Making the Most out of Estimate Breakdowns

We are often asked if there is a good method for breaking down a construction project. There are many ways to work with estimates, but first and foremost, you have to make sure you include everything.

Because construction projects are complex, it helps to break them down into much simpler pieces. Sigma offers a number of functionalities to help you break down your project in ways that make sense to you. For example, you can break down projects in Sigma by discipline (masonry, carpentry, etc.) or by using standards like CSI MasterFormat. When looking at a particular project, it’s best to get an idea of what kind of breakdown makes the most sense for that project and team. Regardless of how you decide to break a project down, the most important thing is that you make sure to cover all the facets of the construction project and use it as a hierarchy.

Sometimes estimators are inspired by existing standards to make a customized variation that suits their specific needs. Of course, there are also people who invented their own way from scratch. For companies that do the same type of construction project every time, they’ll stick to using a structure unless they are asked to use something specific. (Even if someone is used to working with pen and paper, they can still easily see how their breakdowns can fit into software like Sigma.)

Within a single project, you’ll probably need various levels of detail, which is a core feature we had in mind while building Sigma. You start by breaking up the project into one or more core levels. From there, each of those core levels can be broken up into sub-levels. Without needing to be part of the breakdown itself, you can have specific parts of the project that you look at with more detail, maybe because they are something you’ve never done before and you want to understand the underlying cost. You can use brain-storm techniques for elements, and collect quantities. Think minimum-maximum.

For the other parts where you already have extensive experience, you might only need a level of detail where you enter in some totals.

By using different templates for each type of project, you won’t have to start from scratch every time. You can also use price books with previous estimates to simply drag and drop into the current project. This is another example of how estimating software has the potential to eliminate duplicated effort across similar projects. Adding something to an estimate in Sigma is just like typing, whereas in other software, it sometimes involves opening several dialogs and clicking buttons just to add an item.