Construction Monkey

Construction Monkey Blog

For those of us in the construction industry, we know the Estimators that are more cynical than the average Joe.  They appear to be more prevalent than the fun loving young estimator.  The duties of an Estimator change that fun loving young kid into the cynic through years of performing one of the most difficult jobs in construction.  So what makes it such a difficult job?

The most difficult part of being an estimator is the "lose-lose" options available on bid day.  In today's difficult market almost everything is bid with a decent amount of competition.  So as an estimator you are tasked with two major goals: cover all of our costs (don't miss anything) and win the project.  After the project has bid, there will be one of two questions for the Estimator:

  • Why did you not win that job? OR
  • How did you beat those guys? What did you leave out?

Not a very good position to be as the Estimator.  If the Estimator does not have thick skin, they will develop it in a few short months.

Another factor that toughens up our Estimator population is the rigid deadlines and high stress environment of bid day.  When bid day arrives bids are due at a specific time and place and in a specific manner.  For a lot of projects there are no exceptions for family problems, printer problems, misreading the documents, guessing on what they expected, traffic, or getting lost.  If you don't meet the requirements, two to four weeks of work is out the window.  In the other pricing parts of our industry (service work, change orders) there is a lot more latitude, but not for Estimators.  This pressure compounds with Executives, Project Managers, and Superintendents that may be on a different schedule and do not understand the urgency of the matter at hand.  This is not to mention the affect that vendors have on their price and schedule.  The entire of event of bid day is a pressure cooker that will scar the most battle ready employees.

Let's talk job performance beyond bid day.  Estimators by nature take ownership positions in the projects they pursue.  If they did not, they would not win many projects and would not last that long.  That ownership position does not stop at winning the project, they want the projects they estimate to be won, to be built, to be profitable, and to ensure that they have a happy client.  For most Estimators, they only have direct responsibility for the first item of winning the project.  After that the project is handed off to a Project Manager that has to perform the rest of the functions.  When a project doesn't go very well after award, some Estimators will either put the burden on themselves that should have done more, or they will blame their teammates.

A last factor to consider is the quality of their work as viewed by their peers.  Since a lot of construction companies put financial responsibility and even bonuses on Project Manager's ability to bring projects in profitability, there is a tendency of Project Managers isolating every mistake an Estimator might have made.  Remember that the bid period is a few weeks, yet that Estimator stands forever in time for everyone to analyze.  If you are a craftsman and install a light fixture in the wrong location, you can relocate it and the evidence of the mistake is gone from view, but if you are an Estimator who misses a light fixture count the print out of the estimate is always available.  This continual job review by peers, bosses, and many other parties makes estimating very difficult.

So why would anyone be an Estimator?  If you are good, you only win 1 in every 4 jobs, but in today's market it is more like 1 in 6 or 1 in 10.  Estimators are the cream of the crop.  They are unique.  They need math skills, strategy skills, reading comprehension, visualization skills, and most of all thick skin.  No construction company can survive without good estimators.  They take a beating day in and day out and keep coming back for more.  I think it is important for everyone in the business to understand how difficult the job is so they can understand and support them as best they can.  And what type of support are more estimators looking for?  With the daily pressure of the job, just a little appreciation for a job well done.  So go out and hug your Estimator today!

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