Assess the quality of plans / information

A good estimate starts with a good set of plans. Look for pages that will contain the information you need. Then go through those plans to see what information is available and what is missing.

If you supply and install doors, look for the door schedule. What information does it have? You would need to know the size, door material, frame material, hardware set etc. You should also look for the floor plan(s) so you can cross check the quantity of doors and also understand the locations.

Make a default checklist. This list should contain all the information you would need for a complete estimate without any guesswork or relying on defaults. Within this set you can have a critical list of information needed without which an estimate is not possible at all.

Request for Information

RFI’s are quite common in the construction industry. And the earlier you send these out the better. These can be in the form of email or a phone conversation with the contractor or client. For some projects there is a time limit, after which RFIs might not be entertained.

Studying the plans and sending out RFIs saves you a lot of time. That time would otherwise be wasted on making sense of missing or ambiguous information. You might also need to revise your estimate once you receive more information. So, if you can, wait for all the information before actually doing the estimate.

Identify the easiest or most productive method of estimating

After studying the job form a clear idea in your head of how you will execute the estimate. Which is the best plan to work on and will you be measuring by length, by area or by count.

Say, you need to measure the wall area for paint. If the ceiling heights change very often, then it might be best to work directly on the Ceiling plan. You can measure the length of walls of different heights directly on the RCP (reflected ceiling plan). Then simply multiply in excel (or a calculator) to get the total Square footage. You can always keep checking the floor plan at intervals to make sure you aren’t missing any low height walls or if the wall locations are matching.

Project conditions, location and schedule

Productivity of labor and cost depends a lot on onsite conditions. A new construction would have different conditions and cost implication than a renovation project. Distance can have a big impact on transport costs and labor costs. A phased project completion will also impact execution versus a construction project that needs to be completed in one go.

Internal Costing and Cost Database

Having a cost database for both materials and labor will really speed up the estimating process and make it more accurate. A labor database will have typical labor times for specific tasks or labor productivity per linear meter / area / whatever is applicable. It will also have labor rates which would vary with the type of labor to be employed on the project.

However, it is important that an estimator adjust this based on any complications that are specific to the job.

Feedback mechanism

Feedback is the final and most important step. The project manager and the estimating person or department must share data and work together. The actual data from the project should flow back to the cost database and the estimator to make sure that the accuracy of the estimates keep going up.

Care should be taken however, to differentiate an error in execution with an error in estimating. And to keep improving and learning how to execute jobs better. This will make you more competitive. If all cost variations are automatically labelled as one person /departments responsibility without analysis, then the feedback will make things worse.

Blog post by Nishant Agarwal
Senior Estimator at Advance Informatics

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