Every loss scope has three main components: plenty of photos, a legible sketch and a detailed room-by-room scope.  Today we’re going to talk about room scoping.

First, some history.

I’ve been “writing” insurance scopes for nearly 20 years.  For the first few years, “writing” meant running from job taking pictures and creating sketches, then sitting down at the end of the day attempting to spew an estimate out of whatever I managed to cram into my head.  It’s safe to say it took me a couple years to learn what it takes to create a complete repair estimate.

You can only get a complete repair estimate, whether you’re using Xactimate or another estimating program, from a complete scope.  The most common disagreements in property claims are not about pricing, since we’re all pretty much using the same standard database.  Most disagreements are about the loss scope; what should have been included – and what should NOT.

Garbage In, Garbage Out

The phrase “garbage in, garbage out” is apropos in this context.  If you don’t have good information at the beginning of the estimate process, including a thorough scope, you’re NOT going to have a proper estimate in the end.

I write Xactimate estimates for contractors across the country.  My observation is that scoping is a skill that isn’t being taught well in the Restoration industry.  My experience tells me that folks are either naturally inclined to create good scopes, or they have to hire someone who is.

Every contractor, especially non-restoration contractors, has his/her own unique thought process when it comes to scoping and estimate creation.  Some take copious notes using a yellow notepad, others draw elaborate diagrams with little tiny notations and measurements.  Each has found a way to get the information they need in order to generate that all-important estimate at the end of the day.

The problem is that what works for one person, may not work for another.  When it is just one person that is charged with the photos, sketching, scoping AND estimating, there is little need for a system.  The person IS the system

Today’s project manager/estimators are some of the smartest people in the industry.  Their skill sets have been honed over the years in order to allow them to work magic on claim after claim.  Their notes and tick sheets have been equally honed to meet their own individual needs – and are little use to anyone else.

I once scoped a job with an independent adjuster who had previously been a general contractor.  To save time and effort, I ran the tape measure while he wrote the sketch.  We talked about the anticipated repairs as we walked the property and he scribbled like mad on his notepad.

At the end, I took photos of his sketch and headed back to my office to write my estimate.  To my surprise, I couldn’t read his sketch.  It was created in such a way that I had no idea what I was looking at.  So I called him for some explanation.

“My wife is the only one who seems to be able to read my sketches,” he explained after a good chuckle.  You see, he and his wife were an estimating team.  They had worked together for so long that they understood each other’s shortcuts and nomenclature.  They had their own system that worked for them.

It worked for them, but not for anyone else.

People Cannot Scale

This example illustrates the problem with relying on people as your systems.  Whether it’s estimating or building a car the truth is the same: in order to scale you must use systems.  Otherwise we’re all open to the proverbial “hit by a bus” scenario when our key employee or partner is no longer available and the whole operation grinds to a halt.

Jack Dennison mentioned this scenario during our interview on The Claim Clinic He said he sees a lot of companies stuck at $1.5-$2million in revenue because they rely on a sole operator to do it all: scope, document, negotiate settlements and estimate.  These companies will never grow to their potential, Jack says, until they implement systems to reduce the workload and eliminate one-person bottlenecks.

All companies, not just restoration contractors, who want to grow will eventually wind up at the conclusion that systems are the growth engines they need.  Once there are systems in place, you and your folks can work the system instead of working yourselves to the bone.

Systems allow you to hire the right person and then train them on the process.  The reality at most companies these days is that they’ve hired for the right skillset, not the right person.  There are a lot of companies whose success depends on the capacity of one or two project managers and estimators who have a skill set that no one else at the company has.  This is a recipe for disaster.

Systems Allow You to Scale

Using a simple, powerful system for scoping will allow you to start plugging in folks who don’t necessarily know everything about estimating, and then relying on the system to gather the right information.  Over time, these new people will become adept at working the system and eventually train new hires in the same way.

This also allows for specialization without depending on one person to possess a wide variety of skills.  The claims process turns into an assembly line of interchangeable parts, any of which a new person can step into and quickly get up to speed with the basics.

Xactimate Scope Basics

The first thing to understand is that a person doesn’t need to know anything about Xactimate in order to create a complete scope.  You don’t need to know any of the THOUSANDS of codes that make up the Xactimate database.  You only need to know how to tell a story.

Good Scoping is Good Story Telling

Any decent Xactimate estimator knows that when you say, “Replace the drywall on the North wall,” that the estimate will read something like this:

  • DRY1/2 – W/4
  • DRYTEX – W/4
  • PNTSP – W/4 … etc.

Notice that with just a little information, someone who knows what he is doing can create an Xactimate estimate that will fit the bill.  Unfortunately, often a good story doesn’t get told.  A statement like “fix drywall holes” wouldn’t quite be enough to go on.

So if you can tell a good story, you can probably write a scope with enough description that a professional estimator can take it, along with your pictures and measurements, and create a complete Xactimate estimate without ever stepping foot on site.

Now let’s take it a step further and show you how to systemize your scope taking to reduce your training time and provide a more consistent end product.  First, download the Scope Notes form that Claims Delegates uses for their clients: https://gum.co/xm8scope

Good Stories Start With a Good Framework

As you’ll notice, there is not a lot of information on the Scope sheet itself.  This was intentional.

My theory is that the more you give someone, the less they think.  And thinking is exactly what we want our project managers to be doing.  They are our eyes and ears in the field.  Each has to be able to think about not only what they can see, but also about the various assemblies and structures that they can’t  see.

This is why the worst scope sheets are the ones that attempt to list every possible item that may be needed in a room.  I’ve seen “tick sheets” that were multiple pages in length, and with teenie-tiny print just to fit it all in.  What’s the point?

The thinking behind these comprehensive lists is that if everything is on there, the folks filling out these things won’t forget anything.  The opposite is what happens in reality; things get left out because who can find what they’re looking for in that mess?  When you take away the ability to think, you also take away initiative and imagination.  Don’t do it.

As a matter of fact, if you have pages and pages of “tick” style scope sheets in your desk or in your truck, stop reading this right now and go throw them in the garbage.  Go ahead, I’ll wait….

Now, let’s talk about what our scope takers ACTUALLY need: structure.  It is important that when we do things, anything really, we do them the same way every time.  Even creative activities have a process and a flow.  And the more familiar we are with the process, the more we can achieve “flow.”

We want our folks to be able to get up to speed quickly and maintain a high level of efficiency for as long as possible.  We also want to plan for unforeseen circumstances that may interrupt our flow.  If we are all using the same system, in the same way, it becomes easier for other people to step into our workflow and pick up where we left off.

It is important that our systems, at every level, are easy to teach and learn, while providing the highest level of quality information throughout our organizations.   These structures, or frameworks, become the backbones of our companies’ competitive advantages.

Keep It Simple

Now take a look at the Scope Notes sheet, as well as the example sheets provided.  As you read through, you’ll quickly get the picture of what is needed.

The top section is used to keep all the paperwork organized, and to provide the Xactimate writer a way to contact the person who performed the site take-off in case there are questions.  The time is used for training and monitoring purposes: if you wrote the Living Room scope starting at 11am, and wrote the Kitchen scope at 11:30, you know that it took a half-hour to write up the Living Room.

This kind of information is incredibly useful for managers and estimators alike.  We are able to quickly identify opportunities for growth and training.

The top section also enables a scope to be written by more than one person.  Because we’ve never been called to a big emergency water damage while we were knee-deep in a whole-house scope job before. Right?

The rest of the Scope Notes follows a simple pattern:

  • Room Name and Dimensions
  • Equipment/Sub Trades
  • Framing / Structure
  • Floor scope
  • Walls scope
  • Ceiling scope

Filling out each section is as simple as asking the question, “What Sub Trades do I anticipate using in this room to return it to pre-loss condition?”

Or, “What wall repairs will be needed to return this room to pre-loss condition?”

Easy right?  We move our minds in the same pattern in each room: outside-in and bottom-up.  This happens to be the exact way I teach my students/contractors.

Writing scopes in this way also allows the Xactimate writer to show the same flow pattern inside their estimate.  I even advocate using the labels – Subs, Floor, Wall, Ceiling – inside each room of the Xactimate estimate.  It telegraphs to the adjuster and homeowner that we’ve thought of everything; because if we follow the flow, we HAVE thought of everything.

The Best Way to Eat An Elephant

The most common questions I get from folks who are new to this system are regarding specific items. Like, “what about cabinets?”

I answer that by asking another question, “Where do you put cabinets?”  Floor? Wall?  It doesn’t matter really. Just as long as you put them in the same place every time.

Insulation?  Is it wall, floor or ceiling BAT?

Baseboards?  Well fancy pants, do you attach baseboards to the floor or the wall?

It really doesn’t matter which you prefer.  The important thing is that you are going through the mental exercise of thinking about each assembly as individual pieces of the whole.  By breaking up the room into parts, you are less likely to get caught up trying to think of everything at once.

What’s the best way to eat an elephant? One bite at a time, Grasshopper.

What would you like to learn next?

I’m writing these articles based upon requests for information from my Claims Delegates clients.  Is there something you’d like to read about next?

Send a tweet to @TheClaimDoctor or head over to the Facebook page and leave me a note.


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Also published on Medium.