I recently read an article regarding excellence versus perfection. It hit the nail square on the head regarding my estimating philosophy, which I developed mostly because of the stark contrast between my first two estimating jobs.

My first employer used the Estimatic Electrical Estimating System, which used a Teletype machine to communicate with a mainframe computer in Denver. This system was mostly assembly-based and used a 10-digit code to represent each assembly. Once the takeoff was sent to Denver, we received a completed price sheet with all of the assemblies broken down into their component parts. I am a little ashamed to admit I did not pay much attention to what was in the assemblies, because I was more focused on perfecting the takeoff itself, making sure I understood and dealt with everything on the drawings. Unfortunately, this job only lasted about six months because the boss laid off all of the estimators in preparation for a move to another state.

Learning something new

My second employer did not use an estimating system. We did everything by hand, performing all of the math on a paper tape calculator. Soon after I started this job, the boss asked if I really knew how to estimate, because I was struggling without the estimating system. Once he understood the problem, my re-education commenced. He taught me manual estimating methods and sent me to classes.

Wow, what a difference! I now had to understand exactly what was in each assembly. I also had to learn a keep-it-simple attitude toward estimating. 

For example, a duplex receptacle assembly only included four parts: box, ring, receptacle and plate. If I added some wire nuts, screws, a ground pigtail and some labeling, I would have doubled the amount of time needed to list, price, labor and finish the math for that assembly. Instead, I learned to add a miscellaneous material markup on the recap sheet. There was also an expendable tool markup to cover items such as drill bits, hacksaw blades, soap and rags.

A new philosophy

This is when my excellence versus perfection philosophy began to develop. As an estimator in the mid-1980s (before PCs), I did not have time for perfection. The estimate was never intended to be a complete material list for the field. However, excellence was obtainable using the methods I was taught. Our actual material list totals plus the miscellaneous markups always covered the costs for every project we won and completed.

Here’s a good analogy. Most water treatment plants produce water that meets 95 percent of a state’s drinkable water requirements. To reach 100 percent would cost almost as much as the first 95 percent. In many cases, it is simply not practical to demand perfection.

The same is true for personal endeavors. Striving for perfection can create a lot of stress in your life, eventually leading to significant health problems.

Enter the computer

My methods have evolved because of modern computerized estimating systems. The assemblies in these systems often contain every component you can imagine and could move an estimator closer to perfection. However, they may not be the components you would use. They may not be the components electricians in the field would use. They may not even reflect the wiring methods your company uses. For example, some companies I work with install a junction box at the top of every drop to a receptacle or switch. That junction box is not a part of the outlet assemblies in the estimating systems I have worked with. It must be entered into your system separately, or your database needs to be modified.

When it comes to modifying or adding to your database, there may be a few considerations. Check with your software vendor, and make sure you understand all the ramifications of changing the database. Unfortunately, I had to learn that the hard way. After adding assemblies and changing many of the assemblies in my database, I learned I would not be able to transfer my changes to a newer version of the software. Since then, my vendor has added the ability to copy custom assemblies to a new database.

The philosophy in a nutshell

I searched for more articles about excellence versus perfection after reading the first one. They all agree that perfection is unattainable, and you’ll always be left feeling like you could have prepared that last estimate a little better. 

Excellence, on the other hand, does exist. Striving for excellence means working hard to deliver the best estimate you can. It is a healthy mentality of wanting to improve what you may have done wrong, while at the same time celebrating the things you did right.