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Balancing Act: Navigating the Challenges of Preconstruction

Julie Huval, FSMPS, CPSM, Head of Marketing, BECK Technology

Balancing Act: Navigating the Challenges of Preconstruction

Posted: June 29, 2023 | Project Management

One of the biggest challenges in preconstruction is not seeing the forest because we are stuck in the trees. While working on specific projects, you may get so caught up in specific project details (i.e., the trees) that you lose sight of the larger context (i.e., the forest). To be an effective and efficient preconstruction leader, you need to be able to balance working on individual projects while also overseeing the broader picture of the construction company’s operations.

As a preconstruction leader, your role requires you to possess a diverse skill set in comprehending the various aspects of a construction project. This encompasses tasks such as analyzing multiple plans and specifications, assembling a list of potential subcontractors, creating bid lists, coordinating with subcontractors, attending meetings with preconstruction and operations teams, and managing time efficiently.

In addition to working on the trees (i.e., the projects right in front of you), you are also expected to oversee the forest. That means understanding what new tools are being used by preconstruction teams, how estimating processes can be improved, re-thinking how you are storing project data, and a multitude of high-level tactics that are beneficial for your company in the long run.

Estimating is not just about crunching numbers and delivering a bid: It requires a deep understanding of the construction process and an ability to communicate effectively with everyone involved in the project. The reality is, it is easy to get overwhelmed with the amount of information you need to digest, and it can be challenging to maintain a consistent pace throughout the workday. What can you do to mitigate the balancing act of focusing on the project in front of you while also working on the business side of preconstruction?

Hard-bid vs. Negotiated

It’s understandable to feel overwhelmed and burnt out, particularly if you’re working on hard-bid type projects. Hard-bids can be incredibly stressful, as you have limited time to vet bids, align scopes, and adjust before turning in your number. Not to mention the emotional toll of putting everything you have into a project for weeks, only to be told that you didn’t have the low number and that it was all for nothing. The pressure can be immense.

If you have an opportunity to work for a company that only does negotiated work, you will have a much different experience. Negotiated work allows for more time and flexibility to vet bids, align scopes, and adjust before turning in your number. Additionally, you will be engaged in the design process early on, so you see the drawings develop; being a part of the design phase is a huge advantage for estimators and leads to a lot less stress. It’s rewarding to see designers implement a change you recommended at the concept stage into the final design. It’s also more fulfilling because you feel like you were a part of that building’s creation and not just another invoice for the project owner.

Highly Functioning Teams

It’s also essential to be part of a highly functioning team. Being part of a group of individuals in the same department is not the same as being part of a true preconstruction team. A highly functioning team is one where everyone has a role and works together to achieve a common goal. Delegating appropriate portions of the scope/project to competent team members is the best way to fully digest and address a set of plans and specifications for a project. It’s unrealistic to expect a single estimator to handle every scope on a full set of construction drawings at GMP. When you are part of a highly functioning team, the workload is shared, and everyone works together to achieve the common goal of delivering a quality project.

Part of the highly functioning teams also includes subcontractors. A bad subcontractor can make your estimating efforts so much more stressful than necessary. Building a good relationship with subcontractors will ensure you have a full highly functioning team that you trust, everyone is on the same page for the project scope and expectations, and you can lean on them during important project milestones.

Efficiency with Technology

 In addition, technology can also help streamline the estimating process and make it more manageable. There are many software tools available that can help automate certain tasks — such as takeoffs, scoping bids, and building estimates. These tools can save time and reduce errors, allowing you to focus on the more complex aspects of the job.

Some estimating platforms are also focused on data analysis, cost history, and have built-in efficiencies to reduce your workload. Wherever you are doing manual data entry or feel like you are on a search-and-rescue mission to find one line item in your estimate, there is estimating software that has removed those tedious tasks. Why focus on the estimating trees/limbs/twigs when there are tech platforms meant for overseeing the forest?!

By using modern estimating technology, you can focus on the more complex and critical aspects of the job, such as analyzing data, developing strategies, and making critical decisions. This can lead to more accurate estimates, reduced workload, and greater efficiency in the estimation process. Estimators who focus on the more critical aspects of their projects have resulted in more precise estimates and a more manageable workload.

Time Management Expert

An estimating career is not for the weary. Most preconstruction professionals are not working on one project at a time. They are working on several and all are at different stages of preconstruction. Seasoned estimators understand how critical time management is to their success and to the success of their company. Compartmentalizing each segment of preconstruction will allow you to review the details, deadlines, and requirements thoroughly. Being highly organized with your files, thoughts, notes, and meetings will allow you to quickly recall details on the fly.

As a construction estimator, managing your time effectively is crucial for ensuring that projects are completed on time and within budget. Four time management tips that can help you improve your productivity and efficiency include:

1. Set aside specific blocks of time for each task you need to complete and stick to that time block.
2. Identify the most critical tasks on your to-do list and tackle them first.
3. Minimize distractions.
4.Take regular breaks. Regular breaks actually help you be more productive in the long run.

Estimating is not just about crunching numbers and delivering a bid; it requires a deep understanding of the construction process and an ability to communicate effectively with everyone involved in the project. By using these strategies, you can overcome the challenges of preconstruction and become successful in your career. Ultimately, the key to success lies in finding a balance between the details of individual projects and the big picture of the construction company’s operations.

About Beck Technology: Beck Technology is a software development company servicing the construction industry. The company, based in Dallas, Texas, was founded in 1996 by a third-generation owner of a general contractor. He knew if technology could solve common preconstruction problems earlier, there would be much better project alignment thanks to easy access to data as well as eliminate construction delays and cost overruns. Beck Technology offers a suite of products under DESTINI: design estimation integration initiative. For more information, visit www.beck-technology.com.

About Julie Huval, FSMPS, CPSM is the Head of Marketing at BECK Technology. She is a contributing author to a number of industry publications and is a frequent public speaker on marketing, business and technology.

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