Construction Estimating


Like many people in the construction industry, I am confounded by the uncertainty (and occasional mystery) surrounding bidding and estimating.   Why is estimating so difficult?  How can we make it easier?  Why is estimating not a more exact science?

I have come up with some answers, which although incomplete, do provide some meaning.  Estimating is as much an art as a science.  I have written a top ten list describing estimating.  Here is my imperfect and confounding list, which I hope you find useful if not amusing…

  1. Good estimators are always in demand.  Great estimators are hard to find and even harder to keep.  So if your company has a great estimator, be ready to keep that person.
  2. Estimators are expected to wear many hats.  These include but are not limited to Economist, Supply Chain Expert, Financial Analyst, Productivity Expert, Contracts Maven, Math Wizard, Engineer / Architect, Negotiator Extraordinaire, Logistics Chief, etc…you get it. 
  3. Estimators are always on the HOT seat.  It is not for the weak or thin-skinned.
  4. The Estimator usually cannot win.  If the firm wins the bid, executives will state that “the Estimator made a mistake or left too much money on the table”.  If the firm loses the bid, executives are inclined to state that “the Estimator did not submit a sharp bid or played it safe.” 
  5. Estimators are usually expected to work very long hours, especially around bid-time.
  6. Estimating is the most critical job function for a construction organization.  You can’t get new work if you do not submit a winning bid.
  7. Estimators MUST keep good notes because selective amnesia (within the executive suite) may set in later.  Good notes will help keep the Estimator from being thrown under the bus.
  8. Organization and hard work are the key to good estimation.  Note that the Estimator has to build the job in his head before it gets built in the field.
  9. There is NO substitute for experience in estimating. 
  10. Murphy’s Law suggests that any shortcut taken by the Estimator will result in a significant problem and a corresponding loss on the project.
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