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Hand It Over

Take a load off, Annie, and you put the load right on me!

—Robbie Robertson

“Time is of the essence.” If you’ve ever read completely through any construction contract, you’ve no doubt stumbled across these words and probably blinked in wonder. What does that mean—Time is of the essence? In short, it means you’d better not fall behind.

This is good advice to struggling estimators who have survived the first wave of economic elimination. Because if you do count yourself among the fortunate survivors, your firm has likely broadened its scope, either geographically or strategically (or both), and, as a consequence, you probably find yourself actually bidding more work than ever before, even though you may be procuring much less.

And while this boost in volume may seem like a gift in this austere economic climate, you find yourself struggling to keep up with multiple deadlines. Now the question becomes, How do I cope with this mixed blessing? Refer to nearly any time-management program and among those cardinal virtues, one golden axiom will jump off the page as the solution to your predicament: delegate.

That’s right. Delegate. Consider how many facets of your job as estimator can be aptly described as grunt work. How much more of your valuable time could be better spent on skilled tasks if the time-consuming drudgery inherent in our line of work could be pawned off on some intern or project engineer? Do you think we might be on to something here? Let’s explore.

Plan management. You may do a lot of this. “Plan management” is really just a euphemism for running errands: deposits, mailings, pickup and delivery—it all boils down to a lot of running around to convert bid documents into the preferred format for takeoffs. Delegate it. Any intern, office apprentice or administrative assistant (formerly known as secretaries) can be directed to do this go-fer work with very little training.

Material pricing. Generally speaking, your material supplier should be doing this, but getting solid quotes for each and every material component on a job is like pulling teeth, and pricing always requires some oversight and more than a little prodding. Again, this is brainless phone/fax work that can be ably handled by any subordinate whose time is less valuable than yours. Assign it away!

Takeoffs. Even some takeoffs can be delegated—especially on-screen takeoffs. Consider how certain portions of every takeoff amount to nothing more than mind-numbing pointing and clicking. Ceiling takeoffs, for instance—draw a rectangle, then click on it. It’s done! All the skill that’s required we learned in kindergarten: color inside the lines—so simple, even a cave man could do it. Give it up, you’ve got better things to do—like generating pre-bid questions, building an estimate, writing a proposal—on anon.

Project leads. Not all time-consuming aspects of your job can be delegated downward, but are nevertheless still subject to delegation. You may consider suggesting that following up project leads and determining which jobs are appropriate for your firm to bid requires the discriminating and decisive mind of an executive. Give it over to the guy whose office has a window. In delegating upward, you’ll not only gain a lot of valuable time, but you’ll lose the potential liability of making a bad call in the process.

I think you’ve got the picture now. You can probably think of many other chores that might be quite appropriately assigned to others. Just one more thing: One of the cardinal rules to delegating is follow-up. Check the direction, progress and accuracy of your assignee regularly. He or she may need some guidance and/or prodding.

Remember, if the volume of work to bid becomes overwhelming, consider assigning some of the more menial tasks to those whose skill level and experience are more suited to the chore. Sometimes it just makes more sense to give it up.

Vince Bailey is an estimator and project director for MKB Construction, a Phoenix, Ariz.–based wall and ceiling contractor.

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