Vince Bailey

November 2007

OK, you may get me to admit that only a percentage of design document sets are incoherent, poorly researched and incomplete—say, maybe 98 percent. Nevertheless, I refuse to be baited into torturing the ongoing debate of architectural deficiencies any further. Rather, I prefer to elevate the dialogue by discussing the different ways in which commercial drywall estimators can respond to questions and ambiguities that those design deficiencies generate—for those of us, that is, who got stuck with that 98 percent of plan sets that require a Ouija board and a secret decoder ring to translate.

Questions? Ambiguities? Omissions? Oh, they vary with each project—from a few dozen to a few hundred. On any initial perusal of plans for a significant project, I’ll typically fill up two or three legal pad pages in the first half-hour. Most of the shortfalls are ponderously predictable: wall sections don’t even vaguely resemble the wall types in the legend; the reflected ceiling plan contradicts the room finish schedule; plan note numerals are transposed or out of sequence; assemblies are not constructible from the plan details. I could write volumes, but that’s been done before.

Back to the point: What do you do with all those numerous ambiguities that will trouble you to the point of disturbing your slumber every night until bid day?

The most straightforward approach would entail submitting all of your questions to the general contractor you’re working with as far in advance of bid time as possible. Assuming that the architect will turn the answers around in a timely manner and his responses will adequately address the issues, this approach helps to put all bidders on an even playing field in terms of clarity. Unfortunately, clear and timely responses from a design team that generated poor plans in the first place are not likely to be forthcoming.

Of course the safest approach would be to assume the worst case (read: most expensive) scenario for each question or omission to cover yourself. But then you can almost bet that your number won’t be competitive enough to keep you in the running, and you’ll find you’ve completely wasted all that time and effort that goes into a commercial drywall proposal.

Then too, you could take the opposite tack and assume the best case (least costly) resolution. This allows you to be competitive alright, but leaves you at the mercy of the GC and architect who will, no doubt, hold you to the most stringent post-award scenarios.

But take heart; there’s an answer to this dilemma.

After years of wondering and playing "hit and miss” with the three above approaches, I’ve finally come to realize that the most effective way to deal with all of the inevitable architectural questions and omissions involves combining the elements of all three approaches: pointing out the ambiguous item, assuming the least costly answer, and pricing the worst case as an option.

When you think about it, it’s the perfect way to turn all of that heretofore-frustrating gray area to an advantage on bid day. By excluding each ambiguous item from your base-bid number, you reduce it to its most competitive level. Then, you qualify your bid with a list of exclusions, citing why you considered each too questionable to include. Finally, you fix a price on each item as a value-added option if it is to be reincorporated into your proposal.

The positive results of this tactic are threefold: First, it brings the design deficiencies to the fore upfront, before they damage you and/or the GC you are working with. Second, it allows you to pare your base number to the bare bones, giving you a competitive advantage. Third, and the most gratifying aspect of this spin, it puts the real cost of deficient design work back on the responsible party, the "design professional.” And we all know how sweet payback can be.

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