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You Say You Want an Evolution?

My shirt is wearing thin, and change is what I believe in…—REM

“Sure, I can learn to use a new estimating program—no sweat.”


That’s what I told my superiors when they proposed to make the jump from a tried-and-true software suite to something more innovative and further evolved. It’s what they wanted to hear, of course, but the false bravado that rolled from my pallet in sweet syllables of self-assurance must have been somewhat transparent. Truth be known, at that instant I recalled the struggle I’d initially endured acquainting myself with the program I have been using for the past 15 years—a program whose functions and operations have, after torturous months and years of humiliating indoctrination into the ranks of the technologically quasi-literate, become somewhat second nature to me now. The saccharine smiles and restrained nods that my panel of chiefs responded with made obvious that they had seen through my feigned disinterest to my inner dread at the very suggestion of such a radical notion. “They have got to be kidding,” I thought. They weren’t.


The onerous task of re-education began with an in-person tutorial that my previously experienced colleagues sucked up like a school of starving canal-carp—a perplexing PowerPoint presentation that, for me, might just as well been delivered in hieroglyphics. The after-presentation “one-on-one” coaching was even more humiliating. I told the “expert” that I had been too busy to even open the program. He grinned, took charge of my mouse and began to speak in what I believe was some dialectical variant of Swahili, clicking through screens and rattling off a correlating narration with the speed of summer lightning. Upon reaching an awkward silence, I tactfully informed him that I had absorbed almost nothing of what he’d said or done on the screen. He smiled the most condescending smile imaginable and said something I suppose was intended to comfort me about some people having “more trouble adjusting than others.” I thought he was going to pat me on the head.


It was several weeks before I finally abandoned my stubborn reluctance to at least open the program and see what it was all about. Of course, that was only after our licensing on the old program expired and there was no alternative. I double-clicked on the icon wearing the initials of our new program and its smiley-faced logo that leered at me from the middle of my screen. Nothing happened. I tried again. Nothing. I couldn’t believe it: I couldn’t even open the damn program, for goodness sake, never mind the absurd notion of navigating through it.


There had to be a catch. I summoned one of our principals for help. He gave me the same patronizing smile as the “expert” had previously and informed me that there was another identical icon located at the left of my screen that would only open with a single right click. “Ah,” I thought, “sort of a secret handshake you learn to be welcomed into the covert society of geeks. I should have known.” I opened the program as he peered over my shoulder, and I explained with a nervous chuckle that I’d been too preoccupied with project management to learn much (or any) of the estimating module. He responded by seizing my mouse and launching into the identical machine-gun version of the mind-boggling, five-minute dissertation I’d already been subjected to. Surely he must have seen my eyes glaze over after the first 30 seconds of him speaking in tongues, but he apparently felt duty-bound to go the full monty.


“You just need to work through it,” he instructed at length. “If you get stuck, any of your colleagues will be happy to help. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll grasp the logical nature of the program, and you’ll like it better than the other,” he added.


Oh great—just what I like to do: trouble my compatriots with my ignorance. I know how people really feel when you ask for help; I know it from my own experience: when asked, I comply without fail, but never happily.


But, to my pleasant surprise, my superior was right on all counts. Of course, I did get stuck. I got stuck often and in deep. But my colleagues, being of a more gracious nature than I, gladly shared their technological acumen with me as often as I needed. And after much laborious effort of learning all new buttons and tabs and goofy symbols, I began to see the logic in the program’s layout. Before too long, I was sprinting through takeoffs, leaping through portals, whizzing across tabs and manipulating multiple images like an old pro.


The point of this little anecdote is not to empathize with those technologically challenged of us who have “more trouble adjusting than others” (although it’s a sound secondary purpose) Rather, I mean to say that learning to reboot in an ever-changing landscape is almost always worth the effort. Many estimating programs today offer valuable advantages over more outdated software packages than many of us imagined possible. Modular estimating programs that are well-integrated with project management and accounting modules have now been developed and are available on the market. Benefits such as these make changing with the times imperative—and merit the facing of challenges, however arduous.

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

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