Perspectives on value engineering

The importance of understanding where a client sees value — Nick Cullen
NICK CULLEN stresses that value engineering should be solely focused on the interests of the client.As a process that gradually refines the design solution in line with a client’s brief, value engineering or value management should be part of the design process from start to finish. In reality, however, it is often a cost-cutting exercise designed to trim the costs to fit the budget and, as such, should be labelled with its true title — ‘cost management.’ Cost management, otherwise known as value management, should start at the briefing stage of a project. The professional team should apply its knowledge and experience to understand and, if necessary, adjust the client’s aspirations to match their pocket. This is important for all concerned. Why design a building that has all the bells and whistles if the client cannot afford them? The process should involve all the design team and consider all aspects of the design; unfortunately this rarely happens. The objective of value management is to ensure the client’s aspirations are aligned with the team’s proposals in the most cost-effective manner. It must involve the entire design team and client — but must reflect the aspirations of the end user and, ultimately, of society as a whole. The value-management exercise should seek to define project priorities by setting clear goals with parameters that can easily be used for comparison. The parameters should reflect the societal, commercial and ethical values of the client. You owe it to your client Value management should be undertaken in the specific interest of the client. This sounds obvious but does not always happen. I recall visiting a headquarters building of a client, a fairly un-presuming building. As we passed through the reception we past a blue textured wall, at which point the client shook her head and sighed. After a gentle enquiry I learnt that the blue finish had cost many thousands of Euros and had been insisted upon by the architect — a clear case of a professional placing their perception of value ahead of those of the client. Having passed the blue wall, we visited the conference room — the reason for my visit. This was fully equipped with a new displacement-ventilation system knocked up by a local contractor, which would have benefited from a better design and specification — hence my appointment. Whilst I cannot say there was a connection between the two, this illustrates the importance of understanding where a client sees value. In this case, it was the comfort of their commercial partners — not the colour of the walls. Who is your client? Most designers have a clear contractual line of responsibility and will act in their client’s interest. However, there is sometimes a conflict when the value placed on different building features by the contractual client, the end user and society differs. In most cases interests are aligned, as both will understand and refer to established standards. However, this conflict is becoming more evident with the move to environmentally sustainable buildings. The value of a green building to an end user may lie in many different aspects, but fundamentally it should lie in providing a healthy and environmentally responsible low-carbon workplace. This improved performance should be reflected by substantial cuts in carbon emissions, something that benefits not only the end user but society as a whole. Society imposes pressure, through planning for example, where value is placed on particular technologies or strategies which may not coincide with those of the design team, the client or end user and which may not even stand up to rational comparison. A commercial developer or politician may see value not in performance but in the illusion of performance created through the inclusion of visible green features. A building’s green features are often seen as useful in attracting tenants and investors and therefore have a value completely independent of their actual functional value. There has been therefore a tendency to invest in ‘add-on’ green features — often at the expense of more cost effective and beneficial, but less visible, design features. In effect the long-term performance of a building, of value to the end user and society, is sacrificed to accommodate the commercial, political needs or prejudices of the design team, politician or developer. The value placed on a building feature, which we seek to manage in value management, depends upon your perspective. Too often, value is placed on aspects of design-based irrational requirements or separate underlying agendas. Fortunately the new Part L and the forthcoming building energy labelling system will enable some of the green wash to be wiped away and a rationally based calculation of value placed on green design and, in particular, low- and zero-carbon technologies. Nick Cullen is a partner with Hoare Lea Consulting Engineers.
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