Data Collection for Profit

In the past, the headline on this column would have turned off most estimators from reading further. They would have claimed this as part of the controller’s job. The facts of life, though, are that reviewing estimates before they become a binding bid is a relatively painless and simple procedure.

Going back in history can provide valuable comparison information. Aside from estimating, historical data will also aid project management. Project data is a further asset when a client calls for a conceptual bid on a project being negotiated.

The obvious first step is deciding which data to keep. If estimates are segregated into various types of work, the information is of greater value. The NECA Manual of Labor Units separates labor into more than 30 various types or classes of work.

This may be of value on large projects but can become an exercise in futility on smaller ones. It’s more important that the information collected be reliable. The process of collecting project data must be such that field personnel can readily provide the information required at the least loss of productivity.

The basis for establishing a database should be previous estimates, especially for projects the company actually completed. Cost reporting for projects tied to the estimate is a further refinement that will help in organizing comparison values. Previous estimates may also be a valuable source for those rare labor, material or subcontract costs for seldom-used procedures. Say, for example, a company once bored under a street in a way different from their normal method. When the same boring problem occurred years later, the estimating source was readily available.

To maintain a viable database, it is necessary to have an efficient way to retain the data used for estimating previous projects. The data must be relevant and the terms used underserstandable to the average estimator. Some trade terms change with geography; therefore it is advisable to sort items as per the Code description.

When considering setting up a database, it would be beneficial to consider the firm’s labor reporting divisions. Considering this data may point to some efficiencies among various crews or within the firm. Reviewing such data is where chief estimators get their “feel” for sharpening the pencil in a particularly tight bid situation. To the contrary, the data may point to problems with the labor tables used or the amount of factoring, and thus reduce labor that may have taken place. True considerations of much of this information may point out a firm’s lack, absence or misuse of tooling to reduce the labor hours.

Computerized estimating has made this sorting task fairly simple. The sorting device must be one that can be customized for the firm’s needs. With current storage methods such as CD burners, several projects can be safely backed up. If the data is segregated so that similar projects are on the same storage medium, the recovery will be sped up and will also center on the type of projects used for comparisons accessible in the old job records, saving valuable research time.

To expedite researching previous estimates or projects a method must answer the questions in a concise manner. The type of work is obviously the most important classification method. Costs vary as to the type of project, which can range from a strip mall to a hospital. Depending the contractor’s typical jobs, this will be the starting point. Further sorting depends on additional details. Aside from finding the information when needed for estimates, such data can also be used for comparisons that may show up estimate errors, or unusual circumstances that may signal a possible problem on a project. Costs found in segregation into a type of project can also provide judgment as to the division of labor to materials that can then be compared to an estimate.

There is no limit on additional information that may be retained, so long as it is truly valuable. An example is the square foot cost of labor and materials of the project. The company may want to track the profitability of working with a particular contractor or type of work. Having “been there and done that,” the Golden Rule of keeping records is that they must be of value; no busy work; and everyone must buy in and understand what’s being asked for and the reasons for the program. 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


About the Author

Eric David

Freelance Writer
Eric David is a professor of electrical technology at Long Beach (Calif.) City College, a consultant and an expert witness. He can be reached at 562.597.1877 or at .

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