Two-fer (or Not), Part 2

Vince Bailey

September 2008

Last month I stated pretty emphatically that I believe the most effective approach to structuring the management of a commercial drywall operation includes dividing the estimating and project management into two separate departments—the "divided house” model, as I termed it. In retrospect, I think I have some serious qualifying to do before I continue down that road.

Of course, there are plenty of circumstances that favor a dual approach—that is, having estimators double as project managers. Smaller firms that deal in annual volumes of $5 million or less may rightly consider a dual role approach simply because the work load does not justify having separate departments. Similarly, larger outfits that are experiencing a trough period in either prospective work or in operations may want to combine departments in accordance with a well-considered downsizing. Then too, there are those special individuals who are mediocre specialists but seem to function best by vacillating between two worlds—roving fielders, so to speak. Larger firms, even those with a divided structure, should by all means capitalize on placing key players in their most productive roles. So, yes, keep these rare specimens doing what they do best in their bi-modal positions; they can be especially effective on small- to mid-size projects.

But these and other related issues have more to do with being flexible, and the cardinal rule in our amorphous industry is to bend with the constant changes and evolving circumstances—or be broken. Nevertheless, being flexible does not preclude subscribing to a solid set of guidelines. To be sure, the shifting winds of change demand a strong foundation. And this brings me back to my previous statement—that is, all other things being equal, I favor the divided house model for sizeable firms, and suggest it be adopted as one of those foundational guidelines to build upon.

I repeat now the strongest argument for a division of labors: Estimating is a full-time job. Project management is a full-time job. For a firm that does a substantial volume of work to relegate either role to a lesser status based on the fallacious notion of getting "two for the price of one,” constitutes a classic example of risking a dollar to save a dime.

To illustrate the distinct nature of each role, I’ve provided below a list of critical responsibilities for each role that can no way be described as "overlapping” by any stretch.

In addition to preparing timely and accurate proposals, an estimator helps to create, update and maintain a clear, current and accurate database of relevant labor and material items for access throughout the firm; secures competitive pre-bid material pricing; camps by the fax/phone on bid days; assumes plan management responsibilities—maintains a plan log; actively promotes sales, developing positive relationships with the clients’ estimating departments; generates a bid/pending/sales log, updated regularly.

In addition to preparing and monitoring project budgets, a project manager gathers product data and build a conforming, cost-effective submittal package; generates a schedule of values; creates a manpower-loaded schedule; sets up and conduct a pre-job meeting; reviews the contract and negotiate any needed modifications; performs (or assists with) a material takeoff; tracks actual costs against budgets; determines cost overruns and implements with field managers; prices and submits cost impact changes; generates and maintains an RFI/change log and communicate all impacting changes to field managers; attends onsite meetings with GC’s management, as needed; maintains project documentation; generates correspondence, as needed; submits monthly billings based on percentages of completion; submits close-out requirements (warranty letter, attic stock, etc.) ; and archives project documents.

It may seem to some that I am getting carried away with the PM’s job description, but each of these items is critical to the successful performance of a sizeable commercial project. Perhaps in the process, I’ve gone some distance toward dispelling the myth that project management can be performed on a part-time or as-needed basis—maybe by an estimator whose work load is less than oppressive. Pure nonsense.

As presented above, project management, when done right, is more than a full-time job in itself. Likewise, a serious commercial estimator will always have his hands full. And two-fers are for Tuesday happy hour, not commercial drywall management.

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