It's December already, which means this year’s estimating saga is basically over. Not to worry, 2008 should be just as exciting and fun, loaded with all sorts of new changes.

With the looming fear of a recession, increasing competition and shrinking labor force, estimators should be busy bidding every chance they possibly can to land some small jobs and, hopefully, a couple of monsters to save their company’s future (and their jobs).

Adjust to the changes

Change is good and somewhat unavoidable. How we adjust is the key. Not just the changes in you, as an estimator, and how you estimate, but also your company and how/what they estimate. Changes in the economy will directly impact the types and quantities of projects you bid on. Your daily task load will most likely increase. The way you or your company estimates might change entirely just because of one client. Mine did.

This year has been one of major change and success for my estimating team. It has been really tough to handle and control, especially the success. We have gone from a four-man team to nine and maybe 11 by the time I finish this article. Along the way, we’ve seen three others who didn’t work out, which means I’ve actually hired eight.

For me, the commander in chief, this was an exhausting endeavor. I was in charge of hiring (and firing), orienting, training, setting up workstations, buying and installing software, answering thousands of questions, reviewing tens of thousands of takeoff entries and hundreds of extensions, delivering more than 140 finished takeoffs, answering phone calls, and writing and responding to e-mails. And this is just my job as chief estimator. I won’t even mention the running the business stuff. For me, the definition of “overtime” also changed. It now means anything past a 12-hour day.

My estimators have also worked their tails off, and it hasn’t been easy for them either. With each added estimator came a bunch of changes to their work environment. Desks moved. The office got louder, busier, more hectic—the feng shui altered daily. For them, the added help didn’t necessarily make things any easier. They were constantly interrupted with questions and tasked with reviewing (and correcting) takeoff entries, while trying to complete their own work.

Our bid schedule changed, too. The more estimators you have, the more jobs you have to estimate. We will probably close this year with more than 160 completed projects. This may not sound like much, but keep in mind most of these projects had bid values of $2 million to more than $10 million. Some have been in the $25 million-plus range. We rarely estimate anything under $250,000.

Then there’s technology. Estimating software has really changed in the past few years with the improvements on CAD estimating, plan recognition, automated takeoff software, more integration with accounting systems—all designed to make an estimator’s life easier, right? Well, it does, but it can also complicate and slow the process with a learning curve factor.

Change comes with interruptions, causing a break in the flow, a loss of efficiency and an addition of stress. Stress causes estimators to lose focus, make mistakes, get tired, slow down, shut down, get sick and sometimes quit. Tempers can flare. Communication breaks down. Feelings that shouldn’t be expressed may come out—sometimes to a client. This is not a good thing. Perhaps those mistakes were a result of all the interruptions?

How we adjust to change is critical to our success. Prepare yourself and/or your team for the possible changes to come in 2008. Discuss the economy, your clients, your methods, the office environment and anything else that might change. Talk about the changes that occurred during the past year. What did they do to your estimating department’s output and success rate? What about your attitude, and that of your fellow estimators? Find out whether the changes were positive or negative.

Changes are going to happen, regardless of whether you want them. You can’t control all of them, but you can control some. You can also make desired changes happen—you have that power. But whether you make them happen or not, you should embrace all the changes and meet them head on. Avoiding or approaching change with skepticism only creates resistance.

I don’t want it to seem like I’m repeating myself or that I’m constantly pushing this magazine’s Web site (which if you’re not visiting regularly, shame on you), but it is the end of another year, and it’s time to start thinking about estimating in the year ahead. With this in mind, once again, I recommend visiting the archives. My December 2005, January 2006 and January 2007 articles contain discussions and thoughts on planning for the new year of estimating. They might help you prepare for the changes to come.

Happy holidays, and have a joyous New Year (of estimating that is)! EC

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.