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A Few of My “Favorite” Things

“When the dog bites, when the bee stings …” — Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II

Over the years, I have explored a number of the common trials and travails that beset our estimator ilk—the boogeymen of our bean-counting lives. Deadline anxiety, ambiguous bid docs (gotchas!), compressed estimating durations, fear of inaccuracy (damned if you do), and sales slumps (damned if you don’t) are just a few of the major pitfalls that regularly plague us along our professional paths. In most cases, I considered each of these pestilent hazards to have a significance deserving of an entire column. And while I deemed my treatment of these topics to be thorough enough, a certain nagging deficiency disallowed any sort of “mission accomplished” declaration. That’s because I have overlooked the lesser field-specific pinpricks that nevertheless afflict the vast majority of approximators on a daily basis. As trivial as each of these annoyances may seem, their accumulative effect can be as debilitating as any of the above-cited maladies—the death by a thousand tiny cuts syndrome, if you will. In reply to this deficiency, I cite the following examples, all of which I am certain will appear all-too familiar to this readership.

Adden-doomed! OK, I understand the need sometimes arises to clarify some items on a bid set of plans—I even welcome that. I can even tolerate multiple addenda that sneak into the bid folder under the dark of night and don’t extend the bid date. But there comes a point when the project becomes a moving target, and when addendum number six, a change-riddled 30-pager, comes rolling in the day before bid day, it makes me grind my teeth. Why, you might ask, don’t the designers wait until the plans are actually complete before they issue them for bid? How many addenda does it take ‘til they see that too many addenda have emerged? The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind. Meanwhile, we continue to get addendum-ed to death.

Did you include …? I’m a bit of a fanatic about qualifying my proposal, as I think most competent bidmeisters are. I carefully attach a list of relevant bid inclusions, exclusions and clarifications under emboldened and underlined headings so that the estimator for the general contractor can clearly understand and easily compare the value of my proposal with those of other bidders. Why then on bid day, usually a half-hour after submission, does the following phone dialogue invariably occur? GC: Did you include installation of hollow metal door frames? Me: Yes, but installation only. It’s there in my proposal under “inclusions.” GC: Hmm. And did you include sound caulking? Me: Yes, I included it on all acoustically rated wall types. It’s right there in my proposal under “inclusions.” GC: Oh yes, I see that now. And what about scaffolding for the exterior skin? Me: No, I did not include that. It says I did not right there under “exclusions” and again under “clarifications,” where it says that scaffold by others is assumed. Now this can go on for upwards of an hour. And while I never let my frustration taint my voice during the call, associates can attest that my screams can be heard in the next county, once the phone receiver is safely cradled.

Do you remember …? Sometimes, these zingers come from our own team. In-house interrogations can be maddening. I’m sure you’ve experienced this all too frequently. Your own PM appears at your door while you have your head wrapped around an upcoming bid and asks a scope question involving a job you bid and were awarded three months ago. Do you remember, he asks good-naturedly, why you did not include impact board in your estimate, when the plans clearly call for it in all corridors? You are stunned. Did you miss something major? You try to walk backward in your mind, but too many projects and processes have intervened within your skull in the interim. You abandon your current project and go on a search tangent to either vex or vindicate yourself. In the job folder you eventually find a scope checklist item that had directed you to delete the impact board as a value engineering item. You point out to your PM that the information was available to him with some due diligence. He cheerfully informs you that he was just checking your memory as a shortcut. How nice to be needed.

We know what you need! How many times have you included specific directions with a request for quote to a material supplier and gotten back a list that looks like pricing for an entirely different project? I ask for pricing on 30-mil studs and I get a quote for EQ. I request pricing on impact board, they price abuse board. I specify Dens-deck and I get pricing that I know is consistent with Dens-shield. I call to complain, only to be advised that this is the way that everyone else has interpreted the job! Oh, but I am such a fuddy-duddy exactimator that I actually want to quote the job as it is specified, not based on my competitor’s wishful thinking. Needless to say, I will later award the job to the supplier who quoted accurately, per my directions. After all, I can’t afford to wing it; it’s beyond me how others seem to.

As is often the case, these pesky problems are much too numerous to include in one writing. Next month, we will explore interminable scope checklists, construction neophytes, and non-sequitur responses to RFIs, among other petty aggravations. Until then, all you beleaguered quantifiers can take some encouragement in knowing that there is a sympathetic soul out here. I feel your pain.

Vince Bailey is an estimator at E&K of Phoenix.

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