In today’s industry, firms must have a robust, streamlined bid management process to remain competitive. This process is critical not only for kickstarting projects but also for uncovering opportunities and increasing profitability. The multiple parts and dependencies behind bid management leave a lot of room for hiccups and bottlenecks, which can, in turn, affect success rates and project outcomes.
Leading firms are leaning on technology to accelerate the bid management process while optimizing its results. We spoke to preconstruction and bid management experts, Sarah Emich, Director Of Preconstruction at the Houston Division at Walker Engineering, and Mary Goeckner, Estimator at McKinstry, LLC, Inc., about changes they’re seeing in the role of bid management, common challenges, and best practices. Dive into their insights below.
How did you get into construction?
Sarah: In college [at Texas A&M University], I was initially a math major and wanted to be a sports statistician, but an internship at an electrical subcontractor one summer sparked my interest in commercial construction. I switched majors to electrical engineering and interned every summer on projects ranging from $100K to $10M.
Upon graduation, I worked at an MEP consulting firm for five years, designing systems for large scale commercial and aviation projects. A desire to move to Houston combined with an opportunity to join Walker Engineering’s Precon department, where I was the resident electrical engineer. I had a phenomenal boss and mentor, and was disappointed when he decided to switch up his own career path, but quickly discovered it was indeed a natural fit for me to be promoted into the job of Director of Preconstruction.
I like playing with projects from the very beginning. I see a building in the conceptual phase and immediately start engineering it in my mind. The most challenging aspect is understanding the difference between what we estimate in Precon versus what actually gets built in the field. We need to ensure there are no gaps because businesses can suffer greatly from the gaps.
Mary: I graduated from UC Berkeley with a civil engineering degree and ended up working for an electrical construction company in Southern California. I’ve toggled back and forth between estimating and project management in my roles. I’ve done all sorts of projects, including residential, commercial, and industrial. I even had the opportunity to do project management for quite a few data centers a couple of years ago. When I decided to settle in Seattle, I went back to estimating with McKinstry.
One of my favorite things is seeing the buildings get built. The best part is seeing what you’ve accomplished at the end of a project. You forget all of the hoopla and challenges it took to get there. Once you’re done, you always feel a massive sense of accomplishment.
What was the turning point for you to adopt technology for bid management?
Sarah: In the past, we would track our projects in Excel, but complex projects became too cumbersome in Excel and are faulty if people don’t update it appropriately. We all understand “garbage in, garbage out.” We needed a way to track our projects, who’s working on them, our hit ratio, etc.
From a budgeting standpoint, we want to track the project as it evolves through multiple phases. From a document management standpoint, we would use Dropbox or Box to send out files. Today, we use BuildingConnected for bid management because it allows us to track our vendors and get them the right files. It also improves communication and accountability. We can say, “We sent you project documents on this date and the system tracks that you received it and opened the file.”
Mary: Our mechanical division brought up BuildingConnected and said, “This is something we want to sign on for.”A huge selling point for us was that it’s so easy to use. You can easily import a lot of the information from the bid board into BuildingConnected.
There’s no need to copy and paste details. We leverage BuildingConnected to get all of the information out to subcontractors.
Do you have any advice for any contractors looking to streamline their bid management?
Sarah: I recommend looking at your current systems and seeing how user-friendly they are. In a world of rapidly changing technology, any system you use must be highly intuitive from the beginning. You also need to be able to harvest the data you need to support and grow your business. You want to be able to see where everything is assigned, your resource usage, and which contractors you have been sending a thousand bids to and, sometimes, getting zero hits.
Armed with data, you can legitimately ask yourself, “Is it worthwhile to continue bidding projects with a particular contractor?”
It has helped us determine which of our clients we want to continue cultivating and how to evaluate where we may need to limit investing our time and resources.
Mary: At McKinstry, one of our values is to embrace new ideas and be constantly curious. In that respect, we’re more willing to look at new products and try them out to see if we can save those 15 minutes just to streamline the bid process.
I’ve been in a lot of companies that aren’t as open to new technologies or where it’s hard to convince people that a small amount of time is worth saving. But it all adds up. For firms looking to improve their bid management, keep innovating and embracing new solutions and processes that benefit your overall business operations.
What would you say is the biggest change you’ve seen in preconstruction over the years?
Sarah: The most significant change I’ve seen is a more refined approach to evaluating project pursuits. When I started in Preconstruction, we would bid every project type for every client. Over the years, we have used metrics to become more cognizant of our time management and our resources. BuildingConnected has enabled us to more fully understand the cost of a project pursuit. We can answer questions like, “What is my hit ratio? How many am I submitting? How much are those jobs delivering in revenue?”
Technology has improved our processes and made many things more streamlined and that improvement in time means clients want responses more quickly. People want things much, much more quickly. In the past, we may have had two to three weeks to put something together. Now, we may have six days, and that includes the weekend. We are always finding ways to speed up our process. I used to put together a budget, and I would have a clean week just playing with it and confirming assumptions. Now, if I get two days just to play with my spreadsheet, I feel blessed.
Mary: The biggest change I’ve seen is just the movement away from paper drawings. Ten years ago, everything was done on paper. Today, it’s all digital, and most have moved everything to e-drawings or PDF files.
I haven’t touched paper in the past two or three years and don’t need a printer anymore. It’s definitely more environmentally friendly and much better for the earth.