The New Estimator
By Dan Frondorf, CPE
For many in my profession, traditional roles and duties have developed into
something that “old school” estimators wouldn’t necessarily recognize. Maybe
a better verb for the previous sentence would be “transformed”, or perhaps
more appropriately, “evolved”. It isn’t uncommon for the modern day
estimator to wear even more hats than they always have. We’ve always had to
have some of the same skills that other professionals have, even those
outside of the construction industry. Sharing skills with architects,
engineers, lawyers, and accountants has always been critical to the success
of the estimator, but what we do with those skills is what has changed,
particularly in the past 10 years.
It’s not enough anymore to simply review plans and specs, perform takeoffs,
and assemble a cost estimate (and eventually a bid, quote, or budget) from
the information derived from those processes. The modern estimator has
evolved into a risk manager, a negotiator….a “pre-construction specialist”,
and often a “post pre-construction manager as well”. Depending on their
employer and the type of projects they chase, and on the project delivery
method, many estimators are involved in projects long before they ever break
ground, during construction, and until the owner takes occupancy. This is
especially true in the design-build delivery method, and the construction
management method as well. Negotiating with subs prior to bid day and during
buy-out, and managing those subs once construction starts have become common
duties. These are some of the duties that have been traditionally performed
by project managers, but it seems as if project management is the job of the
estimator in many companies. Some refer to this as “eating what you kill”,
but whatever it’s called, it adds new responsibilities to the job
description of the estimator, almost rendering the job title obsolete.
“Estimator” has always had a pre-construction connotation to it, but it
seems less relevant today.
Why are we seeing this in our profession? Are contractors and CM firms
wanting to live with fewer employees, or is the nature of the business
forcing this change? Did the economic downturn of 2007-2010 force employers
to learn to do more with less, and now that the construction economy is
definitely on its way back up, have they gotten used to the smaller staffs?
Have they learned that having the same staffers involved all the way through
the lifecycle of the project is good for the performance of the whole team,
and perhaps leading to safer, better managed, and more profitable jobs? Or
have the skills of estimators simply been better harnessed to provide more
value to the employer…..have our employers finally wised up to how talented
we really are? I’d love to believe that is true.
There still exists a need for estimators on the purely cost predictive side
of the equation. Budgeting, feasibility studies, and go/no-go decisions
still rely heavily on the skills of the estimator, especially those who
shouldn’t have a role in the post bidding phase. The pre-construction phase
still needs cold hard facts on which financial decisions can be based, so I
don’t think the traditional estimator will ever completely fade away. As
estimators employed by contractors are more likely to have these new
construction management duties thrust upon them, many owners and CM firms
are realizing the value of the independent estimating consultant who can
provide the cold hard facts they need to make those decisions. This is what
makes me excited about my particular niche of the construction and
engineering world. Independents can provide necessary services very cost
effectively, and very objectively as well – we have no horse in the race
that depends on winning a bid to help keep the lights on, so owners can be
assured that their budgets are as unbiased as possible.
In summary, the estimator as we knew it might be a thing of the past.
Students studying to be construction managers by and large have no interest
in being “estimators” upon graduation, and I don’t think it’s simply because
of the long held misconceptions that estimating is boring, monotonous, or
even “uncool” – I think it’s because they realize the traditional roles and
duties of bid prep are outdated and not in line with current expectations of
employers. I also think we’ll see a greater utilization of consultants in
the future. As a profession, we have to understand how the industry is
changing and we have to figure out how to adapt to the new expectations.
Expecting it to stay the same, to meet the traditional roles and duties of
the past, will only lead to us being left behind and “what was”.
About the author: Daniel Frondorf is president of DG Frondorf and
Associates LLC, VCEF and a member of ASPE and CERT. You can reach him at email@example.com.