Do You Want a Second Opinion?

Vince Bailey

June 2007

I see you’re just winding up spending the better part of two weeks working on the take-off from hell. It’s shaping up into the neighborhood of a $2.5 million project that includes a nightmare exterior skin that’s got your head spinning full of structural details: clips, kickers, black iron, three different box header assemblies, an oddball G-90 coating on the 16 gauge framing and multiple welds everywhere. The penthouse roof is framed from light gauge metal trusses. The specs call for an upgraded EIFS drainage system with high-impact mesh up to 8 feet and a smooth troweled finish. There are 10 different interior wall types, and the designations appear on random pages. There are several tiers of cloud ceiling panels in all the lobbies. There is a groin-vault lath-and-plaster ceiling over one of the breezeways. There are three grid types, and four acoustical tile types. There are smooth walls and textured walls. There are four different wall coverings and seven different paints, including two fauxs.

It’s all in your scope, and you’ve gone nearly stone blind trying to assemble every detail, count every screw and tick off every man-hour.

And now that you’ve nearly got it in the box, do you really want me looking over your shoulder, trying to second-guess you?

You should. If you want to be thorough, if you want to be accurate, if you want to be certain, you should. You should welcome the benefit that a good bid review can add to your estimating project. I have had the good fortune of working for some of the top commercial drywall firms in the country, and the best ones have a policy that no bid goes out the door before at least two pairs of eyes have perused the plans, the specs and your take-off. In an industry where the slightest oversight could cost your firm tens of thousands of dollars, why on earth would you be reluctant to let another estimator, an operations manager or a superintendent take a look and give you his take on your work?

Oh, I’ve seen the cavalier attitude and heard the good-natured boasting: "Why do I need some field hand trying to critique my handiwork, when everybody knows I’ve got the sharpest eyes in the business?!”

I’ve also seen some of the best estimators in the field commit some pretty expensive whoopsies. One of our top take-off artists once submitted a bid on a sophisticated truss job and forgot to include the crane rental. Another left off 50 feet of exterior wall four stories tall because it was concealed on the elevations (but appeared on the plan view). Another missed the note on using high impact board for all of the corridors in a high-school classroom building. Still another digitized the paint area on an entire parking garage in the wrong scale.

My favorite, though, comes from one of my former mentors, who got mesmerized by the replication of floors on a 12-story project, lost count and left one off! These are some of the best estimators in the business, and it just goes to show that anyone, even the pros, can suffer from cranial flatulence at one time or another.

But aside from helping you spot the obvious hiccup in your bid, an associate—particularly one who has a field background—can often lend some insight that might otherwise escape your notice. He may see the need for a special piece of equipment that you’re not familiar with, or an opportunity to utilize a new, innovative product. He may pick up on constructability issues where you were thinking more conceptually. Or he just might recognize a degree of difficulty in an assembly that you didn’t realize.

In any case, I take it as a sign of a truly confident and competent professional, when an estimator welcomes the benefit of a second opinion. With so much riding on the accuracy of your work, the ego needs to take a back seat.

About the Author
Vince Bailey is an estimator/operations manager for San Juan Insulation and Drywall, located in Durango, Colo.