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Home · Articles · Business Articles · Bidding Jobs: How to Do Your Own Time and Motion Study

Bidding Jobs: How to Do Your Own Time and Motion Study

TIM WILSON | Business Articles

When it comes to bidding jobs the most crucial part is bidding labor. It is also the most inaccurate part of a bid for most contractors. The only way to make it more accurate is to perform a time and motion study. To put it simply, time and motion is how long it takes your crews to complete the tasks involved in installing a project. Some of us guess, some of us use other people’s information, and some of us just use multipliers (very risky!) Some of us use a dart board.

To do a time and motion study takes a little effort, time and patience. It will usually take 2 to 3 months to gather and analyze the data. Big companies like UPS or Ford spending millions on time and motion studies. Other smaller companies might hire consultants to do this type of an analysis. In this article I will be looking at an irrigation bid, but the principles can easily be adapted to landscaping as well. Below are the basic steps:


  1. Pick a sampling of representative jobs that you will be installing in the near future
  2. Pick the crews that you will be using for the study
  3. Identify the tasks that will be analyzed
  4. Create worksheets to gather the data
  5. Gather the data
  6. Analyze and calculate your labor times
  7. Use the new numbers to bid some jobs
  8. Do a job cost analysis after the job to determine how the new labor bid numbers are working out
  9. Make adjustments
  10. Finalize the numbers and start bidding jobs with the new system

If you are in this business for the long run, few things will help determine your long term success as much as a proper time and motion study. It is worth the time, money and effort you will have to put into it.

Let’s go through the steps one by one.

  1. Pick a sampling of representative jobs

Think about the work that you do. If you do a mix of residential and commercial you can average the numbers between them or you can to two separate studies. If the crews are the same than you will probably not need to do 2 studies. However, if you have two different divisions for residential and commercial it would be wise to do two studies.

Next think about things like existing verses new construction. Are there drastically different soils in the area where you work? How about design build jobs verses ones where you will be inspected and following strict specs and pressure tests? What about union jobs verses non-union. When doing a time and motion study you need to pick a good mix of the typical jobs that you do all the time. Small jobs with walk behind trenchers verses big jobs with ride on trenchers etc. Jobs that require lots of hand digging should be included as well. So what you want to do here is to pick a selection of jobs that are different in there environments and labor needs, but yet represent your typical projects. Some contractors group jobs types into sub groups and do different studies for each sub-group. For this article we will just consider one study and that you will be averaging the numbers from the different jobs.

So at this point you have looked at you work load coming up in the next couple of months and selected jobs that will be tagged for data gathering.

  1. Pick the crews that will be used in the study

For some of you this will be easy if you only have 1 or 2 crews. If you have more than that consider using small and large crews in the study. Use high performing crews and not so high performing crews. Use crews that represent your typical mix of workers. Make sure there is a mix of experienced workers as well as “newbies”. Your crews and supervisors will have to be briefed on this and trained on how to work normally in the study and fill out the paper work.

  1. Identify the tasks that will be analyzed

This will take some skull sweat. I like to pull out a set of prints from a job that I have already done and start writing done everything that had to be done to complete it. Below is a sample list (it by no means a complete list):

  1. Point of connection
  2. Flagging
  3. Sleeving
  4. Trenching with a ride on -6”, 10”, 18", 24"
  5. Trenching with a walk behind -6”, 10”, 18", 24"
  6. Hand trenching -6”, 10”, 18", 24"
  7. Laying mainline-6”-8”, 3”-4”,2”-2.5”,?” – 1.5”
  8. Laying lateral - 2.5”-3”,1.5”-2”,?”-1 ?”
  9. Install heads - 4” sprays,6” sprays.12” sprays,Rotors
  10. Laying wire in the trench
  11. Mount the controller and wiring it
  12. Valve manifolds-1” ,1.5”, 2”
  13. Swing joints
  14. Nozzling
  15. Backfilling
  16. Clean up
  17. Pressure testing
  18. Restoration
  19. As builts
  20. Walk through

After you have a complete list broken down as much as you can then you need to make a data collection sheet.

4. Create worksheets to gather the data

This worksheet is used by the crews to record the time spent on any particular project. It might look something like this:

Fairfield Job

7/15/03

Fletcher crew

Task

Desc.

Title

Start time

End time

Quantity

Unit per hour

18” Trench

Ride on

Forman

8:30

10:00

230’

Set Heads

4” spray

Installer

1:00

3:00

19

Run Wire

14g

Installer

9:00

11:30

2200’

Set Valves

2”

Foreman

11:00

12:30

6

Hand trench

12”

Laborer

7:30

11:30

85’

Backfill

18”

Laborer

1:00

3:30

200’

Sleeves

4”

Installer

10:00

12:00

60’

Job Notes: This was a commercial job. Crew is highly trained. Soil was clay loam with construction trash in the soil. Weather was good.

It is best to set this up on an excel spreadsheet. You can print out hard copies for the crews to take out with them.

5. Gather Data

You will want to train your crews on this before they go out. You supervisors and crews tend to be suspicious of this at first. They will think that you are trying to see how hard they work. Or they will think that you will be setting a work load standard. If you do not take the time to explain the purpose they will tend to give you false data. Here is why:

  1. They will inflate the numbers. If it takes them 2 hours to set 25 heads they might record 3 hours. That way on the next job if they do it in 2, they will look like heroes and you won’t be expecting 25 heads in 2 hours from them all the time.
  2. They will deflate the time. If it takes them 2 hours to set 25 heads they will record 1.5. This way they look good. They think that perhaps you are doing this to check up on them and they are worried.

You will need to explain the importance of good hard data. If they inflate the numbers, than your bids will come out too high. Therefore you might not win very many bids, which means no work to do. If they deflate the numbers you will win lots of bids but loose money on them and then you go out of business. Either way the result is no work for the crews. Explain this to them. Stress the need for accurate data.

6. Analyze and calculate your labor times

So we now have lots of these worksheets from several different jobs and different crews. We have made sure to record work from all of our job tasks in varying conditions. Now comes the number crunching time. If we refer to the sample worksheet we will now fill out the last column:

Task

Desc.

Title

Start time

End time

Quantity

Unit per hour

18” Trench

Ride on

Forman

8:30

10:00

230’

153’

Set Heads

4” spray

Installer

1:00

3:00

19

9.5

Run Wire

14g

Installer

9:00

11:30

2200’

880’

Set Valves

2”

Foreman

11:00

12:30

6

4

Hand trench

12”

Laborer

7:30

11:30

85’

21’

Backfill

18”

Laborer

1:00

3:30

200’

80’

Sleeves

4” 4’ deep

Installer

10:00

12:00

60’

30’

The math is simple, look at the start and end times and figure out how many hours it took. In the case of the ride on trencher it took 1.5 hours. The foreman trenched 230’ in 1.5 hours. Divide the 230’ by 1.5 and you get 153’. So on this job you averaged trenching 153’ per hour with your ride on trencher. Let’s look at the heads. The installer worked for 2 hours setting heads and set 19 - 4” sprays. Let’s divide 19 by 2 and we get 9.5 heads per hour. The wire is done the same way. In 2.5 hours the installer ran 2200’ of wire that makes 880’ per hour. The rest of the chart is completed the same way.

After you collect these from different jobs and crews you will then average the final unit per hour numbers.

7. Use the new numbers to bid some jobs

The smart thing to do now is to bid some jobs with the numbers and compare them to your old way of bidding before you knew how long it really took your crews to install a job. Sometimes this is a real eye opener. It can mean that you have been loosing money on your jobs; it can mean you have been making a bigger profit than you thought. Maybe you have been pretty close in your estimates all along.

This analysis provides you with invaluable information that can help you beyond just coming up with bid numbers. It can help you see where your crews might need training to improve their production. It might show you who your stellar supervisors and installers are. You might be surprised to find some exceptional employees you have been overlooking. You might find some dead weight too. Another benefit is that you have some hard numbers to give your supervisors when they go out to a job. They will know how much time you have allotted for each task. This gives them a goal to work towards.

8. Do a job cost analysis to see how the new numbers are working out

Now that you have bid some jobs with the new numbers do a job cost analysis. This means that you have the crews record their time on a job and then you compare it to your averaged bid numbers. This is important on the first few jobs you do with the new numbers from your time and motion study.

9. Make adjustments

Based on your job cost analysis you can now tweak and adjust your bid labor numbers to fine tune them in closely. Take the time to do this so you will be able to bid confidently with your labor numbers.

  1. Start bidding all of your jobs with the new numbers

Ok you are done. You can now start bidding your work with hard accurate data that you have proven in the field. Guard this information. It is what makes your bids different from everyone else. Make sure to collect all of the originals from the crews and keep it safe or locked up.

You can put all of this in a spreadsheet and when you have your material take-off done you basically have your labor done too, since it is based off the number of items being installed. You will be able to crank out bids faster and more accurately than ever before.

Obviously there is a lot more to good bidding than just the labor, but this is the most “guessed at” part of any bid and it accounts for a huge percentage of your job costs. Take the time to get it right! Good luck!

 
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05.17.2012 at 01:54 Reply

This was a fantastic article.  I have been looking for something like this, thank you.

 

 
 
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