Vince Bailey / June 2020
We seem to be living in an era in which most of the nation seems polarized over this issue or that concern. And in spite of the apparent comradery that’s inherent to our profession, estimators are no exception when it comes to the matter of bid reviews. In this regard, we are like cats and dogs. To be sure, there is no lack of pros and cons concerning this aspect of our vocation, and adherents on either side of the divide are more than willing and eager to debate the matter.
A positive approach to bid reviews should include the flexibility to address each estimate in a manner consistent with its own unique set of properties. A constructive approach should include a knowledgeable second-party reviewer who can contribute to the process in a productive, helpful manner. The duration or depth of the review should be consistent with its level of overall value. Some preparation and planning for the review should take place. Finally, a mutual agreement regarding the approach to the review is essential to its ultimate value.
Cooperative effort. This means the review should be conducted in the presence of the original estimator. The main reason for this being that the original estimator has inside information on how or why he approached an assembly in a certain way. For instance, a colleague reviewed a bid of mine and wanted to know why I had a 5-foot tall partition with only top-out drywall, not low hang. I explained that it was a pony wall sitting on top of another (30-foot) partition. Without my input, he might have wrongly changed that designation. The ideal scenario in a cooperative bid review would be a screen-sharing session in which the original estimator walks the reviewer through his process. Of course, this involves finding a time when both the reviewer and the estimator are mutually available. This can be a significant obstacle.
Competent co-reviewer. The co-reviewer should always be sufficiently knowledgeable regarding the scope of work and the hours involved. A field operations manager often makes for an ideal second party to a review. His expertise in plan interpretation and his firsthand insight into labor productivity can enable him to make valuable contributions to the estimate from a uniquely qualified perspective. His agreement with the productivity levels is an added benefit when the job is sold and handed off to him to perform.
Constructive in tone. Often, the review is conducted by someone further up the chain of command than the estimator. This is the source of the most frequently cited objection to bid reviews, and that argument may have some merit. Upper managers may sometimes assume the objective of the bid review is to correct as many errors and oversights as possible. This approach, however, presumes a supervisor’s superior command over a set of black-and-white postulates, while in reality much of an estimate involves inferences and interpretations made in context—the gist of which the original estimator has the most direct knowledge. Much resistance can be dispelled by a simple adjustment in approach. Clearly, corrections are more readily accepted when framed as suggestions instead of judgments, and errors are more freely acknowledged when not presented as traps. Moreover, this more constructive approach might enable the estimator to clarify a deliberate omission or to explain a contextual inference that may appear at first glance to be an error.
Advance preparation. Generally speaking, a bid review will take less time and yield better results when some preliminary overview is performed. Good planning on the part of the estimator includes forwarding the takeoff and any relevant reports to the reviewer in advance of the actual meeting. Likewise, a thoughtful preview of these items by the reviewer gives him the basic background information on the project and may flush out any latent issues that warrant extended discussion. Again, this is subject to time constraints (see below).
Depth of review is prioritized. Thoughtful bid review practices include a logical ordering of priorities. For example, a formal bid review may be required only for projects valuing over a certain set dollar amount. The requirement for lesser estimates may consist of a verbal summation. Similarly, a full review should be focused on those issues of the greatest impact. This might include reviewing conditions or assemblies in order of their dollar value. Prioritization allows that the time spent in review yields a proportionate benefit.
Time constraints are recognized. Clearly, the timing and duration of reviews should not hinder the estimator from meeting critical deadlines. Ideally, a one-hour review performed a few hours before a high-priority bid time should give the estimator sufficient time to prepare and to make revisions, if necessary.
It’s my considered opinion that a bid review can be a valuable enhancement to a thorough estimate, when approached in a thoughtful and constructive manner. Two sets of eyes are always better than one.
Vince Bailey is an estimator/project manager working in the Phoenix area.