Activity Codes

Activity Codes / Coding Systems

One objective in many construction planning efforts is to define the plan within the constraints of a universal coding system for identifying activities. Each activity defined for a project would be identified by a pre-defined code specific to that activity. The use of a common nomenclature or identification system is basically motivated by the desire for better integration of organizational efforts and improved information flow. In particular, coding systems are adopted to provide a numbering system to replace verbal descriptions of items. These codes reduce the length or complexity of the information to be recorded. A common coding system within an organization also aids consistency in definitions and categories between projects and among the various parties involved in a project. Common coding systems also aid in the retrieval of historical records of cost, productivity and duration on particular activities. Finally, electronic data storage and retrieval operations are much more efficient with standard coding systems.

In North America, the most widely used standard coding system for constructed facilities is the MASTERFORMAT system developed by the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) of the United States and Construction Specifications of Canada.

Coding Systems involve a hierarchical coding system with multiple levels plus keyword text descriptions of each item.

While coding systems provide a very useful means of organizing and communicating information, it has some obvious limitations as a complete project coding system. First, more specific information such as location of work or responsible organization might be required for project cost control.

As a second problem, the MASTERFORMAT system was originally designed for building construction activities, so it is difficult to include various construction activities for other types of facilities or activities associated with planning or design. Different coding systems have been provided by other organizations in particular sub-fields such as power plants or roadways. Nevertheless, MASTERFORMAT provides a useful starting point for organizing information in different construction domains.

In devising organizational codes for project activities, there is a continual tension between adopting systems that are convenient or expedient for one project or for one project manager and systems appropriate for an entire organization. As a general rule, the record keeping and communication advantages of standard systems are excellent arguments for their adoption. Even in small projects, however, ad hoc or haphazard coding systems can lead to problems as the system is revised and extended over time. 

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