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So what does it take to be a good estimator?  Being great with numbers?  Having a desire to color on drawings all day?  There are a few key traits I have found in my career that really separate the great estimators from the rest of them.  Let's recall how I defined an estimator's job as: finding the lowest cost solution to the project as would be acceptable to the client while identifying the potential pitfalls and risks of the project to others.  I am aware that this definition is probably a little short of some you definitions, since in some organizations the person Estimating is also doing sales, but those are two different jobs, so I would like to keep the separated.

Review the Job (Don't just Start Counting)
If as an estimator we need to find the lowest cost solution, we really need to understand the project.  This is not a minor detail, as time is always our worst enemy.  Like a General going into battle, stand on the hill and survey the situation, don't just going running down into battle.  The great estimators I have seen spend about 10% of the total time to estimate reviewing the project with no takeoff.  This allows them to understand the entire project and also allows them to get inside the Owner's head as to why they are doing things.

Find an Acceptable Fast Take-Off Approximation
I am going to say that the most routine and easiest part of the estimator's job is quantity survey or take-off.  This is not where the job is won and even with the most precise and time consuming methods out there, remember that this is only an estimate.  To believe that you can be that exact in a short period of time is being naive.  So you should come up with some methodology that will allow you to approximate as quickly as possible.  Always test this techniques with your peers and superiors to ensure that the science is sound.

Utilize an Estimating Software Platform that is Easy
Estimating software can be cumbersome quickly and can take a significant portion of your time.  In reality you actually only need it to do calculations for you and have a database of materials.  The rest of the functionality like database price updating, price break-outs, charts, etc. are just good to have.  Don't get caught up in more functionality that then takes more time.

Analyze Your Bid
As estimators, their are typically other(s) that come in and review the final number and approve of what we have done, which is not always a good thing.  Don't get me wrong I am not against people reviewing estimates, but too many times I see the estimator come in with no review done, since it will be done in the meeting.  A bid review by management is not a replacement for an estimator's personal review.  This is the most important step!!!  Analyze what you are doing.  Is the number right, can we route something differently to save money, is there value engineering, what if I got that item quoted by subcontractor in lieu of self performing, I wonder if my client picked that up too, etc..  In the traditional bid review the discussion is more about did you get everything estimated and what margin should we go out at, where as your personal review can be about all of the other difficult parts to your job.  If you are not reviewing the job alone, you are setting yourself up for failure, it is that simple.

Remember, being an estimator is a difficult job which requires learning, processing, and pricing a job typically in a few days or weeks.  However, if there is a systematic process to your madness, there is no reason every job cannot be done by a Great Estimator.

About the Author

Craig Pierce

Craig Pierce has been working in the construction industry for the past 25 years helping subcontractors master their trade. Currently he is President of Atalanta Enterprises which provides consulting services to contractors And software solutions through