Challenges of Being an Estimator

In ramblings by David Parden

In the ever changing construction industry there are many challenges and in the estimating field it is no different.  In December 2012 I embarked on a new career path as an electrical estimator.  Listed below are some of the challenges that I have faced in the last few years and continue to face on an everyday basis.

Computer Savvy: The ability to effectively and efficiently conduct business though the uses of innovative computer software like ConEst Intellibid is a vital skill to being a successful estimator.  Most, if not all, bid documents and bills of material are done using Adobe, Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel.  Only knowing a few basic skills from the aforementioned programs will hinder an estimator in both production and development. The construction industry is turning into a bustling enterprise where potential new work can come and go at the blink of an eye.  Being on top of your game in this aspect needs to be a requirement.  In order to cash in on the ever-changing market, electrical estimators need to relinquish their in the field hand tools and pick up their in the office computer savvy.

Read Everything: I know a part of me thought going into the construction industry would allow me to forgo some of academic skills, but I was sure wrong about that.  A big challenge in being an estimator is reading through every piece of information supplied to you, and not overlooking any important notes or specifications.  This seems like an easy task to not mess up, but easier said than done. Some projects are very large and when reading through the specification sheets or blueprint notes I’ve found it helpful to take each item step-by-step and finish by marking off completed items with a highlighter.  Also, a yellow pad notebook to write down mental notes or reminders becomes a very useful tool in order to keep everything manageable.

Assumptions: As you probably already know, assumptions may make you and others look like donkeys.  However, in estimating making assumptions is part of the job.  That being said, there are different ways to deal with assumptions.  Projects are designed by different architects/engineers the detail in which they show the project doesn’t always deliver clarity. Thus, one way to deal with these situations is to always assume on the high (price) side.  Another way to handle an assumption is to deny responsibility and completely exclude it in your project scope letter.  Assumptions need to be dealt with on a daily basis, thus as an estimator the challenge is to make a decision and roll with it.

Customer Service: As a free lance estimating consultants we work job-by-job on an as needed basis for our clients (i.e. electrical contractors).  Thus, customer service is crucial for us to maintain a good standing relationship with our clientele.  Being temporarily employees, we have to collude on a game plan with the client to tactfully bid each job. Meaning, we must make our clients aware of the scope of work or any unusual situations so they can confidently takeover construction of the project if/when they are awarded the contract.  Customer service is a challenge for any business; likewise estimators need to be versed in good customer service in order to succeed.

Remember the Process: Estimating is a process that needs to be honed and replicated to ensure a reputable bid.  From A to Z the project needs to be worked through with a fine-toothed comb. My process begins with scanning through the specifications and project bid documents.  Knowing the overall scope of work is crucial to being able to correctly takeoff an electrical estimate. After identifying the scope and job requirements, accounting for every electrical item referenced in the scope is required.  Once acquiring a total for quoted items, as soon as possible, bills of material need to be relayed to supply houses for pricing.  Meanwhile, data entry of the project into a takeoff estimate may be done as one of the final steps to the process.  Lastly, cap the estimate in an Excel document and send the construction documents out to be reviewed.  Remember, as with anything, processes are open to interpretation and may be manipulated to fit specific needs, thus pick a process and stick with it.

Time Management: The construction industry is built on and propelled by time schedules.  From the second you receive the project bid documents, the clock is ticking.  Embracing these schedules will prove to be invaluable because contractors are rarely sympathetic to those whom miss the stated closing bid time. Your time management affects the estimating process.  Not allowing suppliers ample time to price your quoted electrical items will cause a stressful bid day for you as an estimator.  As a tip, always be aware of the bid date write it down on a calendar or set a reminder in your iphone.  Either way, never be surprised by a bid date it will cause you to have a sick feeling which could have prevented with proper time management.

There are many challenges that face electrical estimators.  Your ability reason and problem solve will pay dividends as your electrical estimating career unfolds.  I hope this insight proves to help you along the way in your own endeavors.