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First Things

“After all, tomorrow is another day.”—Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh) from “Gone With the Wind”

It is Monday. You are dazed, amazed and dumbfounded, and not from a residual fog owing to the typical weekend merriment. You just received an email from a friendly GC with a link to the bid docs you’ve been expecting for days. It’s a clean hotel job, local, eight floors, lots of repetition, with a 90-percent set of plans. But none of that is the reason for your amazement. What’s really got your eyes bugged out is the bid date—a full three weeks away! Moreover, the invitation includes a timeline of the bidding process, i.e., requests for clarification will be accepted for over a week; responses will be turned around no later than five days afterward, scope sheets will be issued a full week before bid date, and a pre-bid meeting will be held in two weeks. This is truly a bidmeister’s dream. Rather than your usually desperate plunge into the takeoff, you’ll have the rare luxury of following the proper preliminary steps to creating a solid estimate.


After you download all the bid docs, you methodically rename the plan pages from their generic titling to something recognizable, like “First Level Floor Plan” and “Wall Types,” etc. Next, while doing a page-by-page perusal, you jot down reminder notes and questions as potential requests for clarification. You’ve got a full week before submitting them, and you’re confident there will be plenty of gaps to address. In the process of this preliminary review, you establish your “hot links” between pages and details for quick retrieval later on.


Following a careful preliminary review of the plan pages, you cull your scope sections and those of any second-tier sub out of a 1,000-page spec book and print them for easy access. Even though most specification manuals are boiler-plate regurgitations, you examine each entry, carefully searching with poised highlighter for any odd requirements or conflicts with the plans. You find several contradictions and multiple questions to add to your bid clarifications list. You blink some tears away, feeling quite pleased that you were able to keep your work-weary eyes open during that entire visual torture-test.


Now that you’ve completed the first preliminary review, you send the link to any prospective second-tier subs, thus sharing the extended time windfall. You smile as you omit the usual apology for last-minute requests. Having done a thorough once-over, you can warn them of any potential gotchas lurking in the plans and specs. You can also justifiably demand maximum attention to detail—a meticulous list of inclusions/exclusions—given the generous time allowance you enjoy.


Having gotten all of these first-day prelims out of the way, you can now buckle down to setting up the takeoff. You consult the “Instructions to Bidders” document for your guidance in this regard. The first request—and it is major—is to divide the core/shell work from the interior improvements. You know this is a common requirement, and you also know that the design team’s delineation between the two jobs is always maddeningly murky, i.e., under which side of the divide does the interior side of the exterior wall fall? You add it to your list of questions and move on. An alternate requires a value for omitting the entire interior buildout on the third floor—yet another item related to the previous issue. So you methodically establish separate locations in your bid—by floor and by exterior/interior work—to facilitate your estimate breakouts on the inevitable bid form.


You look back on all of the preliminary work you’ve done all on the first day of the estimate and wonder how you’ve ever built a complete, well-informed bid without the adequate time to address all of the upfront work. But you take a great deal of comfort from knowing that you got ahead of things, and by doing so, you’ve eliminated a lot of undue stress from the process. You did yourself proud, didn’t you?


Actually, no, you didn’t, did you? What you really did was assess all the slack time you had to put this bid together and you kicked back. That’s right—instead of all that first day preliminary work, you tied up some loose ends on the management of another closing project. Putting off the prelims for the upcoming one could wait another day. But on Tuesday morning, you received an unexpected request to bid a small remodel/addition for a preferred contractor. You determined it would take only one day, so you launch into it immediately, anxious to put it behind you so you can really concentrate on the big one. But the one day extends into Wednesday. Still no problem, but you forgot that Thursday is Thanksgiving, so you’ll be off until next Monday. No matter; there will still be plenty of time then to…


OK, you see where this is going. Procrastination can be the difference between a bidmeister and a badmeister. But then again, some of us do our best work under the gun. So, when it comes to deadline stress, you’ve got no cause to complain—but I’m certain you will, nevertheless.

Vince Bailey is an estimator/project manager working in the Phoenix area.

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