Value Engineering: a tool for quality control in design

Scot McClintock
Quality control (QC) is a major concern of today's design firms. However, quality alone is not enough in today's competitive marketplace. Clients expect a quality design. If they also perceive that quality design is cost-effective, they will likely hire you again.

Value engineering (VE) is a powerful tool, known primarily for its benefits in cost control, which can be applied successfully to QC to give you a quality, cost-effective design. By comparing common elements of QC and VE programs, we can develop an approach that brings the best attributes of both to our design process. One approach is a QC VE workshop.

One common element of VE and QC programs is the team approach. The multidisciplinary project team is key to production of a quality product by an AE design firm. The VE team is also multidisciplinary and, even though specific personnel should not be the same, the disciplines needed most likely will be.

A second common element is the need for disciplined management techniques. A good QC program is based upon project work plans. These are established procedures reflecting management commitment attitudes. VE uses disciplined management techniques known as the VE Job Plan. Adherence to its established procedures maximizes the results of a VE study.

A third common element is a strong team leader. In a QC program, the project manager moves the project to its completion, ultimately responsible for the quality of the project. In VE, the VE team leader, ideally a certified value specialist (CVS), is ultimately responsible for production of practical, cost-effective recommendations.

A final common element is independence. When actual QC reviews are performed, they should be done by individuals who are not on the project team. The VE team must also be independent of the project team. In both cases, a fresh set of eyes is beneficial to the review. There is one exception to this, which will be discussed later.

Characteristics of a QC VE Workshop

The emphasis of a QC VE Workshop is on quality, conformance to client goals and technical adequacy. Cost is still important because you want clients to feel that you are spending their money like it was your own. But, the main thrust of the workshop is to ensure the design team is producing a quality project.

By staffing the VE team with technically experienced, qualified personnel, you are checking the technical adequacy of the project. As the team goes through the information phase, the standard VE forms can be augmented with discipline-specific technical checklists. Unlike traditional VE, the VE team can also be charged with writing technical comments and marking drawings to document areas where technical quality needs bolstering.

Review of preliminary design is the place where a VE workshop for QC fits for all projects. The extent of the workshop is simply adjusted to fit the size and complexity of the project. Preliminary design drawings, outline specifications, quantity takeoffs and preliminary cost estimates are all available at this point. The stage is set for a VE review and, more importantly in this application, a QC review for technical adequacy and conformance to client goals. And, if the VE team comes up with a breakthrough that allows the design firm to spend clients' money like its own, so much the better. Clients will not soon forget quality, cost-effective products. At preliminary design, design changes can be incorporated as project design continues without destroying the design budget or schedule.

Another use of a QC VE workshop is to solve specific problems that have arisen. For example, the probable cost estimate is 20% over budget or a particularly difficult design decision cannot be agreed upon. The VE team can be given specific targets to study in the workshop. Client representatives can be added to the VE team if their input can help make decisions. Most clients would welcome a chance to give such input. VE techniques work, and sometimes, the differences between VE and conventional design help solve seemingly impossible problems.

Other Applications of VE Techniques

VE techniques can be very useful to a QC program at other points where a full VE workshop is not warranted. This is especially true of creative techniques such as brainstorming. Functional analysis techniques can also be used effectively throughout design to make design decisions based on necessary functions. Finally, many of the comparative techniques from the evaluation phase of VE can be used to make design choices throughout the design.

Creative design techniques can lead to more efficient use of personnel, equipment and experiences to keep the cost of design down. This may lead to increased profitability on the project. Design schedules can also be shortened by developing creative design approaches. Often, all that is needed to work smarter is to take time at the project's start to sit back and think. Brainstorming techniques can help maximize the efficiency and potential profitability of project work planning.

Function analysis may find client goals that are excessive or have undesirable side effects, which can be presented to clients so that they may change or reconfirm their goals. On the other hand, function analysis may discover functions (goals) which need to be added. Either way, clients can make educated decisions and the design firm's solution can be viewed as a quality one by the clients.

Unlike traditional VE, VE for QC would most likely be staffed in-house. The flexibility, proximity, and timeliness of the in-house VE team are essential to accomplish a QC VE workshop without disrupting design schedules or budgets.

VE workshops for QC are often less than the traditional 40 hours. The project size and complexity, and common sense, determine how long a workshop will be and how many members will be on the team. However, there must be enough time to complete the QC task. On a small project, with a small amount of information to absorb, the job plan can be carried out very successfully in four hours if need be. The CVS must, however, stay on top of the team to get that success.

Just as in traditional VE, the VE team in a QC role identifies and justifies recommended changes and returns them to the project team for approval, implementation and modification. The CVS should work with the project manager to ensure maximum implementation of the VE team's recommendations.

Where QC VE Workshops Fit

In considering the life of a project, from identification of a project opportunity to construction completion, there are two points in a project that readily come to mind where QC VE workshops are effective. In chronological order, they are Concept Selection and QC Review of Preliminary Design.

Use of a VE workshop for concept selection is a fairly unique application of VE where the best concept is not easily selected. VE can help by functionally breaking down client needs and desires and translating them into project concepts. In addition, the VE team can actually be the project team. The project team has not yet begun design to any appreciable extent and, therefore, is still open-minded. It has, by definition, the mix of disciplines necessary to properly address the project. Most importantly, the project team needs to get up to speed on the project anyway. The VE workshop provides a format for getting the project team together, getting the team members started on the same foot, and helping them select a design concept that functionally, and maybe creatively, satisfies the client goals. With the project team serving as the VE team, the odds of the VE team’s ideas being implemented increase.

With the importance of quality control in today’s litigious climate, the design firm should leave no stone unturned in its search for ways to improve quality. VE can serve the firm well by helping it provide technically sound, cost-effective, quality projects which satisfy client goals and, therefore, are viewed as quality projects by the client. This is the ultimate goal and the justification for use of VE techniques and workshops for QC.

This article originally appeared in Civil + Structural Engineer Magazine, August 2020.

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