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See How the Other Half Lives

Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself; I am large—I contain multitudes …—Walt Whitman

I want to say that I am conflicted today, but that would be a gross understatement. I seriously doubt that even Hamlet, Prince of Denmark and thespian epitome of uncertainty, ever felt the level of cognitive dissonance that I experience whenever the mention of this dilemma is raised. Followers of this column are painfully aware of the many times I have decried or touted the very notion of a dual role—i.e., the combination of estimating and project management into a single position. My ambivalence is well documented, and ongoing. Allow me, once again, to share my torment.


The downsides of combining two positions are as numerous as they are compelling. The most obvious argument against—that each role demands the attention of a full-time job—is also the one most commonly raised. A brief analysis seems to support this contention.


The responsibilities of a full-time estimator include vetting potential projects, pre-takeoff review of the documents and setup, generating questions regarding ambiguities in the documents, the takeoff proper, and pricing addenda or development drawings. Subsequent to the takeoff, pricing tasks include requesting and procuring material quotes, reviews with a field manager to designate production rates, generating proposals that clearly state inclusions, exclusions and qualifications, scope reviews with the general contractor and pre-award negotiations, internal handoff meetings over to project management and logging bid results.


A similarly daunting task list confronts a full-time project manager, who conducts the handoff meeting with the estimator, creates labor and material budgets, generates manpower-loaded schedules, prepares submittal packages and creates schedules of value for billing purposes—all in the pre-job phase. During the construction phase, he purchases materials and tools, prices change orders and field tickets, tracks job progress against expenditures, initiates monthly billings, conducts planning and progress meetings, verifies and documents hours spent, oversees quality control and serves as the main client contact.


Judging from the above, one could easily argue that the demand of each of these functions makes the mere notion of combining them the first cousin to a sick joke. Clearly the time spent in one role only undermines the effectiveness of the other, and vice versa.


But there is another approach to describing the downside of combining the roles, one that is decidedly psychological. I’m not sure that I totally buy into the whole left-brain/right-brain theory, i.e., the left hemisphere dictates the powers of logic while the right lobe waxes intuitive, but it’s hard to deny that certain personalities can lean predominantly one way or the other, and are therefore more suited to one set of tasks over another.


One could assume that the traits of the left brain seem to naturally align themselves with the tasks of an estimator, those traits being logic, mathematics, linear thinking and sequence. One might just as easily argue that the qualities identified with the right brain—intuition, creativity, spontaneity—would be more suited to a project manager, who must solve problems as they arise (usually with no advance warning) drawing on interpretive and creative powers to identify issues and generate immediate solutions. Given this simple dichotomy, one might be prone to the notion that certain types are better suited to be estimators, and other types tend toward project management, and that these narrow aptitudes are mutually exclusive. While there may be a grain of truth to this, a closer examination of the list of tasks ascribed to each role above requires a special combination of left-brain and right-brain proficiencies to be effective. Thus a logical estimator with a strong math proficiency must also draw on his creative side to visualize the physical construction of a building by interpreting a collection of lines and numbers. Moreover, his power of intuition is called upon when confronted with design ambiguities. Similarly, a project manager who is imaginative must also employ his sequencing skills when building schedules. In addition, his math skills are required for billing and pricing exercises. This coincides with psychologists’ findings that, although the two sides of the brain do function differently, they really work together and complement each other.


Predictably, the upsides to combining the roles of PMs and bidmeisters can be just as compelling. There’s the classic argument that no one has better prior knowledge of the job than the estimator who has taken it off and shepherded it through the pre-award process. Who would be more qualified to manage the job than the one who quantified it?


Then too, when it comes to combining roles, the timing is everything. I don’t know of too many firms that actually require a quantifier to carry a full load of estimating while managing projects at the same time. Many outfits will want an estimator to manage a large job that he took off, but don’t expect him to estimate much until the project is completed. And different drywall companies have different approaches to the whole dualism issue. Some have full-time estimators and full-time PMs, and never the twain shall meet. Some have a few full-time estimators who manage part-time and a few full-time PMs who can estimate if need be. It all comes down to a difference between the meanings of concurrent and consecutive (ask any criminal lawyer).


Personally, I have been a full-time estimator and a full-time PM (consecutively), and everything in between (concurrently). I have my preferences, but they usually change depending on the day of the week and the way the wind is blowing. Amid all of this Shakespearean uncertainty, I’m absolutely sure of one thing: Having been an estimator has made me a better PM, and having been a project manager has made me a better bidmeister.


Or is that two things?

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

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