Architects are interested in drawing, planning, and designing functional and aesthetically pleasing facilities and buildings. But they are also in the service business—they have clients to keep happy. In the name of relationship-building and working around financial constraints, architects are obliged to find ways to maximize budget. To make the most of a client’s every dollar, they engage, sometimes begrudgingly, in value engineering.

Value engineering is closely associated with cost cutting, but that sells the practice short. The goal isn’t to trim the bottom line, but to maximize function at the lowest possible cost. Product quality is still the name of the game. Value engineering is a methodology that ensures the owner is not overpaying for quality when an equally effective option exists.

Here’s the good news: Value engineering is not a concept; it’s a method. A definable, repeatable method. Whether a design team wants to substitute one material for another, consider alternative building methods, or limit a project’s environmental impact, the process remains generally consistent.

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

One area where architects can often find value is in large systems like HVAC, lighting, and electrical. This is not to suggest one go looking for discount systems—quite the opposite. Often, spending more on a higher-performing system early will save in maintenance costs over the building’s life span. It is also 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.

Value engineering demands that architects view a project with a wider lens and scrutinize 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’re looking for and where to look.

Accurate Cost Data: A Crucial Tool for Finding Value

Effective value engineering means knowing where the costs lie. To help assess feasible solutions, many architects rely on accurate cost data from a reliable industry expert. RSMeans data from Gordian is a highly trusted construction cost database with more than 85,000 labor, material, and equipment costs. Such a robust resource is ideal for value engineering because it contains tens of thousands of viable alternatives that can be placed in assembly units. Those units can be swapped out in square foot models, making for more realistic Rough Order of Magnitude estimates.

Value engineering doesn’t have to be a dirty word. If architects follow the time-tested method, they can maximize the owner’s budget and deliver a quality product.