Estimating, by Definition

Every contractor runs projects in a slightly different manner. The Truland Group Inc. has a high project base and large portfolio. Talking with H. Tom Browning, vice president, Preconstruction, about how business has evolved sheds light on the challenges, tasks and goals that define the estimator’s role in today’s contracting world.

Describe an estimator’s typical day
Each day is slightly different, depending upon the stage in the lifecycle of the estimate being developed.

Estimators work closely with the Truland project executive pursuing the job being bid. They also work under the direction of a chief estimator who collects initial data on the procurement from the project executive. Upon making a decision to submit a bid, the project executive and the chief estimator meet to review the project duration and schedule, place of performance and list of general contractors accepting bids. They then jointly review the drawings and specifications to identify materials and methods that will be required, identify equipment manufacturers from whom quotes will be needed, create the estimate development schedule, and assign one or more estimators to develop the bid. Estimators are assigned based upon specialized knowledge of certain types of projects or systems, such as power distribution, lighting, life safety, etc.

Once estimators have been assigned to estimate a specific project, they review the drawings and specifications with the chief estimator, who also alerts them to any portions of the other trades’ scopes that can affect the electrical scope. At the same time, they review the bid breakdown sheet provided by the general contractor or owner so that they understand how pricing is to be presented. From this point forward, the estimator goes about performing quantity take- offs, querying our commodities pricing database to obtain unit prices for materials, and requesting quotes for major equipment. They also review historical unit productivity data to develop our labor estimate. Once estimates for each cost category (labor, materials, major equipment, etc.) have been developed and entered into a summary worksheet, the estimators generate a draft scope letter that identifies items included and excluded from our pricing. The estimators review the draft estimate and scope of work with the chief estimator, project executive, and other Truland management. Following any revisions and final approval, the information is entered into the bid forms and submitted to the customer along with the scope letter and any information (such as vendor quotes) required to substantiate our pricing.

Truland’s estimating process is highly detailed and comprehensive because we want to account for every variable so that we are giving the owner or general contractor an estimate that captures the true cost of performing the work as defined in the specifications.

What role does safety play?
Safety regulations primarily affect the labor cost associated with a project, so we make sure that we identify any aspects of the work that are likely to require special methods to comply with those regulations and identify contractual requirements that affect manpower and unit productivity. A good example of special methods that affect labor cost is confined space work, such as manholes or trench boxes. Confined space work requires that a person be posted outside the entry point to monitor conditions and ensure that the individual working inside is able to get back out safely. This means that the level of effort for work in the confined space must account for both individuals. Additionally, most projects involve at least one type of task that requires specialized safety training. Contractually, we may be required to have our entire project crew take part in the general contractor’s or owner’s site safety training program, daily [job hazard analysis] briefings, a daily bend and stretch, or similar activities. Time spent on all of these activities must be accounted for in the estimate but excluded from calculations of productive labor.

Have new technologies been helpful?
Yes. Advances in connectivity and in the features offered by estimating software have allowed us to be more productive. High-speed, high-bandwidth Internet connections have made it possible to share the huge files that comprise solicitation packages. New software packages continue to automate more estimating tasks, which allows us more time to focus on those tasks that involve critical thinking and analysis.

How do you see estimating evolving?
The industry- is likely to take advantage of the increasingly robust estimating software packages. This will reduce the amount of time required to perform certain tasks, such as quantity takeoff.

At the same time, the equipment being specified and the solicitation packages being generated will continue to increase in complexity. This will require much more time spent in analyzing drawings and specifications and performing research. As a result, estimators will need to have highly detailed systems and construction management knowledge and will need to be able to perform higher levels of analysis.

Note: This interview wth Tom Browning will conclude next issue.

STONG, a freelance writer, lives in central Pennsylvania. She can be reached at

About the Author

Jennifer Leah Stong-Michas

Freelance Writer
Jennifer Leah Stong-Michas is a freelance writer who lives in central Pennsylvania.

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