Feeling the Bid

Years ago, I was assisting a client on a $60-plus million electrical bid. There were more than 35 electrical bid form items, each one with three or four subcontractor or vendor quotations. The mayhem this created can’t be described.

My client was using his own special spreadsheet file, which had an individual sheet for each bid price. Along with cells for the sub and vendor quotes, each sheet had all the other standard bid summary values to fill out—OH&P, sales tax, labor rates, DJE, PM costs, permits, etc.

This spreadsheet was awesome! It should be in the Smithsonian. Each sheet was linked and combined into a master sheet called “Base Bid All.” The importance of this sheet was not simply to provide the overall combined price. It also gave my client “the feeling” of what the total bid was and how the entire job felt in comparison to the design, the square footage and similar projects, in other words to provide a sense of knowing all of his individual bid form items were adding up correctly.

He knew this project was going to be around $60 million. How? I don’t know. He just did. And he was on a quest to confirm it, to verify his gut instinct was right.

If his final price was near $60 million, he would know he had filled out his crazy spreadsheet correctly and his estimators hadn’t made any huge mistakes. But if his price were $50 million or $70 million, he would know something was wrong.

Now this was during the era of Windows 95 and the infamous Blue Screen of Death, which is exactly what we saw on that fateful morning. After two days of setup, preparation, discussion, corrections, hours of thinking, input, studying and feeling it, BOOM! A blue screen appeared. All was lost.
Of course, he hadn’t saved a recent version. So once we got the computer rebooted, the best we could find was an earlier version, which didn’t have half the amount of input quotations and other figures. We were totally screwed.

With less than an hour and a half to get the bid out, we frantically went to work re-inputting the lost information, at least what we remembered. It was total chaos. Not only were we panicked and stressed, but we had lost the most important element: my client’s feeling about his final number. He lost his sense of trust and knowing, and he wasn’t going to get it back.

Interruptions on bid day can have a catastrophic impact on your bid’s outcome. They can cause you to make an entry error for a vendor quotation or not notice a serious overage in your materials and labor extension. And though these are serious and expensive elements to your bid, there is one critically essential element that an interruption can destroy: your feel for the bid.

“Feel for the bid? What is that, Stan?” Well, I’ll tell you.

Basically, it’s the same as being in the zone or feeling the groove. Good estimators not only rely on the data generated from their estimating software, they also count heavily on their feeling and instinct. I know, it’s like I’m talking about some hippie magic or voodoo witchcraft here.

Seriously, there is something metaphysical and instinctual about knowing if your estimate and final bid price is good or not. I can’t explain it with any scientific facts or real data, but it does exist, as I have witnessed and practiced it firsthand.

This bid day feeling comes mainly from years of experience estimating and bidding jobs. For the junior and associate estimators reading this, it may be several more years and several hundred more bids before you actually get it. It’s not necessarily something your boss or other senior estimators can teach you. It’s something you must experience with them as you assist.

The bosses and seniors—who have lost so many battles and won so few—know what I’m talking about here. They’ve lived and breathed this phenomenon. It’s in their blood.

The feeling comes from keeping a deep focus on the project, an awareness of the clock, and a mental, almost photographic remembrance of the electrical design and what you took off. It guides you through the review of your extensions. It tells you whether or not you should drop your price by $20,000 or if the general contractor is lying to you about how high you are.

Sure, if you have done your takeoff accurately, checked all your database entries, reviewed your extensions, and ensured your vendor quotes are entered correctly, your bid, based on a mechanical process, will probably be okay. But, how do you know your bid is right?
Great estimators never ignore their feelings, their sixth sense. For if and when they do, their final bids go out with uncertainty. So avoid bid day interruptions, and try to spiritually connect with your bid. Find the feeling of whether your final number is a winner or not.

SHOOK has been estimating for more than 23 years. During the past 12 years, he operated a fully staffed estimating company, TakeOff 16 Inc. He is currently focusing on writing, teaching and speaking about electrical estimating. Read his blog at stanshook.blogspot.com or contact him directly at StanleyShook@gmail.com.

About the Author

Stan Shook

Stan Shook was ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR's estimating columnist from 2005 to 2012. He works as an electrical estimator in California. Read his blog at stanshook.blogspot.com or contact him directly StanleyShook@gmail.com

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