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Dump the Data!

A couple or three issues back, I penned a few comic anecdotes depicting the sort of error that inevitably befalls many of our esteemed colleagues when we lose focus—even for an instant—during feverish takeoffs. I reflect back on these misadventures from time to time as an amusing reminder of the inestimable importance posed by the number one mission. That mission, as always, is to keep all faculties fixed on the immediate task of attaching an accurate value to a conceptual piece of work—no small feat in itself. And, in a perfect world, our responsibilities would be restricted to the narrow focus of performing takeoffs and penning proposals.

Ah, but alas the lot of a wall-and-ceiling estimator falls far short of the perfect profession. A typical day in the life involves grappling with a huge host of indirectly related tasks, the attempted management of which harbors a latent distraction sufficient to reduce the boldest and best of us to muttering mannequins for modeling motley garb. Even those of us fortunate enough to have avoided pulling double duty on project management still must attend to a number of menial tasks that snatch our attention from core estimating.

Juggling the Numbers

Consider, for example, the administration of all those heaping reams of information that an estimator encounters or generates in the course of his regular endeavors. Project names and locations, bid deadlines, bidding GCs and contact info, addenda, plan dates, bid amounts, material quotes—the accumulated data can be quite staggering. But even though the process of info-storage is mind-numbingly mundane, keeping these facts and figures straight and handy is nevertheless vital—even critical, if and when a project comes to fruition as an award.

Time, now, to pay homage to the creators of those electronic spreadsheets who, with their subtle genius, have rescued us quantifiers from drowning in our own byproduct. By investing a little time up front in setting up a tracking sheet and then devoting a few moments a day to maintenance and entry, we can allow ourselves some refuge from the kind of ponderous diversions that might cause us to miss a floor, or submit the wrong project.

Is It a Log or a Scorecard?

Oh, I’m certain that most outfits worth their salt keep a bid log of some sort. Most estimating programs have the capacity to bank some of the data. But most logs that I’ve seen in use are little more than glorified win/loss scorecards. And while I’m usually a pretty staunch advocate of the KISS (keep it simple, stupid) theory of operating, the volume of significant information that’s involved here merits something a bit more elaborate than three columns that read “pending, lost, sold.”

The most thorough model I’ve seen divides jobs into tab-pages by status—five sheets, to be exact—with corresponding columns of bid data arranged in a logical order that renders the desired info available at a glance. It’s a neat piece of work.

Page one is entitled “bid opportunities.” It feeds from prospective job sources, such as online lead services and bid invitations, and provides the basis for accepting or declining a job and for work load assignments. It includes project names, locations, due dates, GCs bidding, estimated time to complete, and notes on things like site visit dates, etc.

Page two is entitled “bids to complete,” and it is the estimating-in-progress tracker. It contains the same info as page one in addition to amendments in the notes such as bid extensions, addenda, plan revisions and vendor feedback.

Page three, “outstanding bids,” might accurately be subtitled “the land of limbo.” This sheet consists of bids completed, with pending results. Added info to this page would include the bid amount and a record of contacting the GCs for feedback/negotiations/results. Not surprisingly, the list of jobs on this page is the lengthiest, as they seem, for whatever reason, to get stuck here for ages on end.

Page four we would hope to be as lengthy as page three, as it is the “awarded/ongoing” sheet. This would include the additions of awarded GC, preferred vendors, start date, handoff meeting date, and other miscellaneous info gems.

Page five is the graveyard for dead projects: “jobs lost.” All the information from page three feeds here when the bid is unsuccessful. Contrary to all appearances, maintenance of page five is not an exercise in futility. In addition to providing historical data that can assist on contemporary efforts, the unexpected resurrection of projects six months or even a year later is not unheard of, and a windfall of this sort can be most uplifting.

Granted, this model seems, at first blush, like a lot of work. But once the format is set up, updating consists of nothing more than cutting and pasting lines and adding a few bits of information as each project progresses through the process and changes in status. The scant time invested more than pays off in relief from data overdose. And nothing narrows our focus better than taking a load off the mind by dumping the routine data onto a digital brain.

Aahhh, that’s better!

Vince Bailey is an estimator at Darrell Julian Construction, a commercial drywall/framing contractor based in Albuquerque.

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