Two-fer (or Not)

Vince Bailey

August 2008

A house divided against itself cannot stand.

This twice-borrowed adage may work if you’re into wearing stovepipe hats, and your metaphor refers to a nation on the brink of a civil war. On the other hand, a divided house just may be the most effective approach to structuring the management of a commercial drywall operation.

Estimator? Project Manager? Estimator/Project Manager? There are two distinct and competing schools of thought in this regard—the dual role versus the divided house—and an endless number of good arguments for and against each approach. But whether you believe that an estimator should also serve as a project manager, or you are convinced that the two roles should be kept separate may depend, to a degree, on the unique circumstances and influences that all contribute to the makeup of your particular corporate culture. Even so, there must be a superior position to be taken in this raging debate.

The most frequently heard (and most convincing) argument for the dual role has to do with familiarity—that is, the estimator is the human depository of all knowable information regarding the project at the time of award, and is therefore in the best position to oversee the work. And if you’ve perused any number of my past columns, you’ve undoubtedly recognized the repeating theme that supports this: The sheer volume of information that a commercial estimator must process, and the depth to which he must analyze those reams of data is nothing short of staggering. Given this, you might guess that I would tend toward advocating the dual role.

I suppose I might side with the "Dualites” except that I’ve seen how virtually all of that garnered information can be presented and passed on to a capable project manager by means of a well-prepared and well-structured pre-job or handoff meeting. In addition to the various reports that a good estimating software program will generate, an effective handoff meeting will cover the depth and breadth of the project information in a checklist format that includes a document review (plans and specs), proposed scope, changes to date, quoted materials, schedule/manpower needs, productivity levels and even those oh-so-critical verbal agreements that might otherwise fall through the cracks. In a nutshell, the familiarity argument wilts at the simple premise that all the gleaned info can be encapsulated and passed on pretty effectively with some elementary application of communication basics.

Now, the partisans—advocates of separate roles—have an argument of their own, and it goes like this: Project management is a full-time job. Estimating is a full-time job. To compel one person to perform both is to pay the necessary attention to neither. The notion that a project of any considerable size or degree of difficulty can be managed on a part-time basis is a myth that has seduced many a firm into losses and even failures. This argument can easily be reinforced by simply dusting off a couple of seldom referred-to documents that are bound to be cluttering your files. Chances are there are two separate and very hefty job descriptions—one for the estimator and one for the project manager—with very few overlapping responsibilities.

By now you’ve probably detected a bias in my writing. All other things being equal, I tend to favor the divided house model—not in all cases, of course, but certainly in most. This is not based on a whim. My position is advised by a long line of informative experiences with several top drywall firms strung out all across the country. These project successes and near-successes and less-than successes have inalterably shaped my perspective on this debate. But I won’t just leave it there. Next month I will support my position for the divided house.

In the meantime, feel free to send your thoughts on this subject to our editor, Laura M. Porinchak, at porinchak@awci.org.

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