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Proposals Reprised, Part 1

And I feel like I’ve been here before …—from Déjà vu by David Crosby

Generally speaking, I don’t like to repeat subjects for this column all that much. The most convincing reason for this reluctance is the fact that there is a growing plethora of potential topics relating to wall and ceiling estimating—topics that warrant the attention that a column can bring, such that a repeat subject seems almost unheard of.


Nevertheless, if you find yourself experiencing some sense of déjà vu while perusing this piece, it’s because there is a topic worth resurrecting every couple of years, one that I reprise here. That topic deals with writing an effective proposal (aka, bid abstract or scope letter). I see the reasons for restating as twofold: Not only is the abstract a pivotal instrument of communicating the essence of the bid (not to mention it is a contractual component), but it is so repetitive in nature that we tend to let the boilerplate carry the day. We frequently find ourselves regurgitating the common items from the model instead of tailoring the document to address each unique project as distinct from all others. And so this restatement serves as a reminder to myself and my readers about the importance of originality and specificity in composing each project’s scope letter.


For our purpose of analysis, we cite five components to a well-structured proposal: the opening statement, the price breakout, the inclusions, the exclusions and the summary. The opening paragraph conveys several premises: the identification of the project (type of construction and location), the general scope of work proposed (for instance, framing, drywall and paint only), citation of the bid documents that the proposal is based on (plans, dated and phased, specifications, instructions to bidders, schedule, etc.), identification of the architect and any addenda issued during the bid process. The opening paragraph also presents an opportunity to state what is not included (e.g., no specification manual provided). Moreover, the opening allows for a statement that the pricing is based on a combined award. This gives notice to the GC that the pricing may not necessarily be subject to cherry-picking. A common example is when one’s drywall price is contingent upon also being awarded the paint, as his drywall number includes high-build primer in the finish, which enables him to deduct that step from the paint price.


The next segment of the proposal is comprised of the pricing breakout. Here, each scope is set out in bold as a separate line item, identified by CSI section, each with a corresponding (but not necessarily stand-alone) price. This gives the GC the opportunity to speculate on awarding selectively. He might even call and ask if one is willing to perform a stand-alone scope for the stated price—for instance, if one is willing to perform the acoustical ceilings as stand-alone. Alignment and presentation (bold) are important here, as the GC’s eyes are going to seek and rivet on pricing first and foremost. Bidding subs can only wish that the general’s preconstruction managers will continue to peruse the remainder of the proposal—the inclusions, exclusions and summary—critical elements that we will cover in next month’s column.

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

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