A Takeoff is A Takeoff – or is it?
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By: Angelo Castelli
From a distance looking at a set of plans might seem like a very sequential
process. Owner seeks a desired result. Architect designs blue prints based
off of the desire. Blue prints are converted into plans. Quantitative
measurements are done against the plans. An estimate is submitted. Bid is
won. Project is built. Pretty simple right? Ok, not exactly that simple.
Trust but verify. Check and recheck. Measure twice – cut once. All of these
may be overused clichés but isn’t it interesting that everyone follows them.
Companies want to do the best work for the least cost to get the most
profit. If so, then is duplicating work ever beneficial? The definitive
answer is yes! The best example of where replicating work pays off is the
takeoff. A takeoff done to sell the business is different than the takeoff
done to build the job. Not understanding this may mean the difference
between profitability and losing money.
An estimator’s responsibility is really that of sales. The takeoff and
pricing completed by the estimator are intended to cover all of the known
costs for the sole purpose of securing the contract. Generally speaking
there is a very short amount of time to gather all of the necessary
information available and complete the work to put together a winning bid.
Experience shows that almost never, no let’s be honest, NEVER is all of the
information for the project available to the estimator during the initial
takeoff and bid estimation.
If the project manager uses the estimator’s takeoff and budget as the
project benchmark the likelihood of success is limited. This is of course no
fault of the estimator, it is simply a result of ‘not knowing what you don’t
know’ at the time of the bid. A takeoff and bid used to sell the work is not
the same as a takeoff and budget used to build the job. Project managers
should complete their own analysis of the project. After winning the
contract, at a minimum a thorough review of the quantity takeoff as well as
the material and labor budget should be conducted. The best practice is for
the project manager to deploy value engineering to save on materials, labor,
Although Value Engineering (VE) has its roots in manufacturing it has been
utilized in the construction industry for a number of decades. Value
Engineering is a focused, innovative way to review project requirements to
achieve the end result at the lowest total cost over the life of the
project. It is not intended to be a process for a project manager to review
the work of a peer, such as an estimator, or purely that of a cost cutting
process. The earlier in the lifecycle of the project that VE is deployed the
higher the probability of project success. Value Engineering will save money
on materials, labor, and equipment.
Project managers who complete their own independent takeoff and pricing
exercise do so at a greater level of detail. There is more information
available to them and there is time to dive deeper into the project
specifications. Project managers that utilize this method achieve a higher
gross margin than those who don’t take the time to complete this exercise. A
project that begins with detailed scrutiny starts on solid ground for
avoiding cost overruns.
There really is no better way to learn and understand a project than to do a
takeoff and price it. The depth and level of understanding around a project
is significantly higher than reviewing someone else’s work on the project.
During this process the project manager may find anomalies or errors in the
original bid. If an error is found, the best time to identify the issue is
during the project set up not when the job is 20%, 30% or 50% complete. The
earlier the error is identified the lower the cost to resolve it and the
less impact it will have on other project phases.
Project managers should set a personal goal of finding, at minimum, a 5% -
10% cost saving as part of setting up the job. A thorough review of the
specifications should be included. There are risks or rewards that are found
in the specifications during the project manager’s takeoff that might have
been overlooked or did not exist at the time of the original bid. Specific
items that should be included in the project manager’s takeoff are material
substitutions, pre-ordering material at custom lengths, and potential
Extensive analysis before start of construction is to develop a construction
ready budget. The best budgets are collaborative, credible, and measurable.
This collaboration/teamwork starts between the estimator and the project
manager and is then carried on between the project manager and the site
foreman. The budget deliverables include: a color-coded takeoff, detailed
color-coded labor costs, a solution to keep track of the budget, reports for
additional material, scope, and change order updates. The takeoff and
pricing is done with the foreman. This collaboration ensures that when the
foreman receives the color coded plans and corresponding stock list and
labor budget, it is easier for him to track and manage the job. Unless the
project manager completes an independent takeoff, all of this information
would be built on what was known at the time of bid. And everyone knows that
is a far cry from the post-win process.
A takeoff is a takeoff trivializes the value of quantitative measurements
done after the contract is signed. Don’t take the easy way out which is also
the riskiest way out. Trust but verify. Check and recheck. Efficient and
accurate takeoffs result in effective winning bids. Detailed and documented
takeoffs result in on-time and profitable builds. So do the quantitative
measure twice – you won’t regret it.
M. Castelli is Vice President of Operations for On Center Software, Inc. Mr.
Castelli’s responsibilities include Direct Sales, Channel Partners,
Marketing, and R&D. In addition, he serves on the firm’s executive Vision
Team, a think tank for the future of construction automation.