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Digital Dryshack: Estimating Software Survey

I was intrigued by the request from Houston Neal of SoftwareAdvice.com, 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. [...]

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 [...]

Construction Software Reviews

Chelsea asked some time ago to write a blog piece on the different construction software lines that we support and sell at Cassell Consulting, construction software reviews. At first I resisted, thinking it was important to separate "church and state", that is, keeping our blog set distinctly apart from any sales topics. That said, I agree that it's in our cleintele's best interests to explain our products, specifically what sets them apart from one another, and what makes one a better fit than another. To start, it seems relevant to reiterate exactly what it is that we offer our customers at Cassell Consulting: First Class Customer Support is first, last, and always our hallmark. Our main mission to achieve the highest possible standards of excellence and customer satisfaction in our training, consulting, sales, and support services. With our focus on customer service and satisfaction established, estimating product consulting and support was what got us into business to begin with. Back in 1998, I found myself getting burned out working as an estimator-project manager for a commercial construction firm in Vancouver, Washington. One day the phone rang, and two weeks later I was on a plane to Sydney, to build a [...]

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

Estimating Tip: Change Unit & Productivity

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 [...]

Estimating Tips for On Screen Takeoff

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 [...]

The “right” level of Estimating Detail (according to whom?)

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 [...]

Cheer up, it could be worse…or could it?

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.