Executive Summary: It’s great that your estimators just landed a new project, but your competitive advantage can be lost without a synchronized handoff to the field team. Make sure to have a formal meeting between the estimating and project management teams before the project starts.
Estimator knows best. There is no one in your company that knows the job better than your estimator. (S)he picked up the plans and specifications, read them, took off the project, and then estimated it. The estimating team has had their nose(s) in the documents for days, weeks, or months.
Make notes as you go. During the bidding phase, a good estimator is making notes along the way to share with the project management team – here are some examples:
- Dump sites – was a “deal” made at bid time with a farmer to dump surplus dirt for free?
- Import sources – can we get import rock as provided by another contractor, or by a pit outside of our norm, or even as offhaul from another one of our own jobs?
- Material changes – if you bid the project in ductile iron, but PVC will satisfy the design intent and is cheaper, share this with the project team so that they can value engineer this change.
- Liquidated damages (LDs) – dollar fines by the working day, by certain project milestones, or even by the minute (in the case of lane closures or fiber optic line outages, as I’ve seen)
- Unbalanced bid items (cash flow) – if bid items have been unbalanced to favor cash flow for the contractor, the field team better know so they build in the order the estimator assumed and collect revenue in that order
- Unbalanced bid items (quantity differences) – if the estimator knows that there will be a significant underrun or overrun, and has adjusted the unit price(s) accordingly, this is a means of increased revenue.
- Means and methods – perhaps the job requires large concrete thrust blocks at horizontal and vertical bends in a water line. If the superintendent can convince the Engineer and/or the inspector to use Megalugs instead, as a no-cost change, that may be a significant financial gain.
- Long lead items – some schedules are nearly impossible to meet and this is further stressed by the lead time on materials. Lead times for procurement of material which affect the critical path are vital to project success.
- Bid errors – it takes a strong estimator to admit they’ve made a mistake, but sharing this with your field team is critical. Because believe it or not, many project managers and superintendents can make lemonade out of that lemon! If there was a fat-fingered unit price or a takeoff error, let the management team know. They may be able to convince the Owner to renegotiate the price or even remove this item from your scope.
- Retention bond – some owners allow retention bonds which permit full release of retention on each payment to the Contractor. Perhaps the estimator has included the cost of this bond in the bid, or not, but receiving 100% of monies due each month benefits the Contractor and said bond should be procured before day one of the project.
- Special insurances – there may be special insurances required for the project such as pollution or railroad insurance. Procure and bind the policy as quickly as possible. Builder’s Risk is also a coverage that should be discussed – some carriers include this coverage “for free” up to certain contract amounts.
My Story. We had several formal estimator-to-field management team handoffs, but not enough. I had a 100,000 CY aggregate import job where we bid the project at $22/ton from the pit. We bought out the material for about 75% of that from an alternate source. This was due to a conversation between the estimator and then the project manager and finally the superintendent. That was a successful job.
On the flipside, we had a project in which we imported thousands of tons of basalt rock. We could have been using a recycled concrete/asphalt material at half the cost; this may have been something we picked up on during the estimator handoff meeting. We did take advantage of this near the end of the project, but we really missed a great opportunity there to make some money for the lifespan of the project.