Minimize Value Engineering to Maximize Project End Results

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By Herman Gude, Senior Electrical Design Engineer

Value engineering. VE. Cost savings. The concept goes by many names, but engineers often dread hearing those two letters spoken together. Now, do not misread this as an opposition to project cost savings. Instead, consider the real question: Is the owner actually getting value out of the value engineering?

Unfortunately, when VE is brought up it often means the right questions were not posed at the beginning, middle and end of a project’s design. When that happens, the owner loses quality, appearance and, of course, money. Knowing your audience and knowing what questions to ask at each milestone can minimize, or even eliminate, the VE list altogether. This, in turn, will bring the value back to the project.

As engineers and/or designers, we are obligated to give the owner the best product at the most cost-effective price without sacrificing design quality. With that said, knowing the cost better than the contractor bidding the project puts us in a better position to defend our design. Understanding cost gives us knowledge about the right questions to ask and when to ask them.

Questions for the beginning – SD phase (schematic phase):

  1. What is the building function?
  2. What class is your building (A, B, C, D)?
  3. Does the owner have a construction manager who will be running the project?
  4. What is the preliminary construction budget?
  5. What are the owner’s short- and long-term goals for the building?

Questions for the middle – DD phase (design development phase):

  1. What are the building’s space programming needs?
  2. What vendors and/or contractors does the owner like working with?
  3. What vendors and/or contractors does the owner not like working with?
  4. What is your realistic construction budget based on the answers and scope of work created from the SD phase?

Questions for the end (CD, addendums, RFI’s):

  1. This list of questions, which tend to be laser-focused, will vary based on outcomes of the DD phase.

The engineer/designer is tasked with presenting the owner with cost-effective options throughout the three question phases of the project. That is why being knowledgeable about costs is a critical part of the design process. Having the ability to put a value on items will help the owner quantify options and make cost-driven decisions during the design process rather than after the fact. This is what puts the value in VE.

Getting the owner in at or below budget the first time out of the gate results in a satisfied customer.

First, they get their project as originally designed.

Second, if their project comes in under budget, they may consider adding scope to another area, such as technology, finishes or tenant amenities.

Finally, you, the engineer, exceeded the owner’s expectation by providing exemplary service at no added cost because you asked the right questions, knew the cost impact and listened to the owner’s wants and needs – then you executed.