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Sooo Wrong! (Again)

Mistakes, I know I’ve made a few, but I’m only human …

Smokey Robinson

I’ve spent a tanker truck worth of ink lately, tossing out tips for landing jobs in these lean times. I hope that at least a couple of those noodles stuck to the wall. But I must confess that I’ve held back on the most sure-fire path to procurement known to man—withheld it, and rightfully so, because it’s a pyrrhic victory indeed when an award is based on error and omission.

Every honest estimator worth his salt knows that gut-wrenching wave of panic that crashes every bid-award celebration: “OMG! What the hell did I miss?” And while some of us are so thirsty for work that we’re metaphorically tempted to mimic that really pukey scene from 127 Hours, most weathered bean-counters know that a slip of the digit or a wayward decimal point is no way to bolster the bid log. Still, I’ve been around estimators long enough that I’ve collected more than a few tales of error worth sharing. And the number of these horror stories has multiplied exponentially with the advent of the digital age, in which a careless flick of the finger can invoke instant catastrophe.

The Easily Distracted

Take the example of bidding high-rise hotels. We know that much of the work on each floor on this type of job is an exact duplicate of the previous floor below. And accordingly, the estimating on such a building consists of merely copying the takeoff from one floor and simply assigning it to the next. Just a few pecks of the keyboard, and—voila! Several hours-worth of calculations are electronically duplicated. Peck-peck—triplicated. Peck-peck—quadruplicated. Et cetera, et cetera and so forth.

All of this mindless replication can be quite dazzling—or even dazing, as some of us will attest, for the potential pitfalls abound with just a tickling of the keys. I know a singularly meticulous quantifier who skipped two floors of framing and drywall on a 22-story project due to the pleasant distraction created by his lovely accountant breezing past his open door. Of course, he was awarded the job and, being the owner of the firm, was able to good-naturedly laugh at himself over the inevitable forfeiture of profit. But then, that was back during brighter times when healthy markups could take the sting out of such horrendous omissions.

The Bright Bidmeister

Then there’s the story of the bright young bidmeister who once fancied himself immune to those temporal visits of cranial flatulence that seem to plague the rest of us mere mortals. He was presented, some years back, with a pair of projects to bid—both located on the same military base, both sets of plans drawn by the Corps of Engineers, both with identical components, details and spec books. The two jobs were virtually the same in every respect with the critical exception of differing values—significantly so. The bid dates were set weeks apart.

Anxious to get both bids completed before a pending vacation, our dauntless calculator worked feverishly to beat the deadline on the first and largest project. Afterward, turning out the smaller one was a piece of cake, and he finished both before the first bid was due. Both sets of bid docs were neatly prepared to submit, and he arranged for a proxy to submit the second bid in his upcoming absence. Of course, error is just a click away, and when he confidently submitted his first proposal, the phone began to ring non-stop from all the ravenous GCs who wanted him to verify scope. A quick review confirmed what you might have already guessed: He had inadvertently submitted the wrong bid! The dire consequences of this bonehead stunt compelled the bidmeister to reassess his previously perceived infallibility, to be sure.

The Young Narcissist

But this final tale of a young bean-counting prodigy and his unfortunate lapse of cerebral acuity wins the red rubber nose award, hands down. This estimating neophyte was similarly stewed in self-confidence, as was the bidmeister previous. In fact, the kid was such a shameless narcissist that he and a lady friend were known to exchange rather compromising digital images of themselves online—it was common office knowledge.

Now, upon emailing a bid to Big Mike, a notorious hard-bitten bear of a GC, the prodigy was eager to follow up with a confirmation call. Clueless that an errant keypunch had attached an aforementioned JPEG of himself instead of the proposal, he might have chosen his words more carefully:

“Hello, Mike, did you get my email?”

“Yes, I did—what’s this supposed to be?” was the gruff reply from the phone.

“Well, it’s my exclusive proposal to you, Mike.”

“Is this some kind of joke?”

“Not at all,” the kid returned, somewhat flustered. “If you think it’s too much, I’d be willing to work with you on it.”

“Why you disgusting little …”

“C’mon, Mike, I’m new at this—I’m just trying to establish a relationship!”

The emphatic click on the other end was audible throughout the room.

A few of us later convinced Mike that the kid had been the innocent victim of some cruel office pranksters, and the prodigy’s reputation was spared, although the stains from a humble pie feast still adorn his reddened cheeks.

OK, it’s easy to laugh at the gaffe when it’s somebody else’s faux pas, but none of us is infallible. Ask yourself which one of these scenarios might easily have befallen you. If the answer is none of the above, watch out! Pride goes before a fall, and you may be the next unwitting subject in my collection of woeful tales.

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

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