Wearing Two Hats

Charles Mahaffey

May 2005

Can a person be an effective estimator while also performing the duties of a project manager? I believe you will find that some people are capable of taking on and performing multiple tasks and job descriptions; however, even if these individuals can wear two hats, is this what is best for your company?

I began my career with a company that believed the same person should perform the estimating as well as the project management duties. During the years that I worked for this company, I never really questioned having to wear the estimating and the project management hats.

Some years later I started my own business, and I set up the job descriptions just as I had experienced with the employer of my early career.

All the estimators I hired into my company had to also accept the additional role of project manager. Most of the people I hired were good, or even great estimators. I fired the best estimator I ever had because he wasn’t a good project manager. That was a huge mistake!

Regardless of what some people might want us to believe, we are not all the same. It is my opinion that a good estimator does not necessarily make a good project manager, and a good project manager rarely makes a good estimator.

Why would a company consider having the estimating and project management duties performed by the same person?

One answer might be that it keeps the overhead cost lower by having fewer people.

Another answer could be that you don’t have to get another person familiar with the project. The estimator would already be familiar with the project since he or she had already spent considerable time with the plans in their preparation of the estimate. While there are some valid points to support the combined positions, I believe that having two separate positions makes the most sense.

Here are my reasons in support of having separate positions:

First of all, as I mentioned previously, most people are not adept at performing both functions. You might be forcing a person to perform a job for which they are really not well suited.

Second, taking away time from someone that is involved with project management to prepare a bid could jeopardize the bid and the job they are managing. If the bid takes days (or weeks) to prepare, then something will probably not get the attention that is needed. Let’s not forget the undue stress that is applied to this person ; during this bid preparation time they are going to have to work extra hours just to keep up.

Additionally, and most importantly, having a separate estimator (estimating department) will provide a more consistent backlog of work. Throughout the years, I have compared the success of companies using combined estimator/project managers with companies that had separate estimators and project managers. The companies using separate estimators and project managers were usually more successful.

In conclusion, by having each employee wear just one hat, your cost of overhead will be higher, but the overhead cost will be more than offset by an increased volume, a stable work force and greater profitability.

About the Author
Charles Mahaffey is president of Accuest, LLC, Marietta, Ga. Accuest provides estimating and consulting services for commercial drywall subcontractors.