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April 2015   

Eyes of Another


By: Vince Bailey

Every move you make … every step you take, I’ll be watching you!—Gordon Sumner (Sting)

I find that estimators, for the most part, are a singularly opinionated bunch. Perhaps it is the intense, edge-walking nature of our work that drives us to extremes, sometimes opposing positions on this or that topic. Or perhaps it is that construction estimating is just the kind of occupation that attracts inherently intense people. Whatever the case, there seems to be an array of issues regarding our work that sends its adherents to polar opposites at their very mention. No concern, however, appears to divide our ranks more radically than the matter of bid reviews. Pro-review fanatics cite improved accuracy, enhanced knowledge contribution and better objectivity as attributes. Anti-review zealots point to time constraints, undue criticism, and micro-management from above as deterrent factors. My own view is that bid reviews can be a valuable enhancement to a thorough estimate, when approached in a thoughtful and constructive manner.

Elements to a positive approach should be incorporated into a structured protocol that has the innate flexibility to address each estimate in a manner consistent with its own unique set of properties. Such elements should include a knowledgeable second-party participant who can contribute to the review in a constructive, non-confrontational manner. The duration or depth of the review should be consistent with its level of importance. Some preparation and planning for the review should take place, and the particular time limitations associated with the bid should be taken into account. Finally, a mutual agreement regarding the approach to the review is essential to its ultimate value.

Knowledgeable second-party participant. The co-reviewer may or may not be the estimator’s superior but should in any case be sufficiently knowledgeable regarding the scope of work and the costs involved. A field operations manager often makes for an ideal second party to a review. His expertise in plan interpretation (de-mystification in many cases) and his firsthand insight into labor productivity can enable him to make valuable contributions to the estimate from a uniquely qualified perspective. His buy-in to the productivity levels is an added benefit when the job is sold and handed to him to perform.

Constructive, non-critical tone. More often than not, the review is conducted by someone further up the chain of command than the estimator. This dynamic comes with the presumptive notion that top-down coercion is at work with every step. This is the source of the most frequently cited objection to bid reviews, and that argument may have some merit. Upper managers may sometimes assume that the objective of the bid review is to ferret out and correct as many errors and oversights as possible—an opportunity to micro-manage. This old-school approach, however, presumes a supervisor’s superior command over a set of black-and-white postulates, while in reality much of an estimate involves interpretations made in context—the gist of which the original estimator has the most direct knowledge. In any event, much of this push-back can be dispelled by a simple adjustment in approach. Clearly, corrections are more readily accepted when framed as suggestions instead of decrees, and mistakes are more freely acknowledged when not presented as "gotchas.” Moreover, this more constructive approach might enable the estimator to clarify a deliberate omission or to explain a contextual inference that may appear at first glance to be an error.

Preliminary knowledge. Generally speaking, a bid review will take less time and yield more productive results when some preliminary overview is performed. Good planning on the part of the estimator includes forwarding the takeoff and any relevant reports to the reviewer in advance of the actual meeting. Likewise, a thoughtful preview of these items by the reviewer gives him the basic background information on the project and may flush out any latent issues that will warrant extended discussion.

Extent of review and the focus of the review are consistent with an order of importance. Many thoughtful bid review protocols include a logical ordering of priorities. For example, a full-blown bid review may only be required for projects valuing over a million dollars. The requirement for lesser estimates may consist of a perfunctory verbal summation or just the issuance of the information into a bid log. Similarly, a full review should be focused on those issues of the greatest impact. This might include reviewing conditions or assemblies in order of their dollar value. Prioritization ensures that the time spent in review yields a commensurate benefit.

Time constraints are accommodated. Clearly, the timing and duration of reviews should not hinder the estimator from meeting critical deadlines. Ideally, a one-hour review performed a few hours before a high-priority bid time should give the estimator sufficient time to prepare (if such a condition truly exists) and sufficient time to make revisions, if necessary.

This is a solid set of basic guidelines for building a reasonably effective bid review process. The single guiding principle, however, should state that the review should provide a thorough vetting procedure that does not over-encumber the estimator in his effort to provide an accurate and thoughtful bid on time. If participants can agree on the validity of these guidelines, their bid review can have the potential to contribute a great deal of value to the estimate.

Vince Bailey is senior estimator at Berg Drywall of Phoenix.

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