More Than One

Although I never recommend it, estimators are often forced to work on more than one project at a time. This is especially true in today’s highly competitive and light-on-opportunities market. It is also very common with prebid estimates, which sometimes share the same bid date.

Working on multiple projects at the same time can present various levels of difficulties for the estimator and an estimating team. It increases the amount of distractions and interruptions. It also adds the need to work two or three times faster and longer hours than usual. All of this can lead to higher-than-normal stress levels and ultimately a panicky approach to getting it all done on time.

The pressure of one project’s deadline can be tough enough, but two or more can quickly affect the accuracy of all the estimates involved. It can also affect the profitability of your company’s current contracts.

Have a plan; work the plan
When you are simultaneously working on multiple takeoffs, maintain simplicity. Don’t attempt complicated strategies or tactics. Don’t experiment. Use the techniques and methods you know best—the ones with which you are able to work quickly and accurately.

Develop a plan. Create a schedule and stick to it. Make a to-do list for each job and stick to them. Stay focused on each project and don’t allow them to interfere with each other. Don’t create confusion; eliminate it.

Most projects have the same installations (e.g., lighting, telecom). So it might be easier for you to take off the same systems for each project consecutively. If you complete the entire takeoff for one job before moving onto the other, you will have to start over and refocus your brain on that type of system.

A patient room is a patient room …Along with maintaining an organized schedule, routine and focus, you need to be creative and find ways to save time.

For example, each project has fixtures that need to be counted and entered into your database. This will likely require building assemblies and special fixture items. If the projects are similar in nature and design and/or share the same engineer, you might be able to use the special items and assemblies you build for one job on the other. You may be able to copy and paste these assemblies into the second or third project. This will minimize your time spent in the database and allow you to focus on getting your counts done. This approach can be applied to many other takeoff scenarios.

So, before you jump in and start counting on one project, step back and analyze your projects to see if any similarities exist or designs can be shared. You may find ways to cut down your count and entry time significantly.

Some typical office buildings, hospitals and school projects have entire rooms and even buildings (gymnasiums) that are so similar they can easily be copied into another project with little need for modification. You may even be able to use a takeoff from a previously bid project.

Be aware of differences and what needs to be added or deleted from a copied takeoff—before you copy and paste it.

How important is the project you are bidding on versus the one you have? Prebid estimates are often mixed in with ongoing project management (PM) estimating. Typically, one is stopped (the PM estimate), while the other requires full attention. This can create issues for both the estimator and the PM team (and even with the field), as the need for pricing could delay the approval and notice to proceed on a large change order.

As you are adding prebid projects to your estimating schedule, don’t forget your in-progress contract work. Profitably managing your contracts is perhaps the most important task your company has. Allowing noncontract work (e.g., budget pricing for a client) and prebid estimates to influence or negatively impact your current contracts can be detrimental to the success of those projects. For example, your company could be risking profits if you or your team is pulled away from finishing one takeoff to perform prebid estimates on another project that you don’t have a good chance of winning.

Remain calm; all is well
The estimating team should keep in mind that it is the role of the senior and chief estimators to coordinate and manage the projects and the team. Let them do their job. Focus on your role and your tasks. Don’t get involved in other estimators’ work, and don’t take on more than you can handle.
The No. 1 thing all estimators must do is to remain as calm as possible. Approaching multiple-estimating tasks with a calm, organized attitude is your best chance for success and survival.

Shook suggests reading “Estimating Under Pressure, parts 1, 2 and 3” (June, July and August 2005).

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 or contact him directly

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 or contact him directly

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