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How to Ensure Departmental Efficiency in Electrical Estimating

April 15, 2024
Know the difference between productivity and production — and how they relate.

Every electrical contractor must look closely at not only their estimating department’s production, but also their productivity.

Production is defined as the act or process of producing. In estimating, production is measured by the total volume or value of estimates produced. Some contractors will track their production monthly, quarterly, and annually. The wise contractor will know the production of each estimator on the team.

Meanwhile, productivity is defined as the rate at which goods or services are produced, especially output per unit of labor. In estimating, productivity is measured by the amount of time required to produce an estimate. Productivity in estimating is also measured by organization, detail, time, and accuracy of the estimate.

An example of productivity vs. production

Electrician A and Electrician B both installed 100 ft of ¾-in. EMT conduit. Electrician A installed the conduit in 4 hours and Electrician B in 6 hours. Their production was the same, but Electrician A’s productivity was 33% more efficient.

The level of productivity in production is determined by the efficiency of the work. The higher the productivity of the firm, the greater the earning capacity. This is true both for estimating and project management.

Productivity is often misconstrued with production, but there is a difference in the sense that production indicates the volume of output whereas productivity is the output generated from the resources employed by the company in relation to time.

Factors influencing low productivity

I have observed some contractors who think getting employees to work longer hours is a way to increase production. However, contractors must focus on productivity first and production second. The wise contractor will provide their estimating department with the proper tools and procedures that provide for the greatest productivity.

Expecting employees to work longer hours less efficiently is not the answer. By focusing on productivity, production is automatically increased.

First, consider a few reasons why employees have low productivity:

Multitasking. In reality, an employee can only give their time and attention to one thing at a time. With increased tasks and responsibilities, productivity is decreased because an employee is switching back and forth between tasks, which will break their momentum. Some contractors require their employees to function as an estimator and a project manager. This can be challenging for some.

Workplace stress. It is well known that stress at work affects job performance, morale, and even an employee’s personal life. A great company culture is vital to building a great company. Employees must enjoy their jobs and workplace to be productive.

Lack of sense of belonging. A strong team is necessary for the greatest level of productivity. When an employee feels isolated from the core members of a team, their sense of contributing is diminished.

Lack of recognition. Most employees are dedicated to their positions. Many work hard and seek advancement in their career path. Compensation is important. Employees also excel when their dedication and hard work are recognized by management.

Toxic workplace behavior. Professionalism should be paramount in the office environment. Inappropriate comments and innuendos create an unhealthy workplace environment.

Poor management. Employees function most efficiently when job descriptions and responsibilities are well defined. No employee can meet expectations unless they are given clear instructions on job performance.

Best practices for increased productivity

The following should be considered to increase the productivity rate of your estimating department:

Quality estimating software. Software that offers efficient takeoffs, organized breakdowns, multiple bid summaries/users, and detailed reports provides great efficiency to the contractor. No one would learn to type on a manual typewriter before learning a word processing program. Therefore, estimating with pencil and paper is detrimental to efficiency.

Onscreen takeoff. Most leading brands of electrical estimating software provide this valuable tool. Both money and time are saved when drawings do not have to be printed.

Departmental procedures. A weekly estimator’s meeting will provide the opportunity to utilize the collective knowledge of all team members. This meeting will provide for the most efficient post-project reviews and proper handoff to project management.

Follow an estimating sequence. Consistent procedures produce consistent results. This sequence should provide the estimator with the proper order in which the estimating tasks are to be performed. Just as a pilot has a pre-flight checklist that is followed in a logical sequence for a safe flight, the estimator must do the same.

Single-role estimator. Some contractors have employees who function as an estimator and a project manager. This arrangement should not be considered multitasking. The employee is either estimating or project managing; both cannot be done at the same time — and switching between responsibilities breaks momentum and negatively affects productivity. This decision will vary depending on the size of the contractor. As a company grows, I believe that the single-role model provides the greatest efficiency and profitability for the contractor.

Quality training. The electrical industry spends an enormous amount of money and resources training apprentices to become journeymen wiremen. Sometimes, however, office employee training is overlooked. Proper training empowers employees and increases productivity. Being a good electrician is no guarantee that they will be a good estimator any more than being a good football player makes someone a good coach. Employees function best when they are provided with quality training to function in their positions.

When a company and an estimator have better processes and systems in place, productivity is increased. When companies provide the best tools and detailed procedures for their estimators, more work can be completed in less time.

In conclusion, focus on productivity first, and then increased production will follow. Increasing productivity will increase profits both in the office and field — so don’t be busy; be productive.

About the Author

Don Kiper | Independent Electrical Estimating Consultant

With more than 35 years of experience as a construction electrician, industrial maintenance electrician, foreman, estimator, estimating manager, and project manager, Don has used what he learned to lead in the implementation of estimating software with three electrical contractors where he has worked. Don has 17 years of experience in the construction field and 18 years of office experience and he has personally estimated over $700 million dollars in electrical projects. 

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