Electronic Estimation

Remodelers who have reached a level of professionalism have moved their estimating process from paper to electronic

December 31, 1999

Remodelers who have reached a level of professionalism have moved their estimating process from paper to electronic. For many, estimating software designed for the industry is the logical step. Other remodelers have found that simple spreadsheets, such as Microsoft’s Excel, serve the purpose quite well.

Lasley Construction is one of those remodelers that has taken Excel and customized it to serve the company’s way of doing business. Company estimators Marty Lucash and Chris Montgomery designed the system.

President Marc Brahaney says Lasley’s method of linking three separate spreadsheets has evolved into a communication tool. The NAHB Research Center cites Lasley’s estimating system as an industry benchmark, and awarded the Rocky Hill, N.J., company a 2000 National Remodeling Quality Silver Award.

Three interconnected spreadsheets enable the company to compute the estimate and print out the customer’s copy, and produce a materials list for the project. The third spreadsheet houses the company’s materials cost database. As the estimate is built, the costs are automatically inserted into the estimate from the database.

The first spreadsheet is divided into a left and right side. The left side is the working side and lists each phase of the project. As each entry is plugged in, a translation formula allows only the verbage and numbers that are appropriate for the customer’s eyes to move to the right side of the spreadsheet. "We enter a line of text on the left, and it pops into the right side," Brahaney says. "You don’t have to enter it twice." Lasley prints out the right side of the spreadsheet for presentation to the client.

The second sheet is the material work sheet, which totals the materials needed for each phase of the project. "This is a very good tool to allow all of us to understand what the estimator was thinking and to see how the job is progressing relative to how the estimator thought it would progress," Brahaney says.

Materials are coded and linked to the third spreadsheet, the database. "We identify not only price, but we also identify the vendor," he says. "This can translate into a material order list, which is helpful for the lead carpenter."

The estimating process enables Lasley to improve communication within the company, Brahaney says. "As the company grows, and as more people have to understand the project, [the estimate] becomes a communications tool," he says. "It becomes relatively straightforward to see how a change in the project will affect the price."

In the end, the process helps Lasley manage its quality processes. Because the system is set up to enhance communications across all levels, the company is able to closely monitor each project. "The estimating process sets the stage for communicating to the production staff what they have to do and helps monitor what they do."

Although Lasley hasn’t integrated its estimating software with its job costing software, it does compare the estimate on each job to the final job costing numbers. "If our job costing shows a [problem] in a particular phase, we tear that apart and compare it to the estimate," Brahaney says. "It doesn’t happen [often enough] that it needs to be a fully automated process." All told, Lasley Construction has taken a basic spreadsheet and turned it into a powerful quality management tool.

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