How to Streamline Today’s Estimating Process
By Taimoor Khan
The current generation of estimators is not looking for a “bits and pieces” solution for construction
estimating. When estimators use many different programs at the same time, they have a greater likelihood
of losing vital information during data transfer between applications.
The ideal estimating solution integrates quantity takeoff into the estimate, whether it is 2D or 3D.
This provides a visual path that enables information verification, as well as streamlined comparisons
between different versions of estimates and takeoffs. Some of the areas that a solution should have
are ease in organizing and managing information, generating estimates, comprehending assemblies and
data flow, and updating the database.
Building a construction estimate is not a straightforward or simple exercise.
The process is often long and drawn out. Several steps during the estimate include:
Most of today's estimating technologies are not new. When you review the preconstruction landscape,
you see products like the 1960’s MC2, the late 1970’s Sage Timberline, and the early 1990’s WinEst.
Newer 2D takeoff tools such as OST, PlanSwift, and ETakeoff have entered into our technology vocabulary.
Most recently, model-based tools such Vico, Innovaya, and Assemble have been implemented by many
in the market. Every single one of these technologies is great within its own right. However, none
of these technologies enables an estimator to do all the steps in the above process in a single
application; rather, these applications are point solutions addressing one or two of the steps in
- Takeoff –
whether it's a conceptual estimate or a detailed estimate, we extract quantities from the
deliverables we are giving. Over the past 10-15 years we have been using digital takeoff as
a way of building a list of quantities based on the document set provided. More often, we are
starting to see and receive up to three models from which we extract quantities we can
condition and use.
- Interpret the project -
the earlier we are in the project, the more likely it is
that we won't have quantities to extract. As estimators, we have to interpret means, methods,
and quantities based on past experiences, conversations with the architect and owner, and
knowledge of the project location. This is often referred to as the “art of estimating.”
- Building direct costs - building the estimate involves defining a list of items
required to construct the project. This does not only include the final, in-place construction,
but also temporary construction, special equipment associated with the construction, and safety
related items. After defining the list of items, we apply the quantities we have extracted from
the deliverables we were given and/or the interpreted quantities we assume will be in the project.
We then need to think about how that item will be manufactured and constructed, and establish unit
prices based on our history, crew and equipment rates, and crew productivity.
- Quality control -
after assembling a complete estimate (direct and indirect costs), we look for gaps in the
estimate and what we may have overlooked. Whether we have little or no information, or if the
information is not coordinated, we need the estimate to be right. The old saying, “You’re doomed
if you do and doomed if you don’t” often comes to mind. Given the reality that nearly every project
is one-of-a-kind, with prototypes having the wild card of variability – specifically,
the site – we still compare the estimate against similar projects and check our work for a
level of comfort before submitting an estimate. Finally, we are often not creating a new estimate,
but refining the estimate from a prior phase. Because of this, we are able to determine what changed
and speak intelligently about the project estimate with the owner and answer any of their questions.
To make matters worse, despite the point solutions being solid and well-loved tools,
the way we are forced to move data from one tool to the next introduces more challenges.
For example, following the process above with a 2D deliverable of plans, elevations, and
sections is tedious and difficult at best. In this case, we would use our 2D takeoff tool
of choice to build a list of quantities and then copy and paste these into Excel so that we
can both condition and manipulate the quantity to create additional quantities (e.g. use the
area of slab multiplied by an assumed pounds of steel per square foot to create tons of rebar).
We would then copy this resulting quantity and paste it into the quantity field of a line item
in our estimating solution. At each copy and paste, we run the risk of introducing an error.
Further, six months from now, when we are in an estimate review meeting with the owner, how do
we communicate where the quantity we are comparing came from? How do we build that trust with
the owner and the project team that we have our arms around the project when we cannot communicate
the answer to a seemingly simple question?
I have used all of the major estimating software such as Sage Timberline, MC2, and WinEst.
They serve the same purpose, but with a few different menus and options. For the past 10 years of
using estimating tools, I have not really noticed any evolution in any of the major estimating
software. As an estimator, I have always wanted a solution that is more user friendly (e.g. less menus),
intelligent, integrated, and visual. Last, but not least, this solution would have a well-organized
database backup system.
Over the last two years Beck Technology has developed a new detailed estimating product called
DESTINI Estimator. DESTINI Estimator was developed in partnership with Sundt Construction in Tempe,
Arizona. Their software encompasses the entire construction estimating process: takeoff, interpreting
the project, building direct costs, building indirect costs, and quality control. Since the entire
process is contained in a single software application, there is no lost data, less copy and paste
errors, and project owner conversations are clear with intelligent explanations of their project
The next generation of estimators is entering the workforce and building its experience
with software. I am excited for these estimators—they will not have to “walk uphill, in the
snow, both ways,” as I had to do throughout my career. Using DESTINI Estimator, they will
discover not only estimating software, but truly, a support system throughout their estimating
About the Author: Taimoor Khan is the Preconstruction Manager at Tonn and Blank Construction in
Indiana. He has a natural skill in problem solving with the ability to view a problem or issue
from multiple perspectives, evaluate options with limited information, and make effective decisions.
Khan leads the preconstruction/estimating department for the Midwest design-build general contractor.
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