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Architects 'have been singularly lacking in coming forward in providing value-management services', according to value-management specialists Steven Male, professor of civil engineering at the University of Leeds, and John Kelly of Heriot-Watt University. So is this yet another area of possible diversification that architects have sub-let to everyone else in the construction industry?

Male talks of 'turf warfare' over value management between most of the other construction-industry professions. He believes that this need not be the case, that no single profession is any better than another at facilitating a value management event.

Value management demands fast processing of information, good interpersonal skills and effective group management. It is a structured approach to problem-seeking and problem-solving. It is about understanding what value is rather than applying arbitrary cost-cutting, as is so often thought. It is a way of identifying priorities - those things that are most important to the organisation - so that the end result may actually turn out to be a redistribution of or increase in costs.

The terms 'value management' and 'value engineering' are often used interchangeably. However, there is a distinction between the two. Value engineering is a disciplined procedure for achieving a particular function for minimum cost but without detriment to quality, reliability, performance or delivery. Value management is carried out as workshop exercises, generally over one or two days, using the staff of the organisation as the main resource. Such exercises can be useful for looking at either individual elements or every aspect of a project.

Projects are often beset with problems arising from the conflicting personal agendas and differing priorities of the various groups of people involved. Such interests need to be teased out, and running a value management workshop is a good way of doing this.

Bringing people together to share and explore a project and allowing them to express views without feeling inhibited will improve the understanding of the group and enable it to draw some consensus or 'buy-in'. This, of course, is not just the preserve of a value management workshop; it should be the aim of any structured workshop.

A well-formulated brief to the design team should make clear the client's priorities and objectives. But these are often hidden, poorly expressed or lie beneath assumptions made in the text. The result for the client can be a building not appropriate for the intended user, a project that turns sour because the team is not concentrating on what is important to the client or user, and sometimes a bill beyond the client's wildest expectations.

The key person in a value management workshop is the facilitator. That person must be independent and objective with no axe to grind. If the organisation is a large one, it may be possible to find such a person internally. Otherwise, someone from outside will probably be best placed to provide the necessary skills. Male and Kelly believe that here architects are slow off the mark, whereas other professions such as surveyors are busying themselves with this lucrative job opportunity.

It is possible to have several value management exercises during a project, using the first to identify the broader issues, the second to explore in detail an option once the design team is on board, and the third to review whether the actions identified in the earlier sessions have been carried out. In riba Plan of Work terms they might occur at the end of Stages A and C

Generally, if you are a facilitator you would need to devote about four or five days to each exercise. This includes pre-workshop research as well as writing a report afterwards. Before the workshop proper, the facilitator will need to review background information on the organisation and project. He or she should then identify and interview key participants in the exercise, to identify the necessary documents to read as well as finding the 'hot spots'. Understanding where trouble might lie before getting everyone in the same room will enable you to control the event better, and to plan to tackle the problems.

When the workshop starts, the group of people may be quite disparate - there will be personal agendas, positions to defend, as well as information that is known to some but not to all. The idea is that by the end, everyone should be sharing the same objectives and understanding of the project. Essentially, value management is about establishing a framework around which participants can communicate and make decisions rather than providing all the answers.

Steven Male and John Kelly were speaking at a seminar on 'Valuing Design', at the University of Sheffield

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