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Value Program and Study Team Success Through Cooperative Interplay

J. Samuel Martin, PE, CVS

 

Abstract

Value programs and its value studies are a proven methodology to achieve high value for projects. Projects may include both construction and non-construction designs and/or processes. The added value is attained through recommendations of alternatives which increase functionality, reduce costs without reducing the needed functionality, or both. The value programs and their studies can achieve improved success through ensuring that full cooperation between the major active groups is attained while maintaining value study team independence. This paper discusses the importance of cooperation, some of the reasons for value team independence, and some suggested procedures to create a cooperative joint effort that maximizes value study team resources while maintaining the needed independence.

Introduction

Value programs have proven themselves to be very fruitful to all concerned. Value studies of designs (e. g., construction or manufacturing) and processes (e. g., management, paperwork, or operations) have saved industry, project owners, and governments millions of dollars in expenditures. There are a variety of reasons for this success. Not the least of which is the value methodology itself (the value job plan used and its components such as: identification of components, costs, functions, and the logic diagram procedure). (Value study and value program are used throughout this paper to generically describe all types of Value Engineering, Value Management, Value Analysis, and Value Planning studies and their associated programs. The information contained herein are based upon use of the six-step job plan consisting of: Information, Speculation, Analysis, Development, Presentation, and Implementation Phases and the operation of a value program covering 17 states with about 40-50 value studies performed in a typical program year.)

The value study is the most visible and largest part of a successful value program. However, successful completion of a particular value study is only one aspect of the most visible part of the value methodology.

The Importance of Fostering a Cooperative Spirit

To achieve optimum results and the highest value improvement for a given effort, a less visible activity should also take place. The value program and its value study teams should also enjoy a spirit of cooperation with the design, or alternatively, process team. Fostering a cooperative, noncompetitive spirit allows value study teams to achieve better understanding of the features under study, develop more useful recommendations, and assure the best opportunity for obtaining implemented recommendations that meets the needs of the client.

The Pitfalls of a Competitive Spirit

During a psychological study two separate groups of children were asked to create artwork as creatively as possible. At the front of the room for each group were a few toys. Each group had the same number of children, same number of limited toys, and the toys were the same for each group. At the end of the study, a team of artists examined each individual's work for creativity and originality. The only difference between the child groups was an announcement done at the beginning of their art creation.

The first group was told that the most creative child would be awarded a gift at the end of the class. The second group was told that the gifts would be given away at the end of the class through a random drawing. When the artists examined each classes' results, the second group, with gifts given by random drawings, was determined by the artists to have the most original and creative artwork.

What happened? The answer appears to be that the first group felt the need to compete, and the second group did not. It was found that the first group tended to take less risk and shared less with other classmates. They wanted to win and they tended to stay with what they considered the accepted concepts for originality (the tried and true). Further, they also felt the need to avoid letting others obtain their ideas and didn't interact with each other as much. The second group, under no risk of failure or judgement, obtained ideas from each other, felt free to strike out in new directions, and took more risk of rejection of their work. The result of this cooperative, non-judgmental attitude was more originality, creativity, and the formation of the "synergy" affect. (Synergy: the energy created by a group of people interacting that creates a result that is larger than the sum of the individual efforts.)

The pitfalls of competition occurs in more than just a psychological study. In the case of value study teams and their counterparts in the design or process teams, an "us versus them" spirit can arise very easily. Most of us, in the western world at least, are trained that competition is the best way to proceed and just naturally fall into that type of interaction. When an independent team comes in, after the formation of the design or process team which has completed a substantial amount of work, it is typical to look at them with some trepidation. Add this to the fact that the value study team will go over the project in great detail, analyze it, and make recommendations to change it (perhaps substantially) with a measurement of increased value or cost savings specified, and unless overcome, a competitive spirit is born.

Avoiding the Competitive Trap

To avoid the pitfalls and traps that competition can create for the value program in general and its value study teams, competition should be avoided by the creation of a "cooperation spirit". This can be achieved through attitude adjustment by all through better presentation of the value program and study goals, and creating a expectation that the value process is, in reality, a joint effort.

Avoiding Terms Which Elicit Negative Reactions

Value program coordinators and value study team leaders must learn to pick their words carefully so they can present the value program and its studies well. Unfortunately the very terms most often used, "Value Engineering", "Value Analysis", and "Value Management" imply some judgement within them. The purpose of a value study is often stated as to "improve value", and "reduce costs", or to "improve functionality" and "better serve the clients needs". Each statement carries with it a implication that the work done so far has some faults that need work. Avoidance of such terminology as the reason for, and within the operation of, the value study can assist in the value study team's activities.

Further, use of terms such as "technical review" can create more problems. Statements often need to be expressed to the design or process team that the purpose of the value study is not to review the technical adequacy of the design or process, but to place additional effort and expertise into the project. The idea being that the additional effort and expertise will generate other ideas which may serve the needs of the client, owners, users, and others with exceptional functionality, diminished cost, or both. The value study team reviews the technical side of the project to understand the present concept and does not have in its mission a check of the finer details for the purpose of verifying the concept adequacy.

There are many other such terms which can elicit a negative response. Noting them, so they can be appropriately avoided in future discussions, can help in the entire value program effort.

Using an Independent Value Study Team

Since it can cause competitive and other problems, it is sometimes asked, "Why don't we just use the design or process team for the value study? After all, they already know the project and won't need to learn it from scratch." Precisely the point.

Independence of the value study team is crucial to obtaining the most from the value study process. The design or process teams have often been working on the project for a long time. Sometimes for many years. Each of us tend to look at projects from our local reference. If we have been hammering nails all day, we are actually apt to reach for the hammer when confronted with a change of plans (perhaps in the form of a screw). We are also much more likely to be so engrossed with the details that we have lost some of our perspective of the larger picture. Additionally, we will have bought much more into the existing solution and will be less open to changes in it. (Such individuals often enter the value study process with "a mission" which may conflict with the value study purposes.)

It is also grossly unfair to the design or process team members to ask them to serve on a value study team studying their project. After all, they have often made commitments to clients, owners, users, and other entities which may conflict with the apparent initial value study direction taken. (Perhaps they have even made promises to not mention a particular idea to avoid "muddying the waters".) To ask the design or process team to open themselves to the situation that may call for them to, even temporarily, throw the commitments out and support a new direction would be unfair. Even when the client determines that the newly advised direction achieves the mission purposes and is totally content with the value study results, clients have been known to regard team members with divided interests as inconsistent or even deceitful.

Another issue is the basis for the comparison between the current concept and idea. This basis is used to determine if use of the value study team's resources, to develop an idea into a viable recommendation, is appropriate. When the design or process team is an integral part of the value study team and an idea is deemed to be worth pursuing, a duplication of effort often ensues as both teams end up developing similar or identical concepts in parallel as the value study progresses. An independent team value study effort enables the final recommended products to be retain their integrity while avoiding unnecessary value study costs.

Finally, many value engineering/analysis professionals can also attest to the fact the results of the value study are often diminished with the presence of even a single design or process team member on the value study team. If the design or process team is used as the study team, the recommendation acceptance will usually go up markedly. Unfortunately, the recommendations will also be significantly reduced in quantity and magnitude of potential savings or value enhancement. Therefore, unless the process is in the initial stages of development, use of the actual design or process team is typically ill advised. Totally or partially dependent teams are usually counterproductive to all.

Balancing Value Study Team and Design or Process Team Interaction

The use of two distinctly separate teams with differing roles in the value study process means that interaction between the two teams must be somewhat controlled. Teams must be separated at times to maintain independence and brought together at others to share the effort. At all times the two teams must understand that they are not in competition and are cooperative elements in a complete endeavor to meet the needs of the client at the fullest value the cooperative activity can attain. One possible means to achieve this balance during the value study team operation is as follows:

Prepare the Design or Process Team. The value study team leader or value program coordinator should talk openly with the design or process team about the value study purposes and interaction needed. In addition to the most obvious items discussed such as what data is needed, the time of the study, presentations, etcetera; the lack of competition between the teams and cooperative spirit needed should be stressed. The design or process team should be fully informed of everything that will go on throughout the value study period. In this way they can understand the process and see that it is nothing more than another activity with the same mission of satisfying the clients needs in the most efficient manner possible. Documents which state the same information as it was given verbally should be left with the design or process team so they can refer to it as a reminder of what was the needed data requested, the timing of the value study process, and the purposes behind each activity.

Design or Process Team Introduction to the Studied Features. The value study team should be introduced personally to the design or process team in an informal briefing, by the design or process team, to the features to be studied. This gets both groups off to a quick start and enhances the initial cooperative effort. The value study team leader should give both teams a cooperative pep-talk message at the introduction of this briefing so that both teams belief in the cooperative spirit will be enhanced.

I often refer to the design or process team briefing to the value study team as the "handoff" time. This further induces the idea that we are on the same team exertion and the "ball" has been handed off to the value study team for awhile. The "ball" will be figuratively passed back to the design or process team at the formal presentation. I also try to get the groups to know each other and feel comfortable with the other group.

Remove the Design or Process Team. Once the briefing is complete, only the value study team should remain in the room reserved for the value study team's use. The presence of the design or process team will often create some reservation on both teams' part. Physical separation of the teams' allows the value study team to attain their needed degree of abstraction and independence. It also avoids the potential for a negative expression relating to the other team to cause a competitive feeling or the potential for disapproving reactions. The design or process team is consulted if necessary, by full team phone or direct discussion, for clarifications; but, they do not remain in the value study room area.

Consultations and Interplay During Idea Development. It is often crucial for the development of the ideas (into economic and technically viable alternative recommendations) to obtain information and technical assistance for the value study team from the design or process team. Cooperation can be seeded during the idea development through the team leader making sure that the design or process team is included in some of the technical discussions and ensuring their expertise in the project are fully utilized. Often the design or process teams possess detailed, debugged computer models; alternative client information; or other data which can be best operated or transmitted through the design or process team. When the design or process team are involved in some of the details of the alternative's technical development, the dynamics of the two team's interactions make the value study process more of a joint effort. Provided the degree of independence of each team is maintained, this joint effort response makes the study operations more productive and elicit a positive attitude between the teams which can extend all the way through the implementation of the final recommendations.

Cooperation Through Support of Mutually Accepted Ideas. Sometimes value study teams are investigating development of an idea on a particular project and the value study team determines that the design or process team is already considering the idea the value team was planning to develop. In such a situation I always encourage the value study team to meet with the design or process team to make sure the idea is actually identical. If not, the team may determine to continue its development. However, if it is essentially identical, then we usually say, "Great. We will go on to other ideas then. After all, our purpose is to not go over or second guess your efforts but bring more thoughts into other ways to meet this need."

Notwithstanding this, if the design or process team identifies that they are having trouble getting the identical idea across to the parties they must interact with we usually say, "Oh. We think that is a good idea too. How can we help?" The value study team may determine it should include a commonly shared idea in their comments regarding the disposition of the ideas which can help efforts in motivating people to activate the concept.

Just expressing this kind of an attitude allows the design or process team to feel the entire process is a cooperative one. The only caveat is that the teams must always retain their individual independence so that other alternative solutions, that may not be popular with the design or process group, are fully investigated, and if warranted, recommended.

Informing the Design or Process Team of the Idea Progress in a Prebriefing. No one likes to be caught in a situation which resides in an atmosphere of blame or missed opportunities. Further, it is human nature to avoid surprises. The human species prefers to proceed with the familiar. Success in the value program can hinge on avoiding the problems associated with the human relations features created by these unfortunate atmospheres. Confrontation during the presentation of a study team is very unproductive. Studies which were well run; generated excellent, high value recommendations; and had the best of working relationships have been known to fail when a single confrontational group throws a verbal bomb into the presentation. If a value study involves a very controversial issue, bringing these groups in as a consultant resource helps avoid such problems. It is also just good human nature practice.

Having a prebriefing from the value study team to the design or process team without the higher level staff allows the value study team leader to avoid these situations. (High level staff presence during the prebriefing may inhibit the design or process team, and value study team, which would make the meeting less productive.) It also makes sure that every member of the design or process team has been consulted and their opinion, expertise, and information solicited. To be most effective, the prebriefing should be held as soon as the probable status of the alternatives is known, but before the last stages of the development and document completion for the written report.

Activating the Design or Process Team. The value study team and its team leader need to activate the design or process team. No subversive methods are proposed here. Again, most of this is just good human interaction. Recognizing opportunities to make the value study a type of joint effort while retaining the value study team's independence is the key.

One example of this activation process is the previously discussed pass of the "ball" back to the design or process study team at the presentation discussion. This reinforces the joint effort concept and notifies them that they should begin to think about their activities to implement the recommendations. A more formal method is the Federal Government's accountability process which ensures that some kind of thought is used to consider the recommendations and a response is given to the agency value coordinator.

Cooperative Actions During and After Implementation. When recommendations are accepted it often partially due to the design or process team's acceptance of the recommendation. Management looks to their internal expertise to assure themselves that acceptance of a recommendation is in the best interests of the management objectives specified. Value program coordinators and value study team leaders need to congratulate all the participants, both teams and consultants alike for their work. Active cooperation to assist in the implementation of the recommendations helps solidify acceptance too. Remember, if you really think its a good recommendation, shouldn't you be willing to help get it enacted?

Importance of Management Backing

Depending on the type of study, an appearance by the organization's management to demonstrate the support of management for the value study effort helps cement the acceptance that the effort is a cooperative effort. When both team's feel that management is not being judgmental and is accepting of the entire value study activity, most people would feel foolish to maintain an "us versus them" attitude.

Summary

Fostering the cooperative attitude while maintaining the independence of the value study team will assist in obtaining the optimum results within the entire value program. It generates good will, acceptance of the methodology and its results, and high value for the client and all concerned.

This cooperative spirit is achieved though active fostering of the joint aspects of teamwork. The golden rule of the process can be expressed as to treat all concerned as you would like to be treated. Following this simple rule of human interaction, will enhance the success of an active value program in a natural way.

References

1. Psychology Video Course, PBS, circa mid 1980.

2. 7 Habits of Highly Effective People Seminars, Stephen R. Covey, Summit Books, 1990.

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