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The Best Way Is … (Part 2)

All roads lead to the top of the mountain … — from an ancient Sufi fable




Last month I became quite enamored of the notion that our profession offers a uniquely broad degree of flexibility in our individual approaches to how we perform our work. I further contended that this diversity in avenues of performance fosters distinctively individual estimating styles that, in turn, help to promote positive attitudes toward our daily endeavors.




In the interim, a colleague tactfully reminded me that there are many construction firms that provide very specific estimating protocols and are very strict in their expectation of a uniform adherence among their stables of quantifiers. And of course I recognize the value of maintaining a uniform process within the organization to assure a seamless information flow from the sales department that is readily understandable to all. However, even within the most stringent guidelines of a “tight ship” model, there is undoubtedly latitude enough to develop a distinctive estimating style just by the interpretive nature of our work and through the multitude of options built into our programs.




Armed with the certainty that individuality of style will prevail, even in the most constrained atmospheres, I will now resume my analysis of some of the many approaches to our work that I have observed over the years—ranging from the visual versus the formulaic, through the different ways of quantifying labor, to the conceptual versus the nuts and bolts approach. While it is understood that the efficacy of these approaches seems quite subjective, I must remind the reader that some ways of performing a task are inherently more effective than others. And while I recognize certain advantages in particular approaches over others, I will try to retain my objectivity in my assessments.




The seer and the bean-counter. Two of the most divergent methods of working, the visual and formulaic, are really complementary elements in a combination approach. The distinction between the approaches lies in the degree to which one of the elements is given dominance over the other. The visual-leaning estimator more often than not has some (perhaps even extensive) field experience, and his familiarity with the hands-on work enables him to envision not only the physical assemblies, but also the context in terms of conditions that contribute to the degree of difficulty. On the other hand, the estimator with a more formulaic preference is more mathematically grounded, and works from a foundation of historical data, relying heavily on unit pricing and making adjustments for project-specific conditions as they emerge. Obviously, neither of these approaches would work exclusively, but most quantifiers are very adamant in their preferred emphasis of one over the other.




The whole versus the sum of its parts. Many commercial drywall estimating programs offer the bidmeister the choice of two tactics when it comes to quantifying labor. Hours (or days) required for installation are usually directly connected to each material component, but the operator has the option of disabling the feature and opting instead for a separate line item for total linear (or square) feet of labor time required.




The former option—breaking out each material element—conforms well to the formulaic approach. But the way the components are broken out are not often consistent with the way labor is performed in the field—for example, one man does not usually put up top track, another bottom track, while another infills with studs.




The latter option allows the estimator to calculate the installation time for an entire assembly, or the basic assembly or anything in between. Consequently, the linear footage of a completely framed wall for one man-day (or crew-day) can be estimated. Clearly, this method lends itself more readily to the needs of the estimator who tends to be more visual, as it enables him to relate in the practical terms of work completed on site in an eight-hour day.




When abstract hits the concrete. If the folk wisdom of the Sufis is correct and all roads indeed lead to the top of the mountain, we must also consider the qualities of each road in turn: some may be longer, some may be steeper, some may be full of potholes, and so on. As an estimator hones his own unique style, he must consider the results in terms of time on task, accuracy and the ease with which the information generated can be communicated and understood by others. Clearly the conceptual paths can help save time, while visual methods engender more attention to detail. But in terms of translating the data into information that is useful for the field, it is plain to see that the more concrete approach yields more tangible, and therefore more valuable, results. In this respect, favoring the practical methods can make the difference between an approximator and an exactimator.





Vince Bailey is an estimator at E&K of Phoenix.

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