The Unfortunate Degeneration of Value Engineering

Recently, a prospective client waved off the suggestion that Value Engineering (VE) could help his upcoming project.  I'm paraphrasing, but his comment was along the lines of "any monkey can cross things out on the drawings." I checked the bylaws of the American Society of Professional Estimators; there is no restriction on species. Plus, we all know that, based on the Infinite monkey theorem, monkeys could type up Shakespeare's complete works. 

I would offer that a more systematic approach to value engineering produces better results. While we may be forced to cut scope out of a project in order to reach the client’s budget, we look for opportunities to add value in this order:

  • Schedule - Faster delivery means reduced staff costs, less overhead and less escalation. For our clients, a faster schedule means lower carry costs, faster time-to-market and less rent in their old space.
  • Means & Methods – We look for ways to maximize prefabrication time, project efficiencies, and find ways to reduce/eliminate rework. Typically these options require a concerted effort to reach out to specialty contractors to understand how they perform their scope of work on this specific project.
  • Maximize the competition - We review specs for openness, consider BMS system alternatives, lighting options and alternative manufacturers to maximize bid coverage.
  • Foundations – These are hugely impacted by means and methods and is an aspect that only the builders find interesting. We evaluate all feasible options, such as footings, mat foundations, driven piers, geopiers or drilled piers in order to find the cheapest and fastest option.
  • Structure – We review whether braced frame, moment structure steel, conXtech, bearing masonry walls with trusses, light gauge steel framing or wood framing will result in the lowest overall cost without any or little impact to the floor plan/design.
  • Tactile finishes – Quality is perceived by touch. User satisfaction tends to follow this order 1) Furniture; 2) Room size; 3) Lighting; and 4) Exterior appearance. This means we evaluate items such as door hardware and wall coverings last.  My thoughts on this VE category were influenced heavily by a book called How Buildings Learn by Stewart Brand.

I would encourage everyone reading this to stop using "Value Engineering" as a synonym for "Cost Reduction." I would call those who persist in this practice “monkeys,” but it would be an insult to monkeys. 

Posted on February 02, 2013 by David Kramer
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