Digital Dryshack: Estimating Software Survey

I was intrigued by the request from Houston Neal of, to comment on his company's estimating software survey. As it was a topic near and dear to us and right in our wheelhouse, so I agreed. The link to the survey  follows at the conclusion, but first a few comments: The survey had a surprising number of participants by contractors earning < $5 mm/year, (almost half of the roughly 100 who participated), and about half as many were firms with > $ 100 mm, so the sample seems reasonably representative of the market as a whole, and sufficiently diverse to produce useful results. One number that didn't surprise was the leading estimating sofware isn't estimating software at all, but good ol' spreadsheets...(still)....and yet... While I did say not surprising, it is in my opinion, more proof that we are in a very conservative industry, even to a fault. For all the forward-looking companies who embrace BIM, Tablets & Time Capture technologies, there are 2 or 3 who still use spreadsheets to estimate, and paper for Daily Reports & Timesheets. As the presdient of a construction technology consulting firm, it never ceases to amaze me how backward-looking some of us are. [...]

Java Error in Primavera P6 Install – unable to access jarfile

A java error came up in the middle of a standalone Primavera P6 install for a client. We had just finished installing SQL 2008 and were running the database setup. When we would go to launch the database file we received the error: "unable to access jarfile lid\dbmt.jar” We examined the batch file, tried re-naming the pointed directories, modifying java settings, re-downloading Primavera P6 install files, and a host of other things. Nothing worked and we put the project on hold until the next day when it could be approached with a clear head. Thankfully, we were able to solve the problem when we resumed in the morning. The fix? Change your windows preferences to un-hide the “hidden folders.” Even though the java (jar) files were on the computer, they were hidden, and the batch file couldn’t run, which produced the jarfile and java home errors. Once we changed the setting, the install worked perfectly. To unhide your windows folders: Open Windows Explorer On your keyboard press the Alt key Go to Tools ---> Folder Options On the View tab, under Files and Folders, Click the bubble for “Show Hidden Files, Folders, and Drives” Full disclaimer that this fix won’t [...]

Digital Dryshack: Every Job is Different…or is it?

Every Job is Different. (Wait a minute...or is every job the same?) This issue is one we hear frequently from our clients, often as we attempt to standardize processes in construction operations, estimating, and project management. While the statement that every job is different is undeniably true, it's equally true that every job includes the same fundamental approach, requiring a similar set of procedures and methodology. I would argue that a difficult demo and remodel project is more similar to a new construction project than it is different. How so? Construction is still construction, and at the end of the day, the steps are the same. Bid qualification, subcontractor and vendor notification, estimate preparation and submission are components of every bid. Project scheduling, mob, construction, documentation, cost management, closeout, and demob are necessary activities that must be planned and executed efficiently, in order to achieve a good outcome. So rather than focus on the differences that set projects apart from one another, pay attention to their similarities, in order to streamline your company's process and methodology.

2017-01-14T08:23:29+00:00 By |Consulting, Digital Dry Shack Blog|

Feature of Work (FOW) Specs For Army Corp Projects in Primavera P6

Dealing with Feature of Work (FOW) for Army Corp Projects in Primavera P6 One issue that we have come across in developing a schedule for an Army Corp Project in P6 is how to treat the Feature of Work (FOW) in the Corp specs.   Often the Corp states three FOWs in the spec, for example FOW1, FOW2, and FOW3.  This will only work in P3, if you try to use them in P6, they will not carryover in the SDEF conversion.  This is because Primavera P6 is programmed to only allow specific Activity Codes in the SDEF Conversion.  They are: WRKP RESP AREA MODF BIDI PHAS CATW FOW Any deviation, for example an activity code named TEST, or the old P3 codes FOW1, FOW2, FOW3, will not export to SDEF! Also important to note, the spec will probably state that the FOW length should be 30 characters.  People report issues because Primavera P6 only allows a max of 20 characters.  However, in the SDEF conversion P6 is programmed to import the Code Description, not the Code Value for FOW only.  This means the max characters you set in P6 for FOW is moot in the SDEF export because it ignores the code.  The [...]

Digital Dryshack: Sage SQL Estimating first look

We got our first look at Sage Estimating's sql server product, coded version 11.2. Its most significant advantage is its modern database engine, (Microsfot SQL), which eliminates Sage Timberline's  Pervasive albatross of the last 10 years. (I hear rousing applause from contractors' IT departments around the country.) With that improvement comes a seismic shift in an estimator's definitions of familiar concepts such as files and databases. Estimates are no longer contained in the standalone Windows files we're used to. They now reside merely as data "blobs" in the overall database. Think of the sql database as a data "cloud" that resides on a company's server. All  estimates are now contained within that cloud. Sound chaotic? Actually it's not. Each project still has its own distinct identity within that "cloud", and can be viewed, and even exported as a separate element. The new estimating suite includes a Estimating Management Console & Data Migration tool in addition to its core estimating program. The Management Module. We were able to smoothly migrate our databases into sql using the migration tool with no issues. The management module gave us an Explorer-like console to view the individual project estimates. This early pre-release version doesn't contain any [...]

Network Estimating vs. Standalone

Network Estimating is better than Standalone Estimating.  Follow our best practices for network estimating, you will be happy 99.6% of the time. I noticed a sudden flood of emails cascading frantically across my screen a week or so ago. One of our clients was experiencing the pain of a network outage with the estimating, takeoff, and scheduling systems on a Monday morning. Not a pleasant way to start off a week to be sure. The emails kept coming, sizzling and becoming more caustic by the hour. The system was down for slightly over six hours, which kept the department scrambling like a grammar school at its first fire-drill, trying to figure out ways to squeeze some productivity out of its collective time. All our usual techniques, restarting license server programs, bouncing servers, and our trusted, tried and true troubleshooting efforts were frustrating and fruitless. When all was said and done, it turned out to be the result of an IT system changeover during the weekend. With apologies, the skilled info systems guys admitted the error upon discovery, and they got us back up and running in time for the last couple hours of the shift. The Network Naysayers proudly rode [...]

Digital Dryshack, vol.1 #2: Back to Basics: use paper

Use paper? Not exactly a comment you'd expect to hear in the Digital Dryshack. But it's often key to solving one of the most common issues we hear from the customers of Cassell Consulting: Clean up the Estimating Database. This odious task takes lots of time, and yes, lots of paper too. Here's a technique I learned many years ago from Mark Reich, one of the bright minds then of Timberline, now of Dexter Chaney. Here are four simple steps (note I didn't say easy), that make up our"three pen method" of database cleanup: Step 1: Print the database items. I recommend exporting this list to Excel, where it's easy to control which fields print and which don't, as well as font pitch and line spacing. Then print on paper the separate reports by Division, so it's easier to measure progress. This is going to take awhile, and it's good to bite off doable chunks. Step 2: Red Pen (Delete items): Draw a line through the items that aren't necessary, for your company's successful estimating style. Then use the database editing tool built within the software, (or better yet ODBC), and delete those items. Step 3: Green Pen (Add items): [...]

2017-01-14T08:23:29+00:00 By |Consulting, Digital Dry Shack Blog|

The Digital Dryshack, vol.1, #1: Tech marches on

The Digital Dryshack for March 15 Welcome to the Digital Dryshack, the first post under our new name, (in actuality post #40). Hence the vol. 1, #1 title. Pop quiz: See if you can find a term that doesn't fit in with the others: BIM. The Cloud. iPad. Android. Smart Phone. App Store. Construction. Construction? Nope, the correct answer to that question is "None of the Above." Yep, our traditional, conservative, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" industry is under full-on, frontal attack by the relentless, irrepressible march of Technology. In case you didn't notice,  the solid underpinnings of the way our industry has done business for generations is passing quickly, right before our eyes. TME, The Military Engineer magazine, had an excellent article last month, "BIM meets the Cloud." Its author aruged that BIM's real potential reaches far beyond its well-known strengths of clash detection and visualization capabilities, all the way to multi-lingual global bid solicitation to facility lifecycle management. A lot of us are just getting used to the idea that we can see a building's interior before it's built. And along comes a guy who predicts bidding on a job on a set of digital plans [...]

2017-01-14T08:23:29+00:00 By |Consulting, Digital Dry Shack Blog|

Busy Winter

It's been a busy month here at Cassell Consulting. I've been overseas and  back on a training assignment for US Cost to three U.S. Naval bases in Europe. My assignment was to provide  five two-day US Cost Success Estimator sessions: one in Catania (Sicily), one in Rota (Spain), and three in Naples (Italy). The DOD demand for construction in Europe is robust, with a strong backlog of projects on the books.  Working with civilian engineers, most of whom are on two- to three-year assignments abroad offered me a small taste of the life of an expatriate. I'm ready to sign up. Most of those I worked with were enjoying the multi-cultural experience, had learned a foreign language (or two), and were content in their new country, knowing it was of fixed duration and that they'd be returning to the United States upon completing their contract. By the time  the plane was descending into Seattle some three and a half weeks after my departure, I truly wondered why I was back in the Pacific Northwest, as it had become my new norm to be half the world away. Since I've been back, we've been working on a variety of interesting projects [...]

Reconcile Bi-Directional Currency Conversions in US Cost

While training NAVFAC cost engineers in Japan last month I ran into an interseting scenario with Currency Conversions in US Cost. Some of the items (primarily local materials) were priced in Yen, while others imported from RS Means were in dollars. I envisioned merging multiple estimates after first converting all the items in the "Dollars to Yen" estimate to Yen, so that everything would be priced in the same currency before combining into one estimate. This turned out to be unnecessary, as Success Estimator can handle different lines in different currencies. The trick is to select the baseline currency, and convert only those items in a different currency to the one used for the estimate totals. Takeway: All items in the estimate must total to the one common currency, but different lines can be in any currency. Just make sure that all the items in a single line use the same currency, and then convert the entire line, if it doesn't match the currency the Estimate Total's currency