How to Get Your Team Off Construction Estimating Sheets for Good
Contractors and estimators have been using construction estimating sheets for decades to develop bids for construction projects. They enter specifics regarding required materials and quantities and estimate labor costs into the spreadsheet, trying to be as accurate as possible because errors at the bidding stage can result in substantial cost overruns down the line. However, even with the most precise data, you can’t always rely on the results because spreadsheets tend to be rife with errors.
Excel spreadsheets are routinely used in many businesses, including construction for projections and financials, but studies show that up to 90% of spreadsheets have mistakes. For example, hiding cells instead of deleting them can lead to calculation errors, and cut-and-paste mistakes can result in differences of thousands of dollars when it comes to estimating. Then there’s the human factor: if you don’t know how to create precise formulas or you make a simple data entry error, the final output could be hopelessly unreliable.
It’s time to ditch construction estimating sheets and find a process that is easier, faster, and more accurate to estimate jobs and handle takeoffs.
What’s Wrong with Spreadsheets?
The problem with spreadsheets is that they are only as good as the person who creates them. It’s easy to corrupt complex calculations by deleting the wrong cell, changing a formula, or entering the wrong data type. Excel calculations are fragile and tend to break without you noticing.
Integration is another problem. Excel spreadsheets don’t integrate with other business software, such as those for ordering systems, supplier catalogs, and accounting systems, which means you have to rely on manual data entry. You also have to rely on a spreadsheet expert to help you create and maintain templates for your unique operation.
Also, Excel spreadsheets do not scale well. The bigger the job, the bigger and more complex the estimate. As you build out a spreadsheet with more formulas and interdependencies, the spreadsheet becomes more susceptible to errors, and troubleshooting can be next to impossible.
There is no doubt that inaccurate construction estimating sheets will cost you time and money, so you need to find an alternative software approach that is accurate, reliable, and scalable.
What You Want from Estimating Software
Once you decide to ditch the spreadsheets, you’ll want to adopt an alternative platform that gives you absolute accuracy. There are specific capabilities you should look for.
- Automation: The purpose of using construction estimating sheets is to automate what would typically be manually processed; the computer does the work, so you don’t need to do it yourself with a calculator. The software should be readily available wherever you need it, which is why many estimators are using cloud-based applications that they can run from their laptop or handheld device.
- Ease of use: You want to find a solution that is intuitive and easy to use with little or no training. Just as you don’t want to have to hire an Excel expert to design and maintain construction estimating sheets, you also don’t want to hire a consultant to manage your bidding and takeoff software. It needs to be simple enough that you or one of your team members can use it with confidence.
- Accuracy: You need to be able to trust the results, so accuracy is essential. In addition to having reliable software, you need to have accurate data sources. Be sure the solution you choose has a standardized approach to data entry so there is no room for error. Use a system that has one database, so as specifications, pricing, and other variables change, you have a single source with the latest information.
- Integration: When you start using cloud-based or enterprise software, you can take advantage of shared data between applications. Integration allows you to directly link to parts lists, materials catalogs, and other sources. When specs and prices change, the new information is automatically reflected in your bid. Integration also simplifies takeoff by consolidating bills of materials (BOMs), invoices, and billing.
- Analytics: By using the right estimating software, you can perform analytics to ensure that your bid is as competitive as you can make it. You can use the data to analyze materials costs, budget, and historical data, generating summaries and reports to share as needed.
Of course, bidding is only the first step. Your construction estimating sheets should serve as an accurate basis for construction takeoff as well.
From Estimates to Takeoff
Make sure your bid estimates match the actual costs for a materials takeoff. If you don’t have a cost estimating system, then you have to do your takeoffs manually, which means reading blueprints and pulling information from the engineer’s instructions to get an accurate materials estimate. Doing a manual takeoff requires expertise, and it’s time consuming and still subject to human error.
Digital takeoffs have the advantage of being more accurate and faster and requiring less expertise. Using cost estimating software streamlines the process, taking the data already entered into construction estimating sheets and using it to create materials orders. You already have calculated key measurements, such as counts for studs, fixtures, beams, etc., as well as lengths for cable and piping, areas for flooring and drywall, landscaping, and other specific costs as part of the estimate. You predetermine your BOM during the bidding process, turning estimates into orders. Since you are using the same central data repository for ordering data, there is less room for error.
Let’s face it: spreadsheets just don’t have the same accuracy and capabilities of construction estimating software. By automating the bidding process, you get greater accuracy, so you won’t lose revenue due to bidding errors. Estimating software also generates faster bids and RFPs and uses one common data set, so you don’t have dueling spreadsheets of misinformation propagating in your bid. Integrating estimating software simplifies takeoff.
It’s time to ditch those old spreadsheets in favor of a new approach that gives you greater accuracy and a clean, professional presentation. It’s time to give ProEst a try.
ProEst helps commercial construction companies maximize profits by helping them streamline cost estimation, takeoffs, and more. We believe commercial construction companies grow at scale through visibility of data, cohesion among teams, and accurate estimating. To see how ProEst can streamline your commercial construction processes, contact one of our experts today!