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): After you’ve taken out the trash, identify the items missing from the database, that accurately depict the work activities that your company’s successful estimating style requires. For instance, if your company doesn’t budget its electrical work in detail, and the database was cluttered with individual light fixture makes and models, replace the 100’s of items deleted with a few useful budget items here.
Step 4: Blue pen (modify items): You’ve dumped a few thousand items, added back a couple hundred, but some still have prices from 10 years ago. Others have labor productivity factors that appear to require a crew of super heroes, or are being performed by unsupervised children. Division by division, make useful corrections. If you’re lucky, you do this on paper and hand it off to your fast-fingered project engineer, or qualified admin that understands the estimating items that she’s working with. A person that’s (of course) trained in the database editing tool of choice. Often this is our job. We’ve got lots of practice, and we’re not charged with keeping the doors open by producing bids. (That’s your job!)
Some words of Caution: It should go without saying that this work requires a well planned backup and restore regimen. Step 2 will inevitably “break” some assemblies and their component item tables. Critical to the success of this process is constant rechecking of assemblies. Again, progressing one division at a time is key to successful execution of this task. Ensure deleting doesn’t get too far out in front of checking assembly integrity. Do all this work in an offline database copy, and restore it incrementally (and often), following each successful test.