Still a Mystery, Part 2

Vince Bailey

February 2008

Last month, I tried to emphasize the critical importance of getting your arms around that most elusive factor in commercial drywall estimating—labor production—and the useful role that generating a written set of guidelines can play in converting vapor into something concrete (or drywall, in our case). I also expressed a strong warning against trying to apply any table of productions across-the-board to all jobs. The inevitable variables that exist from job to job are too numerous and the degrees of variance are wildly unpredictable. While a good table of rates can be invaluable in getting in the general neighborhood of a performable estimate, nothing de-mystifies the great unknown like a little teamwork.

And as is true with most valuable assets, the best resource for getting you into the winners’ circle is probably lurking in your own backyard: I’m referring to your field manager. Whether he’s a field operations manager, a trade superintendent or even a project foreman, teaming up with a field manager to hammer down realistic labor rates is a sound strategy for minimizing the guesswork in guesstimating.

Even if you are a gifted member of that rapidly disappearing demographic of estimators who is doubly blessed with having a field background, your in-house field guy can help put you back in touch with the level at which your particular work force is currently performing (as opposed to the productions we used to put out "back in the day”). And in the course of helping you to customize your labor rates with job-specific accuracy, a thorough discussion of job particulars can flush out some critical variables that you may not have otherwise considered:

• Manpower availability is key, and we’re not just talking body-counts. A good field manager will recognize what specially skilled employees are required (for example, welders, ceiling framers, production hangers) on a particular job, and what other concurrent jobs may possibly put a drain on those resources.

• Similarly, your field manager should be able to determine if your specific job will be supervision-intensive, and whether his best foremen will be available at the scheduled startup.

• In addition to identifying onerous degrees of difficulty pertaining to certain assemblies, a field manager should be able to pick out assemblies that lend themselves easily to shortcuts (for example, "handshake connections” and framing angle on soffits, as opposed to multiple layers of track) thus allowing for accelerated productivity.

• An astute field manager can tell which general contractor will coordinate a job well and get the most efficiency from your crew’s performance—or conversely, which ones won’t. You may want to adjust your bids accordingly.

• Your field manager may be able to keep you informed of equipment and material developments that may impact the labor on your job (such as a pneumatic nail gun for rapid installation of sheathing, or a high-build primer that could eliminate a skim coat on a level five finish).

Of course, these are only a few examples of the kind of nebulous factors that your in-house field manager can lend you some insight on. As I suggested in a previous column (Do You Want a Second Opinion?), a second set of eyes scanning your estimate before it goes out is always a good idea. And when that second opinion comes from the man in the field who will be performing the work, the result creates a double benefit. Not only do you gain valuable insight from firsthand field experience, but you’ve also engendered a teamwork spirit with your production department that can help carry your project to a profitable performance.

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