August 2011: Best Practices

Words: Dan Kamys

Best Practices

In order to win more jobs, you have to “crank out” more estimates. But, generating twice the number of estimates alone won’t help. In today’s competitive market, you’ve have to work smarter by creating tighter and more accurate estimates, rather than cutting corners and compromising your profits. Although using generic Microsoft Excel spreadsheets may work fine for smaller, less complicated jobs, the capabilities of this software get pushed to the limits when bids demand more complexity and fine tuning.

Automating your estimating processes not only helps you make the best use of your time, but also ensures that your hard work and effort result in more accurate estimates that “hit the mark.” Eliminate the inconsistencies in your estimating, and the end result is improved confidence in your numbers. Spend less time crunching numbers, and you’ll create more time for estimate analysis and development of strategies on how to win more jobs with a higher potential for profit. By using construction-specific estimating software, instead of manual or generic spreadsheet methods such as Excel, some sources cite experiencing up to a 50-percent increase in estimating productivity.

What to look for Although the use of a generic spreadsheet for your cost estimates is easy and intuitive, simplicity often comes with limited capabilities. Most construction-specific estimating software provides more growth capacity and sophistication, but may seem difficult to use or require a lot of ramp-up time to learn. Look for estimating software that offers the best of both worlds: an easy-to-use spreadsheet interface, backed by a powerful database for added flexibility and integration with other applications.

Spreadsheet familiarity Using estimating software that has a recognizable spreadsheet user interface (UI) means an instant comfort level and a shorter learning curve for estimators. Look for estimating software through which the UI can be customized easily for each user and/or use, and then easily be recalled with only a few simple mouse-clicks.

Database power Unfortunately, using a generic spreadsheet means you have to type each line item of your estimate in manually, which multiplies the risk of potential data entry errors, omissions, transposed numbers and outdated pricing. When using construction-specific estimating software, you simply populate your spreadsheet by pulling items or groups of items directly from a database that stores the items and assemblies as well as pricing, productivity factors and formulas. Some estimating software also supports pre-built, industry-specific databases that you can fine tune and customize, or offers automated updating of database pricing by integrating with pricing services such as RS Means, Trade Services, and others.

Integration Estimators’ responsibilities don’t always end once the estimate is completed, and the job begins. Sometimes, they are required to buy out the job or perform project scheduling. Most construction-specific estimating software stores a variety of details associated with items in the database (labor productivity, task, etc.). This information is made available, via integration, to other applications such as Primavera or Microsoft Project, thereby minimizing the need to re-key data.

With the rapid adoption of onscreen (electronic plan) takeoff capabilities, estimators using construction-specific estimating software that integrates with electronic takeoff can take advantage of digitizing to increased efficiencies even more.

Furthermore, estimate details often can be shared with construction-specific accounting software that supports the buyout, purchase-order generation, and job-cost tracking processes. This reduces duplicate data entry, typos, transposed numbers and omissions.

Flexibility In addition to sharing estimate information with other project team members as well as management, it’s imperative that estimators are able to easily compare current estimates with data from historical estimates or conceptual estimates for a more accurate final estimate. Look for construction-specific estimating software that includes built-in reports needed for estimate generation, analysis and collaboration as well as built-in methods for quickly viewing current and past projects from a variety of angles. Furthermore, ask about estimate management tools that can help organize your estimates, minimizing the amount of time spent searching for historical estimates.

Can you afford to wait? In today’s competitive environment, you are competing against more firms than ever on fewer jobs. Especially now, estimators are looking for ways to work smarter and find better uses of their time, so their companies don’t get left behind or left out of a project. Using a construction-specific estimating software solution allows you to automate your estimating process and create more accurate estimates in just a fraction of the time and effort.

Diane Haines is director of strategic marketing for Sage Construction and Real Estate. She has more than 18 years of experience in high technology marketing and is responsible for driving Sage's product marketing strategy and initiatives in the construction and real estate market.

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