The $5 Casio: Your Best Tool

Executive Summary: With all of today’s fancy and complex tools available in the marketplace, nothing is more important than simple calculations (and common sense). Rely on simplicity and basic math to check your work.

The Message: I travel the country frequently helping contractors. I help clients one-on-one in dirty old office trailers, and on the flip side, I’ll speak in front of many more at a Hilton banquet hall in front of a projector screen.

Whenever I am helping, I try to make one thing abundantly clear: there is no replacement for common sense and the $5 Casio. 

Keep it simple, stupid: I was on site with a client and we were talking about trucking. How many trucks do I need to haul aggregate, how many tons can these trucks haul per load, how long does it take to get from the quarry to the jobsite, and what is the cost per hour for these trucks? There was a canned program he was using to calculate this, so he simply fed in the information and out popped the answer. It was immediately obvious to me that the answer was wrong. We had a small quantity of rock to haul and the program gave an answer of 15 trucks and over a million dollars of hauling. I asked him how he calculated this rate before this new tool came along and he said he had his own program.

I’m not knocking technology (the program was right – it was simply garbage in/garbage out with the canned program he was using), I am simply reminding my clients of the value of simple checks and balances that were here long before cars started driving themselves. If you know how to get an answer using an abacus and a pencil versus the shiny new toy in the office, stick with what you know until you gain the confidence with the new toy.

You are responsible for the answers: A colleague of mine had a client who lost a job because my colleague “put too much fee on the job when setting up the bid margin”. My colleague had done what he was supposed to do – give the client the necessary tools to succeed. One of those tools was setting the margin within the software. Changing the margin on a job is as easy a couple keystrokes. The software only does what it is told.

Changing the fee from 9.4% to 5.4% is the estimator’s job, not the software’s.

Conclusion: There are great tools available out there to do estimating, engineering, accounting, et cetera, but do not lose sight of checking the software to ensure the answer you were expecting is being produced. The $5 Casio calculator should continue to be your good ol’ reliable best friend.