations (technical, administrative and commercial).
Financial Approvals - This is the process of getting client approval to undertake works. This is a new activity for me. I've held two commercial roles in my career thus far. In my first role, I was removed from this aspect as funds for works were already agreed and many of the variations we had were still within the overall budget. In my current role, the budget is strict and variations outside of the authorised budget have to be approved before suppliers can be instructed and paid. A key point of difference here is that in my first role the works were managed by the main contractor whereas in my current role the works are managed by a delivery team who procure suppliers to undertake specific work activities. Therefore a large part of my role is helping the delivery team gain commercial approval from the procurement authority (which is a mechanism installed to prevent overspend and instil financial oversight). This involves writing procurement authority papers, variation recommendations as well as presenting the proposed work activities to a panel.
Project Progress Meetings: At least once a week there are meetings either with the wider project team/supplier to discuss the progress on the project. These are important because it's a forum for us as the commercial team to raise concerns against any potential compensation events, quotations or applications. They are also valuable because it's a source for us to identify any potential variations and then execute a mitigation strategy to prevent additional costs incurring (where possible).
Contract Drafting: As I am writing this post we are just about to start drafting a contract for a package of work. The work is specialist in nature and we will have to alter a standard form of contract to reduce the commercial risk to the client. I will write a separate post about what this process is like.
That's it, for now, folks, if you have any queries on the above please let me know.
** Side-note, I'm trying a software called Grammarly which tries to do a spell/grammar check in a better way than the MS Office system - hopefully, there aren't any glaring errors above ...