Meet our Head of support in the US – Learn tips and tricks to improve your estimating efforts.
Before becoming the head of support for Sigma Estimates in North America Bill Carey has been estimating for about 30 years, with projects ranging from half million dollars to over $200 million. He was named ASA estimator of the year, and founded and served as President of the Chicago Chapter of the Association of Professional Estimators Association, and has received the ASPE Presidents Award.
I started out estimating carpentry and moved into an estimator position with a general contractor and then became Chief Estimator and then Vice President of Estimating – I’ve looked at just about everything. In my experience, the target in estimating is rarely stable or static—it moves quite a bit depending on whether it’s self-performed work or you’re obtaining bids from subcontractors and trying to coach them into giving a good estimate. That means estimators must start every workday by looking at what’s changed from the day before. What can you do in such a dynamic landscape if you want to work smarter, save time, and see long-term success?
First and foremost, eliminate potential mistakes by paying attention to the smaller details.
Unless you’re focusing all your attention on a single big project, you’ll probably be juggling two or three different projects at the same time.Regardless of how you’re dividing your attention, there’s always the possibility for mistakes to occur. As an estimator, you’ll inevitably realize a potentially startling fact: the estimating department is the only one who could potentially put the whole company out of business. A single major error in an estimate could cost millions of dollars. Even if a mistake were to happen out on the field after a project starts, the potential cost wouldn’t be as great as a major error in the estimate.
Therefore, you must be extremely diligent when it comes to looking at the details of a project. It all begins with the crucial step of going through the plans to understand the scope of the project. I make it a habit to read the specification book first because it often contains details that are not shown on the drawings. (The smallest details may often be most important.)
Take full advantage of the technology you have at your disposal.
When I started out estimating 40 years ago, we had to use ledger sheets, a takeoff wheel, and blueprints. There was always a potential disaster waiting if we made a mistake with our math, missed something on the plans or spec book, or did not stay up to date with the latest revision. These potential pitfalls are mitigated using advanced software and technology. It was exciting for us once an estimating product came out for our green screen DOS computers. Fortunately for us, things have come a long way since then—now we have advanced, dedicated software built from the ground up for things like takeoff or estimating. They’ve been refined over many years to be more accurate and save massive amounts of time.
For example, Sigma’s dedicated estimating software has a Validation feature, which allows you to set different parameters to test within an estimate. From there, it will provide you with a report showing items that needs addressing. If you have any item with zero cost, for instance, it will find every single one no matter how deeply they’re buried within the estimate. (If zero cost items are needles in a haystack, then modern technology is like a giant electromagnet.) A feature like that is priceless in a 3,000-line estimate.
Replicate your past success while simultaneously minimizing effort.
Let’s say you’re working on a project that requires shaft wall construction. After you make the shaft wall assembly, you shouldn’t have to duplicate that effort every time you work on a similar project in the future. You can save all that work by dragging it out of the estimate and placing it in a library. If a number is proven to be profitable, it would be wise to incorporate it in later projects. Using estimating software like Sigma, you can simply load a saved library, drop items into the estimate you’re working on, and simply change the quantity (whether it’s cubic feet, square feet, or linear). Because you’re working with a known past success, you’ve already verified that the math is correct.
In the face of many changing variables, maintain focus and clarity.
When I started out, it was truly a trial by fire. We were only given a roll of drawings and a bunch of pencils. It’s much easier for beginners today thanks to advanced modern software. It’s easier to visualize, understand a project’s structure, and gain a clear picture of how your costs flow in parent-child relationships. In practically no time you can have a sense of all the various parts moving up the ladder to the final bid.
Even though we’re now equipped with some incredible tools, estimating is just as filled with pitfalls as ever. I think that estimators starting out today need to be thorough, but above all else, they must focus on the work at hand. Forget about multitasking—estimators need to be like lawn mowers – cut the grass right in front of you.
I had been using Sigma on my own projects for the past 6 years before joining the company. I have been very impressed with what Sigma allows me to do with my estimates, and I now enjoy sharing that experinece with our users and helping our partners to further expand the possibilities so that our users are successful. Please do not hesitate to reach out to Sigma’s support if you have questions – we are here to help.