Key Takeaways – Step by Step: How to Build a Better Estimate

On July 11, Certified Estimating Professional Rory Woolsey presented “Step by Step: How to Build a Better Estimate,” a webinar sponsored by Gordian in partnership with Engineering News Record. Bringing more than 40 years of construction industry experience to the presentation, Rory walked attendees through the estimate creation process and provided tips for addressing challenges to cost estimating. Here are a few key takeaways from the webinar.

1. A poorly planned estimate will doom a project.

A project’s success is in direct correlation to the thoroughness of its estimate. Think of starting a project with a bad estimate like filling up a car with contaminated gasoline—you might get where you want to go eventually, but the process will be far more difficult than it needs to be.

Rushing an estimate without giving it the respect it deserves inevitably results in budget overruns, budget underruns or bids that come in higher than the estimate. Ultimately, it is easier to put the time in up-front to create a detailed estimate than it is to deal with the project in crisis mode as the job unfolds.

2. Scope of Work is incomplete without context and process. 

Capturing Scope of Work is perhaps the most important step in the pre-construction process. Estimators must visit the job site, gather input from vendors and study as-builts (among other things) to properly scope construction. Many estimators, however, make the mistake of stopping at AE Scope, the Scope of Work defined by an architect and an engineer via plans and specs. This is an important Scope, but it is not complete; Context Scope and Construction Process Scope are important as well.

Context Scope accounts for the context in which the build takes place. Context includes building age, time constraints, the weather, labor availability and more. No construction project takes place in a vacuum—an accurate Context Scope represents the real-world circumstances surrounding the build.

Construction Process Scope answers a simple question: How are you going to build what you plan to build? Materials

do not show  up on a job site of their own accord; one must plan how it will get there and what the team will need to use said material once it is on-site. This forces estimators to consider the equipment and labor necessary to execute the work in the project environment.

Capturing AE Scope is vital, but capturing Context and Process Scope as well will result in seamless project execution. Success depends on the details. As Rory reminded the audience, “You have to build the project before the project is built.”

Want more of Rory’s expertise? Check out his website.

3. Data + Wisdom = Success

Every estimate should be powered by scores of cost information. Estimators and contractors should use every data source available to them—their own old estimates, subcontractor quotes, vendor quotes and, of course, published cost information. RSMeans data, for example, contains material, labor and equipment costs that can be localized to 970+ locations for accuracy.

However, all cost information must be validated with common sense. Every estimate must be scrutinized before it is submitted. One must ask if the numbers in the estimate make sense given one’s professional experience and understanding of the project. We have access to more data now than ever before, but there is still no substitute for old-fashioned common sense.

These three takeaways are just a slice of the advice and expertise Rory shared. To see it all, catch the webinar on-demand.