Delegate or Suffocate

Like many a novice, overworked contractor, I once found myself spread out on the dining room table making a takeoff when my teenage daughter asked if she could help. My first inclination was absolutely negative, but then I figured she could count symbols too. Therein lies a problem too many managers have, the reluctance to delegate.

Unquestionably, there are a multitude of examples of executives whose companies would not have grown or prospered were it not for assigning a variety of tasks to others in the firm. The individual in charge of producing estimates is in the same position. The pressure of producing profitable estimates almost demands delegation, which can be an art form since managers must judge every worker's mixture of skills and put them to best use.

If estimators were to inspect their various tasks, they'd find several that could be assigned to other-than-key personnel. As long as those chosen for delegated tasks produce, the results won't be critiqued negatively. If your system is different, instruct employees as to why you would prefer to use your method. Let employees learn with positive reinforcement.

Avoid becoming a CEPS--chief estimate problem solver. Stay out of minor discussions. Get involved only if the question is of major consequence to the estimate. Whether a wall requires coring or canning is of little matter in the overall estimate if there is only one or two holes. The time to enter into problem solving is when the scope of the problem grows. Encourage employees to come up with their own solutions. They may come up with ideas new to you, but they might be better than your original solution.

Don't become a NNPC--needle nose price checker. Worrying about a possible $100 error in a multimillion-dollar bid wastes valuable time. Besides, the confidence factor will take a hit and you inadvertently increase the problem rather than help.

Delegating estimating tasks to less-experienced staff is an educational undertaking. The employee has to have some sort of parameter that can be realistically met. Some time ago, a nonindustry headhunter called and asked if I knew of any estimators looking to change jobs. After hearing the list of abilities the employer desired, I pointed out to the headhunter that he was not looking for an estimator but a chief executive officer. Expect realistic outcomes. If the person you have chosen catches on, additional tasks can be assigned gradually.

The tasks to be delegated should have some detailed indicators of expectations. How will the employee be evaluated? What are the specific goals? What can the person expect when meeting the goals? None of these factors should be ignored, as they will only help each side understand the other's concerns.

Those in charge of estimating are also business builders. As such, there are a multitude of added tasks that can be accomplished if others can augment the estimating process. Estimators are often the client-contacts for the firm and can be very productive when not diverted to chores that others can do.

An added benefit of having the estimator delegate some work is that it may free up time to solve some jobsite problems. Some firms have replaced the outdated idea of separating the estimator and project foreman by combining their positions. There are positive considerations for both opinions. No matter how the firm's operations are structured, both can benefit by learning how to and actually begin delegating.

Using information compiled by others can be harmful if not thoroughly reviewed. A typical example is a quantity survey done by manufacturers or similar services. If a switchgear quote is tendered in a lump sum or in catalog gibberish, then how does the estimator know that everything is included? More important, how does one arrive at accurate labor units for the installation? Takeoffs prepared by qualified people are of considerable value and many will spell out in understandable language what is included in the price. Very few, if any, of these takeoffs guarantee that everything is included.

The reward of efficient delegating is that estimators have more time to smell the roses. Albeit, in my experience, having more free time leads most of us to take on more responsibilities. Such is the characteristics of too many in the industry, yet that is how many of us were trained. 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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