Author: Timmothy Miller

Production Reporting and Estimating

Production Reporting and Estimating

When you provide an estimate to your clients what do you include? The obvious items would be labor, equipment, materials, and your overhead and profit. These items by themselves are sometimes difficult to provide if you don’t have an idea of how long each “whatever” takes and how much each “whatever” costs. This article will focus in on how we get the cost of the “whatevers”.


What I’m calling a “whatever” is a unit of measure. This could be a square foot, linear foot, a cubic yard, etc. Essentially it’s a unit of something that we can associate a price and a duration to. For example, we can produce, or install, a square foot of drywall every .012 hours and at a cost of $0.50 of labor. We would then add in what a square foot of drywall costs at current prices to the total amount of drywall we have come up with from our quantity take off. Now that we know “what” we are bidding we need to see how fast we can produce it.

The Field

How do we come up with a rate of production? Where does it come from? We’re certainly not going to come up with this in the office – we need to ask the field for our production rate. The field is who actually produces, or installs, the materials. So how do we get this information from the field into the office? My suggestion is production reporting.


There are 2 pieces to reporting. The first piece would be labor. The best conduit for reporting labor is through a time card. We need timecards anyway so why don’t we add a few more columns to it to give the office the necessary information they need to accurately estimate future projects?
The next piece of reporting would be the production of work. This is how many “whatevers” we produced in a given time (day, week, or hour).

Time Cards

What do you see differently in this timecard from a typical timecard? Maybe nothing (which is good) and maybe a lot. Probably the biggest difference would be the Cost Code column and maybe the Work Type. I know the time card I had when I worked for other companies only had the weekdays and a place for hours. So what benefit do those 2 columns provide for us?

The main thing it does is gives us a unique accounting code which enables us to track (very important term) the hours and units produced across many different projects. This is the beginning of our estimating system – historic data of labor charges.

NOTE: Wanted to put in a note here regarding the cost accounting system you use. Your system of tracking cost and production data must be mandatory for all people involved in your organization for any system to work for the life of your company. If one superintendent doesn’t use it the system has lost it’s overall purpose. The purpose is to give your estimating department the ability to track all costs associated with a project and report to the company how quickly and how costly you can produce “activities”. Each activity needs to be seperated into an assembly (i.e. 2×6 wall framing or 2×6 wall framing with 1/2″ exterior sheathing). You need this detail or you will end up lumping 2 different types of activities together which will throw the production and labor rates off. The cost codes are what allow you to quickly decipher what assembly or material is being tracked. The estimating department should use this number, the field should use this number, and purchasing should use the number – all costs for that activity will be in one place.

The next requirement for tracking is production. We know what the cost is to produce X feet of forming – now we need to track the units of production.

Labor Production

Have you seen something similar to this? This would be a daily, weekly, or monthly report depending on volume and the nature of your business. For a residential general contractor I would consider a weekly report sufficient enough to track production. What this report gives us is the total money spent from our timecards and the total units produced. The calculation on the right (Column H) is the cost divided by the total units produced (297.50 / 260 = $1.14 / LF). Now we have a labor cost associated with a unique activity per unit. Also derived from this form is a production rate (need to add total manhours to form), which is the total hours from all timecards divided by the number of units (17 hours to produce 260 LF = .065 hr/LF). Track this data on many jobs and you end up with a pretty even average that accounts for weather days, good days, materials delays, etc. With that information we can say, with very little doubt, what our production rate and labor cost is for each of the units. This is exactly what our estimators require to accurately bid projects.


The article is not a cure all for tracking problems but hopefully will give you ideas when you are developing or revamping your cost tracking system. I must reiterate – any system you develop needs to be adopted by all personnel or it will not be effective for your company. Do not waste your time on trying to implement this half-heartedly – go all in. Bottom line is – to keep your company successful, productive, and efficient you need to track your costs. Further articles will be written on estimating and accounting with these methods in the near future.


Anatomy of an Estimate

So what actually goes into an estimate and where do these costs come from? We’ll give a basic outline of each of the items and a basic idea of how estimators figure these costs.


Materials are probably the easiest thing to understand but possibly the most time consuming item for the estimator to figure. Quantities can be figured by using take-off calculators, standard quantities per unit, or historic data. Again this is possibly the most time consuming piece of an estimate.

Materials can be described as anything that remains in the structure as a finished product. Examples would be lumber, steel columns, windows, doors, roofing membrane, and the like. Items which are not figured in materials are things like profit, wage burdens, etc.

Direct Labor Costs

Direct labor costs are any wage for employees of the contractor that will perform work on the project. This should also be further defined to pertain to the materials described above. In other words, it’s the cost of labor involved to install the finished materials.

Indirect Labor Costs

Indirect labor costs are those expenses for items like fringe benefits, insurance, taxes. Other indirect labor costs are expenses that the contractor has to contribute such as social security and unemployment insurance. Indirect labor costs will vary from month to month depending on what laws or tax increases imposed by the state and federal governments. These costs can directly increase the cost of labor by 35% to 60% depending on location and type of work being performed.

Equipment Costs

Equipment costs are similar to direct labor costs in that they are the costs associated with the equipment that is used to install the materials described above. For example, the cost of running a front end loader to excavate a foundation for a 12 story building. Things that need to be accounted for within this cost would be maintenance costs, the ownership costs, and insurance.

After all that is figured a rate of production for the equipment would need to be figured to apply to the final estimate. An example would be digging 250 cy of dirt. How long does it take a front end loader to perform the work and at what cost. Multiply that by the amount of dirt and you come up with your cost for excavation of 250 cy of dirt.

Ownership and operating costs can get quite involved. You will need to account for the life expectancy of the equipment so you can see how many hours the machine is expected to run over the course of the project or year. The value will then be depreciated over that life to come up with an hourly ownership cost.


An owner or general contractor will typically not perform all the work on a given project therefore the owner or general contractor will need to contract with other companies to complete the project. The biggest thing in getting subcontractor bids is keeping it all fair. In order to do that the GC / Owner will bid the project out to several subcontractors to get the best price that meets the requirements of the project.


When an item in the project is not specifically called out, the contractor can put in an allowance. My personal preference is to keep this at a bare minimum. And from the owners side it makes more sense to specifically call out what they want in the project. It makes it much more simple to compare costs between different contractors. One method used to keep this to a minimum is to include an allowance in the bid documents. For example, let’s say there are 120 doors in the project but the architect or owner is unsure if they will be alder, maple, six panel, flush, etc. So the architect / owner will include an amount in the bid documents that states an amount for the 120 doors. This keeps the bids apples to apples.


Project overhead can be described as all the costs that can not be directly tied to the installation of materials in the project but are still necessary for the completion of the project. Some of these costs could be temporary heat, sanitary facilities, photographs, concrete testing, cleanup, legal expenses, and first aid supplies.

A subset of project overhead is General Overhead. These may include items like executive salaries, office furniture, payroll service, and advertising. This can also be called office overhead. These costs will typically range from 3 to 10 percent of the total contract price. Another large cost that can be covered here are bonds – bid bonds, performance bonds, payment bonds, etc. These costs can be fairly substantial so some research will be required to get the best bond at the least amount of cost transferred to the contractor.


The markup or margin can range from 5 to 20 percent of the total contract price. Although markup can be set at an overall percentage there can also be other considerations that will directly affect the contractors chances of being the low bidder. By that I mean maybe the company is slow at the time and they need work to continue in business. So they will decrease the markup to help insure that they are the low bidder. I’ve even heard of companies performing work at 0 fee just to keep their best employees working. Don’t get me wrong – this 0 fee is most often just a visual token as they will often hide the fee in other areas.

Wrap up

I hope this article has given you a better understanding of what is included in a budget estimate. This is a pretty basic idea of what is included – if you would like more information you can contact us and we will direct you to more informative articles.

Scheduling Manpower

Scheduling Manpower

One method for tracking labor production for use in estimating future jobs. Another use for this production rate is scheduling the amount of manpower needed for a given activity with a given duration.


Let’s use our previous example of the production rate of .065 hours per lineal foot to install footing formwork. Also given is a total lineal footage of 4000 feet and a duration of 5 days. How many people will I need to install the formwork?


One carpenter, on a 5 day work week, works 8 manhours per day. We can use that to figure the manhours required to install the formwork. Let’s start with the manhours required – 4000 feet multiplied by our production rate of .065 comes up with 260 manhours. In the 5 day duration we have 40 manhours per carpenter. Divide that into 260 manhours required and we come up with 6.5 or 7 carpenters for that week to finish the work on schedule. What happens when we accelerate the schedule and only have 3 days to complete.

Schedule acceleration

There are 2 ways to deal with a schedule acceleration. You can either increase the number of people or the amount of time they work in a day. Back to our example – we still have 260 manhours required to complete the work. If we are not allowing any overtime we will need to increase our workforce. Now each of our carpenters have 24 manhours that they can work. Divide duration of 260 manhours by 24 manhours workable time and we come up with 10.8 or 11 carpenters. What happens when we only have our 7 carpenters available?

Taking the duration of 260 manhours and dividing by 7 carpenters we come up with 37 hours required from each carpenter. Divide that amount by 3 days and we come up with 12.4 hours per day (31.5 total hours of overtime) to complete the activity on time. So how do we decide if we increase the manpower or increase the overtime?

Overtime or Manpower

This is a simple calculation of multiplying the total hours by a straight wage for no overtime – 260 manhours times $17.00 = $4420. With the overtime method we have 228.5 manhours at straight time and 31.5 hours of overtime. 228.5 times $17.00 ($3884.5) plus 31.5 times $17.00 * 1.5 ($803.25) = $4687.75. The difference in labor cost is $267.75. Now we need to ask ourselves a question – is it better for the job to give the overtime or increase the manpower?

Resource Leveling

In my opinion the question comes down to resource leveling. Our goal in scheduling resources is to slowly ramp up our workforce to a peak at the middle of the project and diminish at the end of the project. I believe it to be disruptive to haphazardly increase manpower substantially for a short period of time. In this example it would probably cost me more than $267.75 in office management and other overhead costs to increase the manpower for 3 days. Ultimately it comes down to a management decision on whether or not the increase in cost is acceptable. Another option is to go ahead and extend the schedule for an activity because it would be too costly to bring in more manpower and maybe we can catch up the delay in another activity where we may be able to quickly and cheaply make up the time.