Thinking out LOUD! - Usage of the term 'level'

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Article Index
Thinking out LOUD!
Primary Intent
Long History
'Element' Misunderstood
Use in Heavy and Civil?
Not a WBS!
Think Modular Use
Usage of the term 'level'
Omit Reference ID's
Think 'Planning'
All Pages
‘Levels’ an Expression that can be Misleading.

Since the original Uniformat and its subsequent revision into UNIFORMAT II in 1995 the term ‘level’ has been applied to the various levels of aggregation within these hierarchical breakdowns. This terminology does not typically appear  in other elemental classifications used throughout the world, and seems localised to the United States of America, and while alluded to in some Canadian publications, is not typically used in technical conversation within Canada, where elemental analysis and cost control during design is frequently employed.

While it is a correct term ‘level’ appears to imply a simple level of disaggregation, without regard to the specific needs, application, or content of any particular level. Where it is in general use the term will usually include a number. So, you will hear users refer to items of work  included at ‘Level 2’, or some other level number. This is all well and good where there is a well known and common understanding of intent, and a common relative starting point for a level numbering system has been agreed.  However, this use of language can be misleading too, when participants begin their disaggregation at a different start point, or use the same level numbers to include items of widely different levels of dis-aggregation. Such eclectic results are very common. It might be worth recalling here that the original Uniformat of 1975 included a much different level of content at Level 1 from that subsequently used in UNIFORMAT II in 1992.

It is far better to refer to the various hierarchical levels by name and not by number. Using an appropriate name permits use and appropriate clear indication in any hierarchy, at any level, without confusing the content. The content remains consistent no matter where applied and within whatever structure it is used. A critical concept of UNIFORMAT II is the ‘element’. It is the element that is the key, critical concept, and component of elemental classification. The term has been specifically defined  to maintain its distinction and to avoid confusion, as also have the terms Major Group Elements and Group Elements, and even Sub-Elements. In conversation the word ‘level’ may still be used, but it will be with greater precision when referring to something as at a ‘Sub-Element Level’, or a ‘Group Element Level’ ,or ‘Element Level’ for example.

It is not uncommon to see writers proposing new elemental classifications, who wish to use numerous levels of detail. In doing so they are missing the essential point of the UNIFORMAT II elemental concept. Again, the need is to stress that elemental classification is not simply a ‘list of stuff’, no matter how many levels it may include, but is a structured hierarchical concept that can be applied across many forms of constructed entity analysis or description, with a common understanding of intent. An important part of UNIFORMAT II is also to understand the concept of ‘less is more’. Increasing levels of detail does not lead to an improvement in functionality, but to a less useful classification, that is less able to function as a valuable, common reference and control document though the full planning and design completion cycle. (see earlier remarks on parametrics).