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DD# 74: Notes from the Floor, World of Concrete 2015

A first-rate trade show such as World of Concrete in Las Vegas is one of the better investments we think a company can make. It's an excellent opportunity to plug in to the latest and greatest tools, equipment, and technology that shape our industry. This year marks the 4th year of continued growth in attendance, coinciding with the continuing economic recovery in construction. I spent most of my time in the technology section, (no surprise), in the Central Hall of the Convention Center. I was primarily interested in what our partners were doing, as well in checking out the show as a whole. It's a daunting task to take in an exhibition of this size. Over a thousand vendors are displaying their best products, a dizzying array of attractions simultaneously competing for your attention. I attended only 2 days of the 4 day show this year, a shorter commando campaign compared to the full meal deal of past years. Back then I stayed the entire duration, affording the opportunity to take advantage of some of the excellent educational seminars on estimating, business management, and team-building, to name a few. Some quick highlights from the floor: ProEst's CEO Jeff Gerardi tells [...]

Digital Dryshack: ENR Future Tech conference 2012: Future of Construction Technology

We just returned from ENR Future Tech conference in San Francisco, which was mainly geared to future technology in the construction industry. My goals for Rob & me were to make us think, and to generate ideas to help us provide more valuable services, with a higher level of expertise and broadened perspective, to our clientele. I wasn't disappointed. A quick 30,000 foot overview of only a few highlights from its lightng-fast program: Brian David Johnson, (Intel Corp.) futurist, on (what else?) the future: "you can't let the future happen to you." "First, Understand what people want to do in the future...next, use...(a defined) Process to figure out what is necessary to get there." (Timeline of computing): "Compute Moves to Zero" mainframe- mini-workstation-pc-laptop-mobile-ubiquitous 1960       - 1970   - 1980    -1990 -2000   -2010  - 2020 "How can we free up people to be better?" ----------------- David Brown, (D. Brown Management), on targeting and achieving worthwhile change within a construction firm's culture: "Tech is a process; there is no end." (beware of) ...."change fatigue...resistance to too much change..." (we see this often in our work with contractors) Do mini-implelmentations, 4-week turnarounds. ask, "can the benefit be quicly summarized?" [...]

Five Predictions for 2012

-- Five predictions for 2012: 1. The construction economy will improve by 10% from 2011. 2. Tablet computers will replace laptops in construction field offices 3. BIM software will continue its growth 4. The stock market will hit a new historical high 5. President Obama will be reelected. 1. Call me Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farms, or blame my irrepressible optimism, but I see signs of the construction economy creaking slowly towards growth in the coming year. Without vast improvement in any one area, I see slight easing in lending, resulting in the private money faucet cranked ever so slightly more open, and government spending continuing at close to its current rate, (but falling slightly). Housing will sputter along with slight increases as well. This confluence of factors will precipitate a modest but clear improvement in the construction economy in 2012. 2. Netbooks are dead, laptops are cumbersome, and ultralight notebooks are too flimsy for the jobsite. That leaves tablet computers standing alone as the growth engine for data collection in the field for time-keeping, daily reports, and yes, even scheduling. Apps are being written daily for our industry. Oracle | Primavera plans an iPad app for its P6 flagship product [...]

Mid-Summer Update

This summer has been uncharacteristically busy, a good thing. Our 5-year strategic plan dictates that we expand our consulting services and resources, and we're doing that now. Some of those changes: We're pleased to add Rob Mazoros to our consulting team. Ron has extensive IT experience, including networking, custom programming and report writing. Additionally Ron is trained in Hard Dollar estimating software, and worked for years in California doing Timberline consulting. Rob just finished up a database upgrade for Rushforth Construction in Tacoma for us, including cross-indexing to both Masterformat '95 & 2010. He  is also working with us on building assemblies for an Anchorage client. We are fortunate that Rob and his family moved from Northern California to the Pacific Northwest, and joined Cassell Consulting in June. Welcome, Rob! We're adding Hard Dollar Estimating to our quiver of estimating products and support. Barry is attending training in Phoenix in mid-August to enable us to sell and service Hard Dollar, the well-known Civil / Sitework / Utilities estimating and project management system. We're working on adding BIM components to our products and services, with Beck Technology's D-Profiler, and Innovaya's Revit-to-Estimating interface. Plans are to adopt those late summer / early fall. [...]

How to Gain Job site Productivity in Two Words

Manage Better! (duh) I am an ENR-junkie, a habit I strongly advise for anyone interested in the construction industry. This morning's articles included a thoughtful one on productivity in construction. Its title? "Don't Blame the Workers." It's a standard office water cooler topic that those lazy s.o.b.'s out on the job site screwed up someone's (allegedly excellent) estimate through laziness, extended coffee & lunch breaks, standing around, etc. In fact, research clearly shows that workers out on the job aren't the primary cause for lost productivity. Most problems are due to poor project management planning: late material deliveries, inadequate or unclear task priorities, inefficient job site materials handling logistics, etc. Chris Heger, a superintendent for Turner Construction, says it this way: "I try to set them up for success rather than trying to avoid failure." In a nutshell that's the key for job site productivity. The guys on the site have been making their living working their craft for any number of years, know what they're doing, and take pride in their work. It's up to us to organize well, communicate well, and continually work toward achieving excellence, or as my carpenter-partner Vic used to say, "work towards zero." It's [...]

CSI Masterformat 2010 Sample Cost Codes

Most general contracting firms use the CSI Masterformat coding scheme for their cost codes, to generally match project specifications. For any General Contractor contemplating revising its cost codes, we strongly recommend using the 2004/2010 Masterformat, (50 Divisions), rather than the tried and true 1995 Masterformat (16 Divisions). Time marches on, and despite the familiarity and comfort zone of the old format, the new system is gradually replacing the familiar one. Don't make the mistake of  ignoring this progression (unless you're retiring next year). We've recently worked on job cost codes for two of our clients. We're sharing a more generic list of 2010 Masterformat Sample Cost Codes here, as a guideline for mid & smaller GC's. It's no secret that without solid historical job cost reporting, companies fail to close the information loop critical to profitability and effective company management. This sample set of codes is only that, and each company will require its own focused differences from this list. We're offering this up simply to help provide a good start. In our experience designing Job Cost systems over the past 15 years, we find between 200 to 500 codes is a realistic number. The trick is to find that balance point [...]

If it seems like it’s getting worse, it’s because it is

All the smart guys predicted the downturn would last through the end of 2010. So that means it should be getting better, right? Wrong. AGC's recently published  market data lend perspective to that vague hollow feeling that we have all learned to live with over the past few years. Material prices are up sharply this year, a full 4%  in just these three short months of the new year. Contract price? You guessed it, dead flat, (at historical ten-year lows). Volume? right again, down. (1.4% from last year's abysmal numbers). I don't know how it is your company, but we're pretty tired of this ever-worsening, bottomless recession.  I tend to lean toward optimism even in trying circumstances, but these times test even the most cheeful of us. If you have any good news, please send it along, we'd love to share some. In the meantime, all we can do is hang in there. Vin Scully, the hall of fame Dodger's broadcaster would remind us, "only suckers beef." Well said. I'll stick with my optimism, and head back to work.

Estimator’s notebook- January

We've been fortunate to be very busy throughout the last quarter, with the advantages and disadvantages inherent in a packed work schedule. On the one hand, it's our favorite problem to have, although it's been very difficult to keep up and produce the volume of work we've landed. On the other side, perspective is tough to achieve when you're giving it all you've got in the trenches, just trying to get the work done. Having solid strategic partnerships is critical in these situations, and we're fortunate to be able to count on some truly talented resources. Stenstrom Group Inc., N-Visions LLC, and PCATT are among those who have provided us with crucial support in these trying times. Stenstrom Group Inc is the authorized Oracle | Primavera Business Partner for the Pacific Northwest and Pacific Rim. Through SGI we represent Oracle | Primavera in one of our core markets, supporting NAVFAC and US Army Corps of Engineers contractors. We work together to meet the demand for software, training, and scheduling services as NAVFAC and the Corps are adopting P6 to replace the now-obsolete SureTrak and P3 for their projects.  Why Projects Fail is a link to a useful white paper I [...]

In Retrospect- Tough ’10, Uncertain ’11

Here we are in mid-December 2010, hard to believe another year has come and (nearly) gone. For good measure, we're in the second year of the second decade of the Twenty-First Century, A.D. Time flies when you're having fun- or are we? To say the year's been difficult for construction is obvious. Nonetheless we know companies doing very well in spite of the general economy and the sad state of lending that's holding back private construction. Department of Defense and Economic Stimulus work are still propping up most of the work that we're involved with. Small business set-asides and 8-A contractors are enjoying advantaged positions on highly-profitable work. We're still seeing public construction going at deep discounts, as good companies are  taking turns "winning" jobs seemingly at cost or 1-2% margins. It's clearly an unsustainable pattern that can't continue. It can't continue, right? (Please tell us it can't continue). We are grateful in our small niche that business is up considerably from last year. Those companies with the wherewithal to be profitable through the recession are tweaking their systems, improving productivity and process to stay a step ahead, which has helped us. The SAME conference in Seattle back in October revealed the [...]

Job Costing – the quest for accuracy a.k.a., “what really happened on the site?”

Job Costing is the third crucial element in the "Golden Triangle" of Construction Operations: (Estimating / Project Management & Execution / Job Cost Accounting). We need to do all three extremely well in order to justify the risk we routinely take in the contracting business. For this article, I'm going to focus on the heart of that risk, self-performed labor. How well does your company account for what happens onsite? The answer is inexorably tied to our old friend and nemesis, level of detail. If cost codes are too high-level, (i.e., "concrete formwork" for a company that does a lot of it), you're mixing oranges, apples, and likely squashes and rutabagas into a mix that becomes so bland that the individual important flavors are unrecognizable. In plain english, that information is useless because it covers too many different types of work, all with different productivity factors. If cost codes are too detailed, (i.e., "staking slab forms", separate from "placing slab forms", separate from "stripping slab  forms"), you're gathering minutiae, and even worse, placing the guys in the jobshack doing timesheets in the position of having to lie to you. Why's that, you ask?  Because they can't possibly cost code to [...]