Brad Barth serves as the chief product officer for InEight,, Scottsdale, Ariz., where he oversees product strategy and product management.

Missing Link: The Quantity Breakdown Item

Owners see gleaming skyscrapers or massive bridges, but those charged with realizing those visions see cubic yards of concrete and piece marks of steel. Engineers and contractors are trained to take large things and break them down into smaller things, into the most granular building blocks necessary to create the owner’s vision. It’s the very ability to think at that atomic level that makes it possible to create seemingly impossible structures…one building block at a time.

Now, think about the software systems your company uses. Whether you’re thinking about estimating software, scheduling software, accounting software, or even design software, each of those systems has its own idea of what constitutes a building block—the most granular level of detail at which the software allows its users to expand or contract the data.

While an estimating system might hold tens of thousands of line items resulting from a quantity takeoff process for a large project, the financial system might only have a few hundred line items or cost codes tracked in the budget for the same project.

The disparity of perspective inherent in these systems creates a disconnect that wreaks all kinds of havoc, particularly on those with the well-intentioned ambition to create connected workflows and unified reporting across the various business processes that touch all these systems. If your software systems don’t know how an estimate line item relates to a schedule activity, or how either of those relate to a budget cost code, how is that tech going to help you deal with everything that must happen when any of those things change? Simply put, if a design change results in a change to the quantity of twenty estimate line items, what does that do to the schedule…and the budget…and the procurement plan? In today’s reality, that’s a lot of manual work.

The promise of these systems is the ability to react to design changes with unprecedented speed and certainty …

Fortunately, we’re now starting to see construction software that facilitates the management of the project at the lowest common denominator, the piece mark of steel or individual foundation, generically referred to as the QBI (quantity breakdown item). Unlike Excel, these systems understand how QBIs relate to work plans, and how those relate to budget line items, and how those relate to schedule activities, and so forth.

The promise of these systems is the ability to react to design changes with unprecedented speed and certainty, with the ability to play “what if?” scenarios all the way through to predict the impact of change across estimates, budgets, schedules, and procurement. What’s more, when a QBI is tracked from purchasing through installation as part of a work plan, its inherent relationships allow the schedule and budget to automatically calculate the correct percent complete, even though those things are tracked at a different level.

Here’s the best part: connecting all of a construction project’s data at the QBI level not only speeds up workflows, such as quantity claiming and billing, it also enables the capture of meaningful benchmarks that can be used as validation for future projects.