I touched on the design/build work two years ago. I reviewed what I wrote, so I wouldn’t repeat myself (my editors hate that). What I said two years ago is relevant to what I’m about to discuss now. So after reading this column, read my June 2006 column, “Estimating Blind.”

In the beginning …

You should never jump into any takeoff without clearly visualizing what it is you need to produce on bid day. Take a reasonable amount of time, relative to the size of your project, to just sit and think about what it is you are going to present to your client (or your boss).

Additionally, if you win the project, you will want your estimate to be a highly functional project management tool. To achieve this, your takeoff will need a very detailed segregation of the project’s physical elements (by building, floor, site, etc.) and all the various electrical systems (lighting, branch, signal, etc.).

In the beginning, your primary goal is to learn everything you can about the project and its design. This should be done before you begin your takeoff. Once you have total awareness of the project, you then can begin to think about how to design and build your takeoff.

What is your client looking for?

Design/build projects rarely are designed, especially for electrical, signal and communication systems. Chances are you won’t have much to go on except for architectural floor and ceiling plans, a few elevations and, if you’re lucky, you might get some symbols here and there. So you have to fill in the blanks.

Typically, there should be some sort of project prospectus or design criteria. This usually is issued by the architect who has met with the client and knows (mostly) what the client wants. There may even be an initial design team meeting. Don’t miss this meeting! But before you go, learn everything you can about the building, and prepare a list of questions (my 2006 column details this list and how to create it).

Find out what the client wants. Are there any alternate pricing scenarios needed? Perhaps a detailed breakdown by building, by system or all of the above is required? If the client doesn’t know or didn’t issue a bid form or directive, what do you think would be good for your client to have? Will the client really need to have this much detailed pricing from you?

It is likely your company was invited to be on the design team because of your expertise and knowledge of electrical installations and related systems. So don’t be shy. Make sure to let your client know what you think they need. Offer suggestions for alternative designs, and let the client know you can price the project multiple ways. Sure, you may be creating more work for yourself. But your client will be better served, and you may better secure your chances of getting the contract or future work.

Once you know what your client wants and what the building is all about, you can set up your takeoff. Designing your takeoff requires more serious thought.

Keep in mind you get only one good shot at this. Once you start entering counts into your estimating program, you really don’t want to move them around. In fact, you want to avoid it if you can. Granted, some of the better programs allow you to do this with relative ease. But depending on how you entered them, it may not be very easy, and you will lose precious time doing it.

This time of deep pondering should be done with all the project documents, drawings and any other information you have at your immediate access. I also highly recommend a notepad, pen, red marker and yellow highlighter. Your markup should begin the moment you start reviewing documents. The first time you see, read or think about something is always the best time to make note of it, not later when you remember it—that is, if you remember it.

Make a to-do list

Note all the systems you need to include. Determine the available breakdowns. Once you have a handle on these, create a matrix or a flow chart of how your takeoff will be structured and what order you will do it in. Take note of any typical rooms or design elements you could take advantage of, say a typical office or examination room. Make sure you fully realize how you will enter these elements into the computer, so you can accurately multiply them out by floor, area or building.

Once you have your takeoff designed and are fully aware of how it will be done, start counting. Don’t forget to enter, too.

Design/building your takeoff should really be done on any type of project, not just design/build projects. Taking time in the beginning to fully realize the project and visualize your final output will help you create an accurate and highly functional estimate, which can be a very powerful tool for winning and managing the contract

SHOOK is the president and chief estimator for his estimating company, TakeOff 16 Inc. He has worked in the electrical construction industry for more than 18 years. Reach him at 707.776.0800 or sfs@TakeOff16.com.