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Keeping Score: Compare What You Bid to What You Did

By Matt Desmond, President AGTEK, Vice President Heavy Construction, Construction Management Solutions at Hexagon

Estimates aren’t just a “necessary evil” in the process of creating bids and design plans; they also ensure projects stay on track by offering a baseline to compare construction project activity—or a scoreboard—to measure success.

Compare the process to sports. How to achieve the objective—a win—varies depending on the sport. In soccer, teams want to put as many points on the board as possible, while in golf, the goal is to have a lower score.

Projects are no different. Teams must understand how they’ll be scored before taking the field—or the jobsite and most of the time, a low score wins, using less resources and finishing faster. 

Think of the jobsite as a golf course—not just because it’ll make the day go faster. Rather, there are a lot of parallels between the game of golf and how contractors and engineers approach the modern job site.

If the project were a lump sum bid, everybody who finishes under par and sits at the top of the leaderboard would have made money, while those over par would have lost money.

Dig deeper for a moment—a golf score isn’t just the result. In a tournament, players will put up scores across multiple days.

Days of the tournament are, in essence, comparable to the various trades on the job—such as grading, underground utility installation, and paving. Some days a golfer may be above par, while other days, they’ll be below par.

The same goes for the trades.

A contractor may have estimated some correctly and others incorrectly. The goal is to be under where it matters the most: the final result.

Understanding the course layout

In golf, the caddy is more than the person who carries the golfer’s clubs. They’re a trusted partner who helps pick the right club for the situation, knows the lay of the land, and helps prepare for the round even before hitting the links—just as the foreman oversees the jobsite.

Attacking a hole without first understanding the locations of the sand traps and water hazards would be impossible. With that knowledge, the golfer can confidently choose between a one-wood and a nine-iron.

Teeing off and hoping for the best isn’t a strategy for success. Tackling the jobsite is no different.

Crews need to know where the obstacles are, such as underground utilities, so they can adjust course and work around any potential hazards. It would be dangerous to start digging and hope there are no underground utilities in the area.

Technology has enabled contractors to approach their jobsite with the confidence that it’ll be done right the first time.

Practice makes perfect

The best golfers in the world spend more time practicing than competing. They hit the driving range and practice putting before hitting the course. 

Construction needs the same approach. Too often in construction, companies don’t do the appropriate training, operating under the belief that everybody knows how to approach the responsibilities—or will figure it out.

Without training, workers won’t perform at their peak. Attending training sessions, getting updated on the latest technology, and talking to the experts will provide teams with an edge when it comes to performing the actual job.

It also helps teams identify potential problems as the job progresses.

Just as golfers don’t wait for the tournament’s final day to look at the leaderboard, contractors can’t wait until they’re done grading to know if they are on track. Instead, success requires teams regularly check their progress against the plans to make sure they’re in the fairway and not out of bounds, increasing the chances of success.

The right tools are necessary

Every professional golfer knows their tools—specifically, their clubs—are integral to their success. That’s why they don’t use the same clubs an amateur does; instead, they use the best on the market.

Contractors need to operate with a similar mindset.

Operating dozers without machine control and using paper plans to navigate on site aren’t the best tools. Instead, they should use the latest technology to perform their jobs as efficiently as possible.

Dozer drivers no longer need to rely on grade stakes. Machine control puts the “course map” into the driver’s cabin—and in greater detail than could ever be included in a 2-D paper map and mobile apps can provide everyone on site with the latest information.

If you don’t know where you are on the site or whether their work is being performed correctly, you risk making a mistake that will cost time and money.

Construction information is more than making sure teams have accurate data; successful jobs require real-time data that is available to everyone who needs it when they need it. Only then can construction proceed with as few disruptions as possible on time, on spec and on budget. 

Consider how technology can give a new vantage

Golfers might get halfway through the course and realize they’re behind. With that knowledge, they can adjust their game moving forward—perhaps it’s playing the next hole more aggressively, or if they’re ahead, they can opt for a more conservative approach.

On the jobsite, solutions such as drones can help a lot with understanding the jobsite progress and  coupled with underground utility detection tools, can help crews identify and mark the job site’s potential dangers, so the crew can avoid any hazards—and the costly rework that goes with having to fix mistakes.

Often, the first operation would be to strip the topsoil off the site and stockpile it for later. Understanding how much to strip off and the volume that might be needed for re-spread is the first part of the construction.

The process to complete the operation normally belongs to the foreman, who then asks a Surveyor or Gradechecker to confirm the information and an excavator to perform the work. Arming the operator with the information they need to perform their job not only streamlines the process but also allows the entire team to make better decisions and complete their work more quickly and reduces the need for costly rework.

Putt to victory

Reaching the green in one shot, then triple putting for a bogey, negates that beautiful shot off the tee.

Golf is won and lost in the short game, and one bad putt can ruin a well-played hole. The same is true for a project.

On the jobsite, the “green” might be paving or fine grading, the more finesse elements that can make or break a project. Estimating grading correctly but ignoring the paving estimate negates all the previous positive efforts.

Tracking actual costs against the original estimates can greatly improve a company’s ability to reign in project creep, which negatively affects profit margins.

Teams can improve their “score” even more by examining projects where takeoffs closely matched actual quantities and timelines and projects where estimates varied greatly from actual quantities and timelines to determine what’s been done correctly and opportunities for improvement when it comes to creating takeoffs and executing projects. 

Learn more

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Matt Desmond is President of AGTEK and Vice President of Heavy Construction, Construction Management Solutions at Hexagon.