New Paradigms for Today Through Value Engineering

Scot McClintock
In this turbulent time of a pandemic and significant social change shaping a new normal, we need to change our paradigms. While this may sound like a challenge, we have a powerful in-house tool that has been helping our clients make changes for more than 50 years.

Best known as Value Engineering (VE), it is actually a decision- making tool that can be applied to any decision, whether optimizing the use of available capital and facility and real estate portfolios or simply improving a standard procedure. VE brings the right people together to identify the issues, define the required functions, brainstorm the best ways to meet those functions, and then develop those ideas so they can be implemented. All decisions are made by consensus.

In our search for a new normal, VE can help us develop new or modified paradigms for today’s issues by understanding:

  • What are paradigms and what does it take to change them?
  • What does it take for us to become leaders for change?
  • What is the VE paradigm?
  • We can have a profound effect on the world around us.

What is a Paradigm

While re-reading Future Edge: Discovering the New Paradigms of Success by Joel Barker, the futurist who brought the word “paradigm” into everyday usage, I was struck by the themes common to Value Engineering (VE). VE is itself a paradigm. According to Barker a paradigm is a set of rules that establishes or defines boundaries and tells you how to behave inside the boundaries in order to be successful. He explains that a paradigm shift is a change to a new set of rules. In other words, a paradigm shift forces you to look in a different direction, much as a VE workshop often does. Understanding the paradigm concepts can improve the application of VE to anything, including how the new normal should look.

Paradigm Shifters and the Reactions

A paradigm does not shift by itself. The human prod that shifts it is known as a paradigm shifter and most likely they are outside the paradigm they are shifting. Barker identifies four types of paradigm shifters.

  • The first type is the young person fresh out of training who doesn’t know any better, who “doesn’t know how we do things around here.”
  • The second type is the older person who is shifting to a new, unrelated field. Both types share an operational naivete, which allows them to ask dense questions and boldly attempt things that can’t be done.
  • The third type is the maverick, working within and knowledgeable about the paradigm but open to other ideas. Although unpopular due to constant questioning, the maverick is likely the first to recognize the problems the current paradigm cannot solve.
  • Finally, the tinkerer stumbles on a new paradigm when fixing a specific problem.

The response to the paradigm shifter is somewhat predictable and very similar to what VE practitioners face constantly—resistance. Those who have had success under the old paradigm resist strongly. The higher their position, the more risk they feel as they contemplate shifting paradigms. The better they are at the old paradigm, the more they’ve invested in it, and the more they feel they have to lose. The paradigm shifters, especially if they are outsiders, have nothing invested. This makes them very amenable to change, which is good, but also gives them no credibility in the eyes of those captive to the old paradigm.

Those who follow the paradigm shifters into the brave new world of the new paradigm are known as paradigm pioneers. In a simplistic analogy, the VE team member who comes up with a breakthrough idea is the paradigm shifter, and the rest of the team supporting development of the breakthrough idea are the pioneers. Being a paradigm pioneer often requires an act of the heart based on courage and intuition since most of the data still points to the old paradigm. A VE workshop is the perfect environment for expression of such acts. At the end of the VE workshop, the decision makers who agree to go with the VE team’s new paradigm are also paradigm pioneers, and even more so as they proceed to implement the new paradigm in the less friendly environment of the old.

Of course, most recommendations from a VE workshop are not paradigm shifts. They could be considered paradigm enhancements. Such recommendations are easier for the present paradigm followers to understand and, therefore, to accept. Notice it’s easier but not necessarily easy! Even small changes meet resistance. These paradigm enhancements can result in substantial improvements and/or savings in the present paradigm, as reflected in the predictable success of VE. You will not identify a paradigm shift in every VE workshop as often, the present paradigm is still very effective. However, look for one since many major breakthroughs take the form of a paradigm shift.

Barker identifies several key characteristics of paradigms.

  • First, there is never just one right answer. This is a key reason for VE success.
  • Second, those held captive by a paradigm can develop paradigm paralysis, in which any alternative is “not the way we do things around here.” VE practitioners encounter victims of paradigm paralysis often, which is why they have to work so hard to get VE recommendations implemented.
  • Third, people can choose to change their paradigms to “see the world anew.” VE helps them identify these changes, offering this new view in an environment conducive to change.
  • Finally, paradigm pliancy (the opposite of paradigm paralysis) is the best strategy for these turbulent times. It is the purposeful seeking of new ways. That, in a nutshell, is VE.

Paradigm Pliancy, VE, Managers and Leaders

Paradigm pliancy, with VE as one of its most useful tools, is a must for the managers of today. In these constantly changing times, we must constantly seek new ways. Managers must facilitate and encourage cross talk— between departments, with suppliers, with customers, with competition, with end users, etc. They must pay attention to “screwy” ideas, which are the “leverage for innovation.” VE can be one of their tools, helping managers find innovative ideas.

Barker also offers insight on managers versus leaders, leading me to conclude that VE practitioners must be leaders. Managers tend to lead within their paradigms. Their job traditionally is enhancement of those paradigms. Leaders work between paradigms. Whatever their official role in the organization, they will be viewed as leaders if they can drag the organization kicking and screaming in a new direction, which improves a situation or solves problems the old paradigm could not.

The recognized differences between managers and leaders indicate that VE can help us be leaders. Managers administer while leaders innovate. Managers have a limited perspective while leaders look at the big picture. Managers ask how and when, but leaders want to know what and why. The manager’s eye is on the bottom line while the leader’s eye is on the horizon. Finally, managers accept the status quo, but leaders challenge the status quo, exercising their paradigm pliancy. Innovative, big-picture vision, asking what and why, focusing on the horizon and challenging everything are all attributes of accomplished leaders.

The VE Paradigm

What about the VE paradigm? Has it changed in the last 70 years? Although it shows remarkable consistency over this long time period, the VE paradigm has seen significant enhancements. We must always keep our paradigm pliable moving forward. Denying the notion that the VE paradigm needs further enhancements would be succumbing to paradigm paralysis. Like a dermatologist with acne, paradigm paralysis would not say much for a VE practitioner’s ability to be, or to help others be creative and innovative.

Larry Miles started the VE paradigm concept during World War II as American manufacturers sought new ways to do things out of sheer necessity. He defined a new set of rules, creating a paradigm, which he called value analysis. At the request of his employer General Electric, Larry packaged these rules together to create a G.E. standard, or paradigm, in 1947. One of these rules was a technique Larry developed called function analysis. Function analysis is the key to the success of VE and has benefited from several enhancements over the years.

Charles Bytheway, a design engineer for Sperry Univac, developed a major paradigm enhancement in 1964, which we know as Function Analysis System Technique (FAST). FAST provided a way to present the interrelationship of the identified functions, thereby aiding the classification of functions into basic, secondary, higher order, etc. Many others have developed further enhancements to FAST since. By keeping pliancy in our paradigm, we can employ the function analysis and FAST techniques which best suit our individual situations.

Paradigm pliancy in action throughout the history of VE is one of the reasons why VE is so effective. However, at times VE practitioners have shown a lack of paradigm pliancy in their attitudes toward other practitioners. Statements such as “if you don’t develop a FAST diagram, it’s not VE” or “VE cannot be effective if it’s not conducted over five consecutive days” indicate paralysis of their VE paradigm. For VE to continue as a powerful paradigm in uncertain times, we must apply it with pliancy, customizing it to fit the stakeholder’s situation. We are all in this together, even if we operate a little differently within the VE paradigm.

Final Considerations

In the study of paradigms, we have learned several things. First, perceptions are influenced by the paradigms in which people operate, and people resist change because they are so good at their existing paradigms. The VE paradigm helps us liberate our customers and stakeholders from their paradigms in a supportive, creative, “pliable” environment so they can accept enhancement of their paradigm or even a paradigm shift.

Second, it’s an outsider who usually leads a paradigm shift or enhancement. The VE practitioner is well equipped to be that leader or paradigm shifter.

Third, those who apply the paradigm enhancement or shift their paradigm first, through what is mostly an act of faith, will gain the most. Especially with a paradigm shift where everyone goes back to zero, the ones using the new paradigm will enjoy great success while everyone else scrambles to understand what happened and catch up. With the application of VE, stakeholders are much more likely to be there when the paradigm shift occurs.

Finally, a new paradigm, or even a significant paradigm enhancement, provides a new perspective and a new approach to solving problems. We know VE is successful because we do look at the world differently through function analysis, challenging everything. The consideration that what we are doing may be leading to a paradigm shift, however, may be new to us. It serves to remind us that our VE paradigm is a powerful tool, one that can have a profound effect on the world around us. The world needs some new paradigms!

Scot McClintock, PE, CVS-Life, PVM, FSAVE is Chief Value Manager of Faithful+Gould with expertise in leading VE workshops and shifting paradigms for more than 38 years.

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