March 2014

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The Importance of Lists

Part One -
What’s your List Tool?

Steven R Calabrese

Steven R. Calabrese
Control Engineering Corp.

Contributing Editor

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For the past couple of weeks I’ve been working on a large plan-spec project. I don’t get involved with these as often as I used to, so I had to “go back”, so to speak, and remember how to go about the pricing and proposal procedure. I realized that I never had a good reference list of the tasks involved, so I decided, for present and future reference, that I would create one at this time.

Now, if you knew me, you’d know about my obsession with creating lists. I actually generate lists of lists that I want to create. And I’m not even kidding about that!

So as I became more involved with this large project and with all of its mechanical plans and written specifications, I began to create a list of all of the tasks that I needed to perform in order to accomplish the final goal. I’ve always subscribed to the philosophy that you must “slice up” any large task or project into a series of smaller, achievable tasks. Thus breaking it down to approachable, accomplishable steps to the final end. By not doing this, I’d otherwise feel overwhelmed with the magnitude, of this project, and of any other large project, at work or outside of work.

So enough of that, point taken already…right? So for this particular undertaking, I’ve generated the following list (italicized items), and for the purpose of this column I’ve included a brief description of what each item entails. The list is actually a bit larger, however I’ve omitted some items and condensed the list for this writing.

Create File Folders

First step, to create a folder on my computer in addition to a hard file. I typically place the file folder in a particular location on my hard drive, with a shortcut on my desktop.

Highlight the Plans & Specs

I start effortlessly with the mechanical plans, simply coloring all the equipment tags yellow and all the associated equipment orange. Just my way of doing it, although it seems to work out well. From there, I highlight controls-specific items and notes with another color. Anything of particular importance will be underlined with a red marker. When done with the plans, I move on to the specs, highlighting headings and subheadings in orange, and pertinent text in yellow. Again, just my way of doing it, maybe due to the fact that the yellow and orange highlighters seem to historically be the most plentiful in the office supply cabinet!

Create a Hand-written Project Summary

Depending upon the size of the project, I may just punt this step and get straight to the proposal. If the job is large and/or complicated, I find that it is a good idea to go through this exercise, as it serves to bring me closer to the project design and to the overall intents of the consulting engineer. I start by listing out all major systems, and their associated mechanical equipment. I add in pertinent details that I think would be important to include for reference. I pull my information from both the plans and the specifications, although I try not to dwell on this step any longer than I need to. Just enough to get me “into the project”.

Structure the Framework of the Estimate & Proposal

I pull templates for the estimate (Excel) and for the proposal (Word), and save them specific to the project. I then generate an “outline”, so to speak, modeled after the hand-written project summary (if created). I typically work through the proposal first, as it defines the scope of work in my terms, and then I flesh out the format of the estimate, working in details to the extent possible, while knowing that I’ll unearth more details the further I get into it.

Establish Firm Counts of all Unique Equipment

Counting widgets! Sometimes easy, sometimes not. I love it (sarcasm) when an engineer lists out unitary equipment with the same tag if they are the same size, type, etc., even if there are dozens and dozens of them shown on the mechanical plans. You wouldn’t know by looking at the equipment schedules! Oh well, I guess that’s why I highlighted all of them to begin with. Makes it easier to count them.

Flesh out the Proposal in Detail (System by System)

Where the rubber meets the road…now’s the time to pay special attention to each and every detail that can (and will) impact the cost of the project. Not to say that the proposal needs to be a 30-page dissertation. But at the same time it needs to have enough detail so as not to generate a mountain of questions from the bidders.

List out Dampers and Valves

Typically the controls contractor is responsible for furnishing the control dampers and control valves. As such, I’ll procure quotes from vendors, based on the specifications, and double-check my counts again to make sure that I’m not missing anything, or equally important, to make sure that I’m not counting anything more than once!

Red-mark all Items on Plans & Specs

This step isn’t a discrete task, it is one that gets done throughout the course of the entire process. Once I’ve accounted for something that I’ve highlighted in the project documents, I put a red mark next to it. Helps me keep track and prevents me from omitting important details.

[an error occurred while processing this directive]Estimate the Equipment & Material Costs

This part is a given. I have pricing on all items that we supply and/or install, so if my widget counts are correct, my costs for these devices will be accurate, to the extent that it can be using unit costing. For bulk items, I may solicit a quote and reap a discount.

Estimate the Technical & Electrical Labor Hours

This part is not a given. This is what typically sets my price proposal apart from my competitions’. For the technical aspect, we have on-staff designers and software engineers, so their opinion may by solicited and their feedback may be taken into consideration, as to what they think they need to complete the job in man-hours. For the actual installation, we have on-staff union electricians, however they’re usually too busy to commit to a large plan/spec project. For this reason, I partner up with a couple of electrical subcontractors, having them furnish a price for the installation.

Final Review

Prior to Bid Day, and depending upon the size of the project, I’ll go before the Estimating Committee, and achieve internal buy-in on my device choices, labor hours, and final margin. I’ll also conduct a comprehensive once-through on all my work, to achieve the peace of mind that I’ve everything covered.

Tip of the Month: Find Your List Tool! Good ole pen to paper never fails, but nowadays we’re all more inclined to do things using the technologies available to us. Personally, I use my email program, as it’s just the easiest way to initiate a quick note or list, at least in my way of doing things. If need be, I’ll eventually copy it to a Word document, but for quickly getting a thought down, seems to work best for me. What’s your List Tool?


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