The estimator job is evolving – shouldn’t the tools follow?
The estimator holds the key to the company safe. Getting bids right makes your career; getting them wrong gets you fired. And sometimes ends the life of the company. Yet studies show that many estimators could complete proposals 35-40% faster and more accurate with better tools. Why is it then, that estimators don’t use better tools?
Being a construction estimator has always been stressful. Especially in today’s markets, with steep competition, greater specialization, growing complexity and slim margins, risk-taking must be based on cool calculations, not swags.
I have no illusion that the lose-lose feeling in estimating will be less present anytime soon. All submitted bids will still be faced with the inevitable question, either “Why did you lose it?” or “Why are we lower than the next guy—what did you miss”?
Further, estimating will still mostly be performed by highly skilled individuals with deep construction expertise, a high level of attention to detail and zero tolerance for mistakes—all while working under extreme time pressure with rigid deadlines and many variables outside their control (like addendums, late RFI answers or vanishing subs). That’s a perfect storm and recipe for high stress levels right there!
And all of that at the center of an industry undergoing rapid technological and procedural change. Talk about construction heroes….
At the center of an ever-evolving industry
If something can be done faster, smarter, more efficient and at a lower cost, then that something is bound to change! Construction is nothing if not groundbreaking change.
In the construction industry, concepts like BIM, lean construction and design/build will change the way contractors operate, how the construction value chain is managed and, ultimately, who is going to stay in business.
However, even in these advanced collaboration and standardization concepts, some things stay the same: The center of the project is always going to be “the right quantities at the right costs.” Good news for the estimator!
No Snake-oil needed
Does this mean that everyone should head for the nearest snake-oil toting IT consultant? Hardly. For many, BIM-participation may not be a requirement for another three to five years. For some, it is already an active competitive advantage.
What it does mean, however, is:
- Managers in construction need to get their estimators off Excel—now or very soon. (I know what you are thinking now, "Easier said than done!" But stay with me for a bit. It really isn't impossible). Staying with Excel simply creates too many (stupid) mistakes, hinders transparency, forces mind numbing reentry of data and has absolutely no automation or integration opportunity. It is a dead end. Move on or move over.
- Companies looking to upgrade their estimating solution should keep in mind both immediate and near-future requirements in the industry to keep the transition smooth and financially manageable from a “total cost of ownership” perspective. In other words: You want something that works now and for the coming digital changes. Also, you only want to enter the “den of estimators” so many times, starting the discussion of a re-tooling of the department. Just saying.
When upgrading your estimating toolbox, you should consider the following:
- A familiar and intuitive user interface.
Complicated software suites that do a bit of everything can be a disaster, and since estimating is about “how you build”: How many; how much and when, generalist tools can be a distraction as well. In adopting any new system, the more “at home” an estimator feels using the system, the more productive they’ll be. If it looks and feels like excel, it’s less intimidating to new users. All estimators have been working in excel at one point or other. So, use an interface that makes it easily acceptable for estimators to take on.
- Take advantage of your experience.
Historical costs, successful assemblies, accurate price lists and benchmarks of costs are priceless. They can be the difference between a swag and an estimate, and any good system will make it easy to capture, save and reuse that data. You already have that data and accumulate even more with each additional job. Drag and drop it into your new estimate. Done.
- Integrations with major best-of-breed players.
Why go through the hassle of paying for custom integrations (which you will pay for three to five times over as platforms change) when you can get standard integrations for BIM360, Planswift, RSMeans, MS project, Autodesk Revit, etc?
- An open API.
Quantity, cost and time are an integral part of controlling any position in the digital construction value chain, so be ready to integrate with future new apps, driving efficiency, collaboration and transparency.
If you need a more comprehensive list of things to look for in a successful tool, don’t hesitate to get in touch.
To be successful, change must be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely. (You’ve heard of SMART before of course, so I don’t have to tell you.) But do keep in mind whether you are making strategic plans for management or discussing the implementation with actual users.
We have implemented Sigma with more than 10,000 estimators—and our experience is that coordination and alignment between company management, project management and estimating is vital to reap the rewards of change.
In other words, don’t just say “I want better estimating” and start something new. You will fail. Instead, focus on a specific opportunity and see how it can be optimized. If you have several goals, devise a plan that gradually brings home the bacon. Reduce risk, increase adoption.
In the words of Bill Carey, our senior estimator, speaking with the weight of more than 35 years in construction estimating: If you can’t show me how it’s going to work on this, right now, you’re wasting my time!
Just about the last thing you want to do to an estimator.
Krista Friis. Country Manager for Sigma Estimates. Based in Toronto, happy to chat about driving change in the construction industry, by making life easier for estimators, using digital tools. +1 416 843 7971
Bill Carey. Head of support, Senior Estimator, Sigma Estimates. More than +35 years in construction estimating. Founding member and past President of ASPE Chicago. Also happy to chat (about estimating) +1 312 436 2800