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William L. Shannon, Editor

William L. Shannon, Editor of CISCA

Value Engineering

for the November / December 2004 Issue, CISCA's Interior Construction Magazine

Most people in our industry are familiar with the now common term, "value engineering". Ten years, or so, ago, the term was coined by construction managers, the goal, to provide the same intent, quality, and appearance on the construction project as originally intended, but offer new and more efficient approaches to the constructability of the project, while saving money.

In the early years the process was very successful. The Construction Manager, owner, architect and sub contractors working together as a team to produce an excellent product within the established budget parameters. What has happened to change the initial concept?

It seems, in many instances that the term "value engineering" simply means, providing the least expensive, lowest quality, material possible, as long as the building doesn't simply fall down, within the warranty period! Let's face it, regardless of the product or system, there is, absolutely, always something less expensive!

Let's agree that professionally handled, value engineering, is probably an asset to our industry. Let's also agree that some companies and individuals use the term to simply provide sub standard material. Assuming that most CISCA Members are in this industry for the long term, providing low quality material or systems on a project is not really a positive approach to long term businesses viability!

There are generally two instances in the life of a project where legitimate value engineering takes place;

  • During the design process, when the designer utilizes a cost estimator or contractor to prepare a running budget, to be sure the project stays within the established budget.
  • After the project has been bid, and if the project comes in over the budget.

Substitutions, other than in these instances, rarely benefit the owner or architect, unless, they are used to offset unanticipated construction problems, or design issues overlooked in the contract documents.

What are the expectations of the various players in the construction process?

  • The owner has a vision, a new and exciting project and has selected the architectural firm that they feel will best create their masterpiece. They have agonized over design and details. They expect their building to be exactly as designed and specified.
  • The Architect has created a design for the project. Carefully researched the various building components and selected those products and systems that best meet their design intent. They have spent months working with manufacturers, contractors, subcontractors and representatives, viewing similar projects, samples, details and specifications. They expect, their project to be constructed as designed and specified.
  • The qualified general contractor has carefully examined the finished construction documents and submitted a bid to build the project as designed and specified, incorporating the sub bids of qualified subcontractors.
  • The qualified subcontractors have worked closely with the construction documents to submit a meaningful quote for their section of the work, to meet or exceed the project specifications.

Based upon all of this time consuming work, the project is bid, awarded and construction begins. This is when, so called, "value engineering" of a different ilk appears on many projects. Contractors and subcontractors, who knowingly bid the project with no intention of providing what was intended, designed and specified.

It's really incredible that this practice is accepted by so many owners and architects on so many projects. Why in the world would an architect or owner accept any product or systems that does not meet or exceed the specified materials or systems on their important project? Why bother carefully researching all products and systems, only to allow substitutions?

It does not matter weather or not it is a public or private project. If the plans and specifications are properly crafted, to meet all applicable codes, rules and regulations, there is absolutely no need to accept any product or system that does not meet or exceed the specification. This is really the responsibility of the architect and the owner. If the plans and specifications are not clearly respected and followed on any given project, the likelihood that they will be respected on future projects is remote, at best. Once an architect or owner become known for demanding adherence to their project plans and specifications, several positive results occur;

  • More highly qualified contractors and subcontractors will bid their work.
  • Firms that specialize in substitutions and breaking specifications will avoid their work.
  • Top tier manufacturers, contractors and independent manufacturers' representatives will be willing to spend their time assisting in the preparation of details, systems and specifications.
  • Projects will be properly constructed, on time and within budget.
  • Owners and architects will be pleased with the completed project.

"Value Engineering", if properly applied, a very valuable tool in the design and construction process, if abused, it is a recipe for mediocre projects!

William L. Shannon CSI, CISCA
President of Shannon Corporation
Recipient of the 2004 De Gelleke Award

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