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 [...]
I received a question from an estimator while working in Anchorage last week, common to all estimating systems. The process is the same, regardless of whether your company uses WinEst, US Cost Success Estimator, Timberline Estimating, or any other software we know of. Example: you've selected an item from the database, such as 3-5/8" steel stud partitions with drywall, and you'd like to change the unit of measure from square feet to lineal feet, and insert the productivity based on LF. You've opened the Detail screen to make the adjustment, but the unit won't change. Why not? The solution: Close the Detail screen, and change the unit in the Takeoff Unit column first. Then adjust the Takeoff Quantity and Labor Production IMMEDIATELY! By definition, those values must be incorrect as you've changed the unit of measure. First, change the Quantity based on the appropriate conversion between the original and new Takeoff unit. Then reopen the Detail view and modify the Labor Productivity for the new unit. In Timberline Estimating and US COST Success you won't have to close the Detail view to change the Takeoff Quantity, but you will in WinEst. In all three, the Labor Productivity can be changed on [...]
In the course of our day to day activities we work with a variety of estimating software, and On Screen Takeoff is one that we see often at client sites. OST is estimating system "agnostic", that is, it works just as well for companies using Excel as it does for companies using Timberline Estimating, WinEst, and US Cost Success. OST is an efficient takeoff utility, but I find some companies taking extra time with each takeoff because they don't know how to use some of OST's built-in time saving tools. Here's a couple tips that will save you time using On Screen Takeoff: Use Layers, and assign nearly all Conditions to Default Layer. Then create and use just a few additional Layers. I recommend creating "Layer 2" and "Layer 3". (I'm personally not a fan of Layers named for Interior Walls, Exterior Walls, and other Condition-based Layers). Then assign some Conditions to these alternate Layers, as needed to clearly differentiate elements when the Takeoff screen gets cluttered. It's an easy matter to switch the Layer assigned to a Condition temporarily to either isolate, or show its relationship to other current conditions. (Simply doubleclick to open the Condition, and choose a [...]
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 [...]
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.
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 [...]
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 [...]
An age-old issue in construction estimating is determining the "right" level of detail in the estimate. In my 30 years of estimating construction projects, it's a question I still deal with, and am not convinced I've found the answer yet. I've spent years on both sides on this chicken-and-egg question. One side subrcribes to the the idea that a well-designed estimating system can and should develop a full materials list right from the initial estimate. Full-featured estimating database systems such as Timberline, WinEst, and US Cost have detail databases with assemblies fully capable of doing so. But is it efficient on bid day to have that low-level material information in the bid day spreadsheet, when all you're doing is pricing subs and vendor quotes, and verifying scope with the bid clock ticking and the pressure on? The other camp wants to know why you would clutter up your estimate with that extraneous detail, when we're only successful on one in ten anyway. Less is more on bid day, and cut length framing lumber and steel studs, sheets of plywood and drywall are only in the way, distracting crucial focus at the critical moment an important sub price comes in with [...]
We recently completed indexing an Island GC's Hawaii and Guam databases to CSI Masterformat '04 using WBS codes. This allows estimates to be viewed and sorted in either the traditional 16-division Masterformat (MF) '95 sequence, or the new MF '04 48-division system. We also designed accompanying Item Sort Sequences, so Takeoff can be done in either format as well. We've done this for several clients over the last few years, and find most US Government projects and even a fair share of private AE firms using the new numbering sequence. The primary decision is whether to re-index the entire phase code scheme, (Timberline Estimating's primary database index), or to simply use WBS codes for MF '04 sorting. Either way you get the best of both worlds in your estimate sort sequences and reports. It typically requires one to three days' effort depending on the method selected and the complexity of the phase coding structure. Please email or call us for more information on getting your company's database MF-04 compliant.
We know the current market is challenging, but 2010 first half construction volume is even worse than we could have foreseen back in January. According to ENR, total construction volume is down 11% from 2009, with private construction down 14%. The commercial Office sector is down nearly 40% from 2009's abysmal first half, and commercial Hospitality down a whopping 60% from 2009. Ouch. Only slightly less dismal are Manufacturing -22%, Schools -20%, and private Health Care -19%. To make matters worse, we're still seeing inflated bid lists, jammed with contractors competing out of their traditional strengths and geographic areas. These fish out of water are offering work at a deep discount to experienced firms bidding at home. We can only wonder how long this can last, and how many firms will go under? The single bright spot for first half 2010 is residential, up 4%. Forgive us if our enthusiasm seems subdued.