April 2004
Not the same old estimating
Technology and efficient processes are changing the role of estimating
Recently, I performed an informal survey of estimators in a wide range of companies and found several very interesting things. For example, a 1995 survey found only 75% of printers had computerized estimating processes, and of those, less than 50% had estimating systems that were integrated with other modules. This has changed in most organizations and they now have systems with many modules including order entry, electronic dockets, job tracking, scheduling, purchasing, shipping, job costing, invoicing and charge-back.

These changes are not surprising given the rapid rise of the computer in our daily lives over the past 10 years—and not just for the techies and data processing staff. Another development we’ve all had to deal with is the productivity improvements realized from integrated systems. Pricing pressure demands lower production costs and, therefore, lower administration expenses.

Technology and efficient processes are changing the role of estimating
Customers’ expectations have grown, as technology improvements have allowed us to turn jobs around faster. A competitive advantage and an entire market called “quick printing” is now the norm. I know large companies with hundreds of employees and full-size web presses, and they often feel they have become “quick printers” with cycle-time reductions.

In addition to more effective technology and more efficient applications, these changes have created the need to restructure the entire organization. When I was an estimator at a Quebecor plant, our agreement with sales was that quotes would be turned around in three days. My current survey indicates that 25% of respondents turn quotes around in a half-day or less, 25% say quotes go out the same day, and 95% do it within 24 hours.

This heightened service level, which may be the new norm, is accomplished with advanced estimating and streamlined processes, but it has also changed the role of the estimator within companies. Ten years ago, and for decades prior to that, most companies had a dedicated estimating department focused almost exclusively on estimating, with the occasional call to do job-cost review and analysis.

Now, there are almost as many people who describe their position as Estimating and Other Duties as there are estimators. This has been a necessary change, since request for quotes (RFQ) do not arrive on a schedule to the estimator. There will always be peaks and valleys in the RFQ flow, but efficient operations cannot afford to have estimators standing by waiting for the next RFQ to arrive. Instead, we have these hybrid positions which could be estimating-administration; estimating-production coordinator; estimating-owner. This is how we can deal with the peak volume and turn quotes around with lightning-fast speed.

Pressure is also growing for fast estimates from trade houses. Fast turnaround of trade services remains one of the major problems that printers face today. For a printer to consistently turn quotes around within four hours means that subcontractors may be called upon to do it in minutes.
Price lists

A competitive advantage and an entire market called quick printing is now the norm
Another way to respond quickly to RFQs is to use a price list for some standard, repetitive functions. Quick printers using electronic printing processes have always used this method for estimating costs. The price list works well for operations and processes that are not suitable for a time and material charge-back system. As more printers incorporate some aspect of digital technology, including computer-to-film, and computer-to-plate, and even more acquire high-speed, black-and-white or colour digital printers, this need for price lists is likely to grow.
We are all familiar with using price lists for a portion of the estimate, including paper-price books and some film operations. Now components of film, plates, press, bindery and some outside services are price-listed too. This process will need to be sophisticated enough to accommodate the time and material information to generate the automatic docket. The increasing proliferation of JDF-compliant equipment and processes dictates that details of the estimates be assembled in a standard format that can be used for subsequent operations.

One final surprising finding was that many estimators still receive RFQs verbally or in hand-written format. This may be a sign of the times, with sales reps or customers unable to take the time to document their requirements, but it can lead to problems with incorrect quotes based on inaccurate, or misinterpreted information. In fact, inaccurate information from sales was cited as a major problem facing estimators today. This problem can actually be addressed with the right team attitude, dedication to customer service, and training. I used to tell sales reps who wanted instant quotes when our SLA was three days, “If you want it bad, you get it bad.” My attitude has changed, with the knowledge that we must work together to compete and earn customers’ business.
Bob Dale is the president of Pilot Graphic Management Services Inc., a company providing management consulting and custom training for organizations. He is also on the executive of the Toronto Club of Printing House Craftsmen. Bob can be reached at (416) 410-4096, or via e-mail at
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