Refining to Reach the Optimal Goal

Adding worth, functionality, and competitiveness in the built environment with value engineering
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Sponsored by Gordian
By Amanda Voss, MPP
Establishing the “How”

After defining expectations, design professionals should have a consistent process outlined for VE. This is the “how” of VE. Whether a designer wants to substitute one material for another, consider alternative building methods, or limit a project’s environmental impact, the VE process follows a logical, straightforward path.

According to Howard and Haas, a formal VE process typically progresses through a series of analytical steps. These may look like:

  • Information gathering: an initial briefing by the project team to develop an understanding of the project requirements and design, the status of the budget and schedule, and constraints.
  • Functional analysis: examination of the project’s functional requirements within budgetary limitations to enhance understanding of why the project is being built and what the final result should be.
  • Creativity/brainstorming: developing and listing ideas and options for VE, keeping in mind the functional requirements of the project.
  • Analysis: expanding the creative ideas into workable solutions, evaluating their impacts and costs, and ranking them in terms of cost, feasibility, and value received.
  • Recommendation: presentation of the VE proposals, expected savings, and value results in a formal report.

Another way to think about VE is to put the elements and systems identified during discussions under the microscope and ask a series of progressive questions about each.

  • Step 1 – Identify: Identify the material makeup of a project. Ask yourself: What is this?
  • Step 2 – Analyze: Analyze the functions of those elements. Ask yourself: What does this do?
  • Step 3 – Develop: Develop alternative solutions for delivering those functions. Ask yourself: What else could do this?
  • Step 4 – Assess: Assess the alternative solutions. Ask yourself: Can this still deliver the experience the owner demands?
  • Step 5 – Allocate: Allocate costs to the alternative solutions. Ask yourself: How much will this cost?
  • Step 6 – Develop: Develop the alternatives with the highest likelihood of success. Ask yourself: What will do the best job for the longest time?

After establishing the “what” via expectations and running through the “how,” it is important to value engineer where it makes sense. That means defining large and small systems and preserving required items for functionality, code, and safety.

Choosing the “Where”

For Howard and Haas, during the functional analysis phase, the team views the project functionally in three ways to help better analyze and study options. First is identifying materials and systems that create the basic function for the project. These elements will be essential to the performance of a user function or designed to fulfill a user requirement. A key defining question is, “Can this function be eliminated and still satisfy the user?” Any function that must be achieved to meet codes, standards, or owner requirements is an element with a required secondary function. For example, Howard and Haas note that the basic function of a hospital is to treat patients. A fire-protection system is not required to treat patients, but it is required for the project. Those elements with a secondary function are materials and systems which, if removed, would still allow basic and required functions to be met.

One area where design professionals can often find value is in large systems—think heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems, lighting, and electrical systems. This does not mean using a bargain product or compromising on performance. Often, spending more on a higher-performing system at the beginning of a project will save in maintenance costs over the building’s lifespan. The importance of using a wide lens of time in VE is crucial. It is always wise to conduct a life-cycle cost analysis and get input from the team responsible for maintaining the building to gather the long-term cost implications of major systems.

Measuring Success

Overall, VE demands that architects and builders view a project with a wider lens and scrutinize materials, plans, and processes to identify cost-effective alternatives that meet the requirements of a project. But finding alternatives takes work. You have to know what you are looking for and where to look.

Although VE began as a cost-saving measure, it is becoming a valued project management technique that addresses all aspects of the building life cycle from the initial construction through the sustainability of sourced materials and utility efficiency of the final project, notes South Bay Construction. The company has more than 37 years of experience building in the Bay Area of California, adding, “Our goal has always been to create the greatest possible value for our clients. We have found that incorporating value engineering into our design and construction process results in greater added value and reduced costs for our clients.”

VE also provides the opportunity for the project team to bring positive environmental and social impact solutions to the table, including methods for reducing the carbon footprint of transportation, building, and operation as well as suggestions that positively affect the safety and wellness of the surrounding community.


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Originally published in Architectural Record
Originally published in March 2020