Improving the estimating process is not altogether dissimilar from improving performance in any other profession that requires sound judgment and productivity.

A recent LA Times’ “Executive Roundtable” column in its “Business” section tackled the question of the effectiveness of the sales team, which could be equally applied to an estimating department. (See www.tecceo.org for more information.) The question at hand was whether the time spent keeping records is worth the effort and what type of records are productive.

The article referred to Paul Goldner’s Red-Hot Cold Call Selling: Prospecting Techniques That Pay Off and Red-Hot Customers: How to Get Them, How to Keep Them. The suggestions have a place in the estimating area. The author advises that records must be meaningful and brief. Most estimators keep some sort of records, albeit this may differ within a firm, which makes keeping track of productivity somewhat hit and miss.

Very few people enjoy filling out meaningless paperwork. Applying Goldner’s theory would entail writing a report indicating that estimators are expending their efforts on the most profitable areas of available business for the company. Obviously, the types of projects that maximize the company’s efficiency must be determined for this idea to be of value.

Too often, estimators can be waylaid into bidding jobs for the sake of bidding something that would best have been left to others. Publications announcing various projects and who is accepting bids very seldom produce profitable jobs. It is better to do some meaningful digging for prospects.

Another part of these reports would trace the estimator’s activity. This would ensure that the right types of jobs are being worked on, and would further identify the various contacts that the estimator has made. This report tied to a weekly plan of work can help to verify that the staff’s time is being spent in the most productive areas.

Such information as is suggested can also lead to establishing relationships with clients that may provide an edge on future business. At the same time, expanding the company or type of work done by the client could prove valuable in building a customer base. A rule of thumb indicates about 10 percent of a client base will drift off for a variety of reasons; therefore, building and keeping contact with a strong client base should always be of some importance.

Dependable entry into the minimal reports should provide chief estimators and senior organizational structure with the information they need to manage the estimating department, as well as that needed to run the business.

The writer notes that 80 percent of a company’s business comes from just 20 percent of the clientele. It is ironic that this percentage factor holds true for much of the contracting business as well. Quite obviously then, this is where the contractor’s estimating staff should concentrate its maximum efforts.

In addition to the estimator’s activity, a record of projects actually bid and the particulars of the project will be of value. Prime in that information base is the type of work the estimate represented. The generic divisions assumed by the industry such as industrial, commercial and residential must be defined further to be meaningful. Just in the commercial sector, there is a great variety to consider. The descriptions used for the database should describe type, size and square-foot values of the work.

Classifying the work in such manners as “competitive” and “custom” and the varieties that come under that umbrella can make further divisions of the type of work. The most important factor of any record keeping or database system is that the information is assembled in a format that encourages everyone to participate.

Documentation that just wastes time will soon become a discouraging activity. Does it contain information that is relevant to the company? If no one can use the information constructively, then get rid of the form and its busy work.

Organizing the information to be retained and putting it to constructive use is critical. Reports and methods should be a living system and reviewed on a regular basis. We all have experienced the frustration of completing information requests that never again saw the light of day.

A Wall Street Journal article from some years ago used the term “constructive procrastination.” In this system, a memo would be filed in a tickler file for action some 30 days later. If no one sent a second request, the original memo was filed in the wastebasket. Such it should be with data and record keeping. EC

DAVID is a professor of electrical technology at Long Beach City College, Calif., a consultant, and an expert witness. He can be reached at 562.597.1877 or by e-mail at edavid@lbcc.cc.ca.us.