Ever Messed Up a Bid?

By Beacon Staff

Ever messed up a bid?

One of the hardest things to do accurately is bid a sizable time and materials-based project.

If you’re in the software business, you know all the reasons. Oddly enough, the reasons aren’t much different from industry to industry.

Stuff changes. Requirements aren’t necessarily what they really are. Features get added, removed, changed and re-added.

As long as the communication channels are open, it works out. It works out over time as you zig zag across the pain threshold with smaller and smaller zigs and zags.

Ever wonder how big construction, architecture or engineering firms can afford to do that zig/zag thing?

Their bidding mistakes get expensive, especially when you’re talking about a project like a mall or a few dozen miles of Interstate highway.

I was talking to a guy in the construction business asked him about all the bidding problems with huge municipal (etc) construction projects. Boston’s Big Dig is an obvious example.

The expense of being wrong in that environment isn’t a slap on the wrist.

Parts is parts

And then I was thinking… buildings, roads and bridges break down into finite tasks just like programs do. In the programming world – or at least in the academic one – there’s something called function point analysis.

The theory is that you can assess a project simply by counting the function points it contains. Each function point is supposedly take a fixed amount of time (and thus, money) to complete.

If the assessment is correct, seems like it’d be easy to nail a bid every time.

Guess how many businesses I’ve encountered using it over the last 25 years? Doughnut.

It isn’t worth it for small projects and for big ones, the client has to put a ton of work into productng detailed job specs. That isn’t a super common thing.

Back when I worked for Electronic Data Systems during the Ross Perot days, we spec’d the crud out of projects. During development, we worked a process that checked, rechecked and re-tested *everything*.

Yet EDS didn’t use function points.

As I noted, buildings, bridges etc break down into components like beams, walls, pillars – not entirely unlike function points.

Let’s say one of these firms bids a bridge job because they have the best bridge designer in the state.

3 days before the bids are opened and awarded, she almost gets hit by a bus, and decides to take off and “find herself” by walking the Great Wall.

Can you hit that curve ball without your best bridge person?

What if?

What if your design software had the ability to measure how long it took to design each component of that bridge.

Imagine that your design software has the ability to do that for each employee, broken down for each possible component of a project, down to the type of forces and materials used.

What if experience and training matter? What if college choices and even senior year professor assignments matter?

What if this software can aggregate all this data by employee, by component – telling you which designers are best at each type of component.

This tells you exactly who to allocate to each piece of design work. It most likely provides a very accurate estimate of the time needed to do the job.

If you break down the design of each project into components, and because you have real-world measurements for each task – you can make a bid that is far more accurate than the guesses everyone else makes.

If you make this software, your customers are the ones who bid more accurately and win more bids. How hard is that to sell?

In the context of the service you provide, from programming to sports writing, graphic arts, small engine repair, architecture or plumbing – would you see an impact?

Imagine how much easier it would be to manage a project if you knew exactly what each component required time-wise.

Imagine what your sales staff could do if they could confidently bid a job, knowing it would be on time and on budget – with the performance reports to prove it.

Imagine if you never again had a late or over-budget project.

Want to learn more about Mark or ask him to write about a business, operations or marketing problem? See Mark’s site or contact him via email at mriffey at flatheadbeacon.com.