Vince Bailey / March 2019
It’s Monday, mid-morning. You’re on your way back from a long and arduous scope meeting with a GC you’ve never scored with before, scrutinizing a multi-million-dollar hotel project you’d recently bid. Just you sitting across a table the size of a skating rink opposite five stiff and wizened managers whose mere presence conjured images of The Inquisition. You smile, now, as you motor along, confident that your knowledge of the job had enabled you to survive the pentagonal interrogation. You had actually anticipated a couple of additional alternates and were prepared with numbers to cover them. Not that they had given away any inkling that you might be awarded. You’ve been down this road before, with two of your closest competitors also in the hunt. For the past six months you’ve consistently been third of the three. There was no reason to believe that this three-way fiasco would be any different, even though you’d worked for months, helping this GC through the budgetary phase. A healthy backlog and a manpower famine had kept your markups and wage levels extraordinarily high, making odds for an award slim to none.
You pull up to a stoplight and your cellphone emits a ring that signals a call from outside your circle of contacts. A glance at the screen gives you pause: the number is that of the GC you’d just sat with. You take the call and put the caller on speaker. In a measured monotone that would put a Jack Russell terrier on Red Bull to sleep, the project director casually informs you that they intend to award the project to your firm! A surge of adrenaline courses through your limbs, as the light turns green and you peel into the intersection. You thank him profusely and tell him you’ll call back for details when you get out of traffic. You terminate the call let out a triumphant yell: Whoomp—there it is!
The initial shell-shock has subsided somewhat when you arrive back at your office. Still, you pinch yourself a couple of times to wake up to reality and wonder what to do next. You’re a bit dazed by the notion that the steps in the process of solidifying the sale—steps that were once second-nature to you—are faded from disuse and languishing on the seldom-trod back alleyways of your mind.
Never one to become destabilized by a sudden turn of good fortune, you calmly sit at your desk, pull out pad and pen, and begin to make a list from memory. You recall that there are a number of critical tasks that an estimator must perform before passing the job on to the management and production teams—urgent tasks in this case, as ground has already been broken on this project, and, as they say, time is of the essence.
First, right after compiling the list, is to call the GC back for the details. That is, what inclusions and exclusions the award (and the contract amount) will be based on. Terms of the agreement are usually presented ahead of time, so determination of alternates, value engineering, call-back items and potential discounts are all that is needed to arrive at the final performance scope and contract amount. You will request a letter of intent to secure the award while you perform these other preconstruction tasks. Next, you will request an updated construction schedule (as the master schedule may already be obsolete) so you can infuse accurate timing into your own preconstruction plan.
Now that you’ve got all the general contractor issues itemized, you can start to focus on your own in-house job start. First and foremost you must alert “mahogany row” and the production manager (or general field superintendent) that you have a verbal award on this job and advise on the size and scope if it is not already common knowledge. Given the dearth of manpower availability these days, a job this size with a semi-urgent mobilization requirement may well overtax your firm’s ability to meet the demand, unless planned for in advance.
Next in terms of importance, material suppliers must be notified so that prices can be locked in and amounts can be ordered and allocated. In addition, you may request that your material supplier provide you with a submittal package, since you are now ass-deep in alligators with all of these preconstruction tasks. After all, having quoted the job, he/she is best acquainted with all the components, manufacturers, colors, etc. Material suppliers are only too happy to comply with this request, as it is their way of staking claim to supplying the project.
Now you are truly besieged with in-house tasks: preparation of the pre-job meeting with management and production, setting up a budget, generating a schedule of values, ordering a bond if need be, setting up a meeting between your team and the GC’s—the list now seems unending. It would be overwhelming if not for colleagues who are willing to assist and to share in the triumph.
You get by with a little help from your friends, and by the end of the day Tuesday, you’ve all developed an undeniable thirst for a victory drink. Go ahead—you deserve it. And on top of it all, it’s two-fer night! Ahhh, pay dirt—it gleams.
Vince Bailey is an estimator/project manager working in the Phoenix area.