Thursday, 6 December 2007

Step 7: Don't overperform the spec

Most project specifications include a clause that says something like:

“A minimum of 10% of the area will be excavated to the base of the archaeological deposits.”

This is a gesture towards limiting the commitment of the contractor to dealing with all the archaeology on the site and defining a measurable task. Except, of course, that when you look at it, it doesn't provide any form of certainty to the contractor, since the 'base of the archaeological deposits' is unknowable in advance. (There is a separate point that quantifying archaeological work by depth or volume pays no attention to complexity.) It might be better to phrase it as 'to a depth of 1.2m or the base of the archaeological deposits, whichever is the least', and then all you need to argue about is what an archaeological deposit is: does a prehistoric peat deposit count? An interglacial gravel terrace?

But people write these things all the time. What doesn't happen is that when people get onto site they pay any attention. If this is you, and you have fulfilled that basic minimum, you need to ask yourself in earnest:

Why do more?

There may be a good reason, if the purpose of the project has not been met. If the specification cites the IFA Standard and Guidance for archaeological field evaluation (available as a pdf from IFA Codes and Standards page), and it probably does, then there is another criterion:

Purpose of field evaluation
The purpose of field evaluation is to gain information about the
archaeological resource within a given area or site (including its
presence or absence, character, extent, date, integrity, state of
preservation and quality), in order to make an assessment of its
in the appropriate context, leading to one or more of the
• the formulation of a strategy to ensure the recording,
preservation or management of the resource
• the formulation of a strategy to mitigate a threat to the
archaeological resource
• the formulation of a proposal for further archaeological
investigation within a programme of research
(emphasis added)

But even so those aims are limited: enough information to make an assessment of merit. Not all the archaeology, or all the archaeology exposed, or most of the archaeology exposed; enough of the archaeology.

When to stop:

• When you have met the quantification required
• When you have achieved the purpose of the work

Sounds simple. So why do people carry on? Because they want to do a good job, because their unit may not get any subsequent contract, because they are interested. True; laudable, even; but a luxury. Teams will argue that since their time is committed in any case they might as well carry on; but if the site closed early, they could be working on the report, and would not spending money on travel and plant.

However the project has been structured, overperforming costs somebody money. It might well be you. If the developer is paying for work done, then they are paying more than they should. If not, the contractor is spending its own money on unnecessary work. Some argue that since the work was overestimated (=overcosted), it does no harm, but that is only true if the occasions when it is underestimated do not incur losses.

Step 7: How often do you do more work than necessary?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Without an evaluation good management should be looking to make a killing. Instead of around 60% possibly up to 200%