Best Practices for Forecasting Job Costs in Construction


By Denita Schreier, CCIFP, CMA, Executive Vice President

In the dynamic world of construction, where each project requires a delicate balancing act, the ability to accurately forecast job costs stands as the foundation of a company’s profitability. As we survey the landscape of the industry, it becomes evident that job profit/loss isn’t just a metric – it’s the primary determinant of a construction company’s success. A startling 49% of contractor failures can be traced to a limited number of unsuccessful jobs, emphasizing the critical need for a strategic approach to forecasting and managing costs, especially for small to midsize contractors.

The Imperative of Early Detection

Every construction company will have loss jobs and must acknowledge this universal truth. However, the key to mitigating their impact lies in early detection. Identifying potential issues before they escalate is not just a good practice; it is a necessity. This proactive stance is essential for the financial health of a company, especially when dealing with the unique challenges faced by smaller contractors. A disciplined approach to forecasting job costs will uncover risks and concerns in a timely manner and create the opportunity to react and minimize negative impacts on profit.

Unlocking Profit Potential Through Active Management

While challenges are inevitable, it is essential to recognize that there is job profit upside potential if actively managed. This management requires a consistent, well-conducted process that involves regular meetings, senior management engagement, and timely, accurate monthly job reviews.

Monthly Meetings: A Strategic Necessity

Meetings should be held at least monthly as a best practice. This regular cadence provides a structured platform for reviewing job costs, identifying potential issues, and strategizing solutions. Monthly meetings serve as a proactive measure, preventing minor challenges from snowballing into major setbacks. Depending upon the severity of the issues encountered, meetings may need to be held more than once per month.

Consistency and Discipline: The Cornerstones of Success

To master the art of forecasting job costs, construction companies need to develop a methodical and uniform procedure. This involves creating a standardized system for cost estimation, tracking, and review. Consistency is necessary so that all projects are subject to the same scrutiny, and discipline promotes adherence to the established process.

Senior Management Engagement: A Leadership Imperative

The success of cost forecasting initiatives hinges on senior management actively engaging in the process. Their insights and strategic decisions can shape the direction of a project and ensure that the entire team is aligned with overarching goals. Leadership involvement is a key factor when fostering a culture of accountability and continuous improvement.

The Critical Role of Timely and Accurate Reviews

Timely and accurate monthly job reviews emerge as the cornerstone of maintaining a construction company’s profitability. These reviews not only offer a snapshot of the current project status but also serve as a platform for informed decision-making. The ability to adapt and pivot based on real-time data is crucial to stay ahead of challenges and capitalize on identified opportunities.

Conclusion: Building a Foundation for Success

Mastering the art and science of forecasting job costs requires a holistic approach that combines early detection, active management, and strategic decision-making. By holding monthly meetings, establishing a consistent and disciplined process, and engaging senior management, construction companies can build a solid foundation for success. Timely and accurate reviews serve as the compass, guiding companies through the complexities of the construction landscape.

Embrace these best practices, stay proactive, and watch as your company not only weathers challenges but emerges stronger, more resilient, and more profitable.