The Birthplace of Mistakes

By Stan Shook | Oct 15, 2006
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How to review during the takeoff

I SOMETIMES GET AHEAD OF MYSELF when I write these articles. In my April article, I discussed what you should do when you find one of your mistakes. But I never told you how to avoid making mistakes. Nobody can. Even when you apply the best estimating practices, mistakes still happen. But I can offer some advice on how you can prevent making some mistakes.

Like anything involved with the deeper subject of electrical estimating, I will need at least three articles. For this series, I will offer some basic review techniques for the three major parts of an estimate: the takeoff, the extension and the bid summary. For each of these key estimate elements, the first step you need to take is probably the most difficult. The first step is scheduling enough time for a thorough review.

Size matters

You must make sure you have enough time to review all elements of your takeoff thoroughly. Large projects should have a multistaged review process. An hour is far too little. Two is just not safe. Three might help avoid a major mistake, and four is probably not enough. How about an entire day? Can you make it happen? Would that be enough time to find all the major mistakes?

Obviously, a small job doesn’t require two days of review. It may not even require two hours. However, your review process should be the same regardless of how large or how small the job is. Remember, a big mistake on a small project can cost you more than a small one on a large project.

Review as you go

Chances are you will still be performing takeoff on most jobs the day of the bid, so when do you get the time for review? I suggest you review as you go.

Most estimating programs have an audit trail feature. Keeping your audit trail feature on and open (if an option) is a great way to review your takeoffs, both during and immediately after you finish.

My estimators have a strict protocol they must follow when they are entering takeoff. They must immediately check the audit trail after each entry to confirm they have entered in the right item or assembly and quantity. This needs to be done for every entry. By performing the check, you can eliminate a large percentage of entry errors, which are typically the cause of most mistakes.

To sum up, select the item/assembly, enter in the count and then verify the entry in the audit trail. Simple. Just make sure you do it every time.

Today’s estimating databases are full of potential ways to make mistakes. You can easily enter a very large quantity on the wrong item or, worse, an assembly. You can incorrectly build an assembly with too many conduits or wires or input the wrong value for couplings, and instead of getting one for every 10 feet, you get 10 for every foot. So it is vital that you take the time while you are creating items and assemblies to build it right the first time. Then review them again just to make sure.

There is no better time to review your takeoff than immediately after each entry session. This is when your count and roll are the most fresh in your mind, so as you complete the takeoff of a single system, lighting for example, review the audit trail again. Scroll through it, analyzing the items and assemblies counted, and verify the entered quantities. Additionally, run a sub-extension on that system only, and review it in extended form. Because you know this system really well, any mistakes should stand out. By reviewing your audit trail and sub-extensions during the takeoff, you will achieve quite a bit of review time when are done.

Avoid interruptions

Takeoffs and their subsequent reviews require deep focus. Interruptions can easily cause you to lose focus, and when you finally get it back, you may have forgotten what you were reviewing. You can also lose the feel for the review. When you review a job, isolate yourself. Close yourself and your fellow estimators—if they are involved—in a room with no telephone (no cell phones either) and put a sign on the door that reads, “ABSOLUTELY NO INTERRUPTIONS—REVIEW IN SESSION.”

If you are reviewing another person’s takeoff, try to think like an outsider or, better, the client. Become the skeptic, and approach the review as if it needs to prove something to you. Create a list of questions to ask the estimator during a second review with them.

Stay on topic. Don’t let the review stray or move from one issue to another without resolution of the previous issue. If an issue can’t be resolved, make sure you keep a list of these items and who is responsible for resolving them.

Never wait for day of bidding to review your final takeoff. Of course, this sometimes can’t be helped. When you can’t avoid it, keep your wits about you. Remain calm, stay focused, check your counts and try not to make any more mistakes.         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 by e-mail at [email protected]




About The Author

Stan Shook was ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR's estimating columnist from 2005 to 2012. He works as an electrical estimator in California. Read his blog at or contact him directly [email protected]





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