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Orchestrating Collaborative Construction Cost Estimates

Orchestrating efforts on large, multi-part collaborative construction cost estimates can be a daunting task. The experience is similar to that of a musical orchestra. In an orchestra, every musician must not only possess a mastery of their own instrument, but they need to know how they impact those around them. The whole group needs to follow a shared score, and a leader must determine who does what and when.

Successful estimating teams, like successful orchestras, need a common understanding of individual roles, an appreciation of the interplay between those roles, an organizational framework everyone can follow (a “score” of sorts) and someone to conduct group efforts.

Understand the Roles People Play

Depending on how you structure your organization, there may be several different roles required to complete a complex construction cost estimate. These roles can be specific to function, geography, department, cost center or area of expertise — whatever makes the most sense for the project or the organization. In any case, it’s important to know the role of each individual so you have the right group in place to estimate all the component parts of a complex/multi-part project.

Dividing a complex project into role-based sub-components allows for a “division of labor” enabling team members to focus their efforts on the estimate elements germane to their specific areas of expertise. To return to our orchestra analogy, the group needs to know who is in the strings section and who belongs with the percussionists. Just like you wouldn’t hand a xylophonist a violin and expect him to produce something beautiful, you can’t expect someone with plumbing expertise to master the electrical estimating as well.

Appreciate How Roles Interplay

It is also critical to appreciate in advance how different roles interact and impact each other both upstream and downstream. Some estimating tasks may be completed in parallel, but there are often dependencies dictating that one piece of work cannot be completed in the absence of another. Similarly, there may be ripple effects whereby a change in one area of a cost estimate has a cascading effect or precipitates a supplemental review/update/approval process. Keep these role dependencies and operational nuances in mind when designing your organizational framework.


See how new Flexible Work Breakdown Structures in RSMeans Data Online can help you better organize and collaborate on complex construction estimates.

Establish a Common Organizational Framework

Every orchestra needs a score to follow. Similarly, every estimating team needs an organizational framework in order to effectively collaborate. The best way to establish a common organizational and operational framework is with clearly-communicated Work Breakdown Structures (WBS) that are specific to the task at hand. A Work Breakdown Structure details the work to be executed by a project team to accomplish its objectives and create the required deliverables. All the work contained within the WBS must be identified and estimated — the song isn’t over until every note is played.

With collaborative construction cost estimates, the composition and hierarchy of tasks will vary based on your industry, your cost localization requirements and your project legal/regulatory mandates. Flexible Work Breakdown Structures in RSMeans Data Online, Gordian’s powerful construction cost estimating software, make it easy to organize tasks in the way that makes the most sense for the project and allow the group to work in harmony.

Designate a “Conductor”

I confess that I’ve never been part of an orchestra, but I do play in a bluegrass band. Besides lead vocals and guitar, my role is to set the rhythm and call out lead breaks to my bandmates. Your team needs someone in a similar role if it’s going to create collaborative construction cost estimates.

Based on the inter-connectedness of myriad roles and Work Breakdown Structures and substructures, it’s critical that someone is designated as the choreographer of all the team activities to avoid operational inefficiencies, rework and discord. Qualifications for this leadership and project management role will vary from project to project. In some instances, it may make sense to select a “conductor“ based on seniority. In others, the “conductor” may be chosen because they possess a particular expertise.

If you’re the person in the lead role, you may find it useful to get to know the strengths and weaknesses of the team to eliminate confusion and inefficiencies upfront. Conduct individual project kickoff meetings to ensure that all the team members understand their roles, the operational affects of their work and the project-specific WBS guiding the effort to ensure project success.

Get the Team in Tune with Collaborative Construction Cost Estimates

Just like an orchestra — or a bluegrass band — the output of an estimating team depends on their ability to understand how their one part affects the group. Having a leader with a vision for the final product, an understanding of all roles and an appreciation for how they interact, and a common organizational framework will result in a virtuoso performance.

About John Timmerman, Product Marketing Manager

John Timmerman has been in the tech industry since 1990. He has seen the emergence of just about every technology since the advent of the micro-chip. After 28 years in the Smart city and advanced analytics space, John is applying his wealth of understanding to Smart buildings (to include planning, design, construction and facilities management) in his role as Product Marketing Manager at Gordian.