The Doctor is In

Charles Mahaffey

January 2007

I counsel a number of companies and estimators on a regular basis about problems they encounter with their estimating. From time-to-time, I will use this column to post the actual dialogue between the "Doctor of Estimating” and some of the estimating "patients.”

Patient: Doctor, I can’t seem to bid enough work, and I find that I am always working late and working over the weekend. My family is upset that I am never around. I am upset that I can’t seem to bid all of the jobs that I want to bid. What am I doing wrong?

Doctor: How do you go about the process of preparing your takeoff and estimates?

Patient: Well, I perform the takeoff and estimates just the way my dad taught me when I entered this business. I use an estimating scale and takeoff all of the quantities from the blueprints, then I write the quantities down on a sheet of paper. Next, I take the numbers that I have written down and transfer them to other sheets of paper that I will use for pricing. Using a calculator, I will extend all of the takeoff quantities by the labor and material units. After I have extended all of the quantities and unit costs, I will use more paper and recap all of the extended costs and apply my markup to arrive at my bid price.

Doctor: Why do you not use electronic takeoff and estimating software?

Patient: Doctor, my system has always worked for me, and it also worked for my father before me. Besides, you know I just can’t trust what is done by a computer. I have never seen the need in using a computer for estimating, and I don’t plan to change.

Doctor: I believe you are suffering from Estimating Technophobia, commonly referred to as E.T. This means you have developed a dependency on calculators, pencils and large quantities of paper. You do not trust modern technology to do for you what it does for the rest of the world.

This particular phobia is probably similar to when you were a young child and you did not want to give up your blanket. No matter how much your mom told you and tried to coerce you into giving it up, you just would not part with your beloved blanket. This blanket was your security.

Now you have developed a false sense of security with an outdated method for estimating. You are also stubborn, and if you don’t start spending more time with your family, you could end up with a divorce.

Patient: Are you saying that if I just start using a computer for my estimating that everything will be OK? Should I maybe start with a spreadsheet?

Doctor: No, don’t begin with a spreadsheet. Although a spreadsheet is an improvement, it is not going to provide a total cure. What I am telling you is that you should talk to some of your competitors and find out what type of takeoff and estimating software they use. Check out some of the advertising for software in the trade magazines. Contact the companies and request a trial version of their software.

Choose software that you can understand. Try to choose software that doesn’t require extensive training for you to begin using it, or one that would require training each time they update the software. After you begin to use your new software, prepare to bid more jobs and have more time with your family.

Next patient, please.

About the Author
Charles Mahaffey is president of Accuest, LLC, Marietta, Ga., and The Academy of Construction Estimating in Atlanta.