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4 Tips for creating the perfect Schedule of Works

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Taken from a roundtable discussion with an architect, a quantity surveyor and a contractor.

Every architect seems to have their own Schedule of Works (SoW) format, content and layout which normally leaves a high degree of interpretation. Our roundtable discussion explored the different approaches and challenges construction professionals face when assembling and using this key tender document. The outcome is a useful checklist when embarking on your next schedule.

TLDR: our panel of experts’  top 4 tips:

✅  Read the NBS Structure of a Schedule of Works article

✅  Familiarise yourself with the RICS New Rules for Measurement 2 in particular Page 35-36 for the most universally understood work sections in the industry

✅  Add a supplementary information column to your SoW with your research or as a reference appendix for specific suppliers

✅  Sense check your SoW with a quantity surveyor or contractor for expert advice prior to sending it out next

Opinions differ on what should be included in a SoW depending on the professional’s viewpoint which is why Weaver was keen to interview Natalie Black, architect, Robert Kempton, quantity surveyor and David Sandford, contractor, to discuss, compare and explore how to reduce friction between all the stakeholders involved in making or using a SoW.

So why is there no universal Schedule of Works format for architects?
Robert Kempton: There is a model that exists: The RICS New Rules for Measurement which sets out the required structure and acts as a great guide but architects tend not to use it. As architecture moves further from contract administration to design this element is being left behind.

“The often used NBS is a template whereas the NRM is the Bible. Obviously you set out your scope of works and cost plans to suit your project but what NRM gives you is a sort of structure from which you can be repetitive.”
— Robert Kempton

David Sandford: I often find architects rigidly follow the National Building Specification structure resulting in lazy copy & pasting. This means irrelevant information is included and the contractor ends up having to spend time picking through what actually needs pricing.
Contractors have to carefully cross reference notes on architects drawings, the specification document and SoW resulting in potential errors or room for interpretation. In my opinion having clear separation of spec, workmanship, drawings and pricing is easiest when pricing but also further down the process when on site. Specific measurable items on a SoW means there is less ‘change management’ or variation headaches for the design team, client or contractor.

Natalie Black: As a small practice to me the NBS is way over the top. I find that adding a supplementary information column to my SoW where the result of my research is stored, is something very useful. Instead of reinventing the wheel I reuse the well set out, and openly available, information sourced directly from suppliers or specialists. For me ideally both elemental and “room by room” information need to appear in one document to make it relevant for both contractors and trades. Contractors and their subbies tend to think in elemental packages whereas clients think in rooms.

David Sanford: We like to ask architects to just give us one document, with measurable items, and if the SoW needs to point to something else, put it in an appendix. As a contractor, separating projects by new work versus renovation/refurbishment makes it possible to break down the document room-by-room, but the norm is the elemental route where you price against activity split into sections.

Is the SoW used as a means of reducing risks for the architect or client and transferring liability to the contractor?
Robert Kempton: The SoW should be seen as a guide through the drawings which ultimately takes precedence with the contractor adding additional elements where needed.

There must be a collaborative process between designers and cost consultants to capture the costs but there needs to be cost surety for the client from start to finish. A quantity surveyor isn’t as fluid in drawing or detail as an architect - ultimately it’s about working together to iron out how to get something built on budget.  

“Expecting a contractor to go back and check the list of works is unrealistic. Having an accurate and complete schedule of works produced will give a more competitive and fair tender.”
— David Sandford

Getting the contractor involved early enables them to understand what they are being asked to do. Collaboration is key as the quantity surveyor and designer have been involved for normally 6 months when the contractor only has eyes on the schedule and tender documents for a few weeks.

David Sandford: In my opinion, the SoW takes precedence over the drawings. I would not price a job where the SoW is seen as a guide because it would make it a worthless document.

Natalie Black: As an architect, I reduce my project risk by having a quantity surveyor look over my SoW template and add elements or check to see if I have missed anything.

Putting together a schedule is as crucial as it is complicated. When creating their first one, architects have to decide what level of detail needs to be included in order to make accurate pricing possible for the contractor.

How can the Schedule of Works become a more collaborative document?
Natalie Black: As I mentioned I usually get quotes from suppliers and specialists early on in order to add their thoughts and detail into my schedule. What’s really valuable, if you can get their attention, is asking contractors for their opinion on materials and how to build your designs. It’s not just the aesthetics and how things look but how long and how much it’s going to cost to construct which impacts client decisions. Therefore getting the contractors involved earlier can help shape what goes in your schedule.

“Knowing whether chances to win the work are high or not will inform the amount of time contractors spend on preparing a tender and make them more or less inclined to collaborate early on.”
— David Sandford

Robert Kempton: I agree giving earlier access to contractors along with ensuring the design team understands the scope of work earlier, rather than later, are essential. Involving all professionals early on is key to building the best project possible and giving the client an understanding of the costs. Another approach consists in producing design stages covering key points of budget, design etc: expected cost on one side and budget on the other at each stage so it can evolve as the project does.

David Sandford: I am careful about the amount of time spent on tendering when there are multiple builders involved in pricing the project. Having a live document to comment on along with a reason to be heavily involved will create that collaborative dynamic.