“On Second Thought”
By Matthew Sulhoff
Aside from “time sheet,” the two most hated words in the design and
construction world are “value engineering.” By simply adding capital
letters, we end up with “Value Engineering” and now it is an accepted,
formal part of the building process. Further, by abbreviating to “VE” it is
now expected as part of the process. Because VE is expected at some point in
the project, we accept the notion of taking perfectly good design, and
spending time and money to undo that work, all under the guise of saving
time and money.
So we spend time and money on top of the original expenditure of time and
money all in the name of saving time and money. Resources are spent on
taking all the good design elements (typically perceived as expensive) to be
replaced by materials that may be lacking in quality.
In honest, blunt terms, VE really says, “We made decisions, as a team, using
a gut check and napkin math and now have to go back and make the
decisions/choices we should have made in the first place” Of course, to
prevent VE entirely you have to run a collaborative project that involves
all stakeholders, early in the design process along with a firm grasp on how
to fully utilize BIM for better project predictability. The combination of
team collaboration and successful BIM implementation yields a better design
and results in data-driven decisions earlier in the process delivering a
better building - on time and budget.
How Can BIM Help?
Interestingly enough, the genesis of BIM was first published in 1732, by
Thomas Fuller. While it has been a philosophy for much longer, that was the
first time it was published.
“A stitch in time, saves nine.”
That’s BIM. Building a data rich model that allows for crucial, early
decisions to be made properly and correctly resulting in a better building.
Since full utilization of BIM to the point of eliminating VE and RFI’s is
not typical, what can we do? Well, we have to find ways of utilizing the
power of BIM to mitigate as much of the old, bad, inefficient processes as
possible. How do we do that?
First, use what you can. While there is a distinct difference between a
design model and a construction model, there are enough similarities that
everyone across the project team can gleam enormous value. Walls, doors,
windows, rooms; every architect uses these tools when designing in BIM. They
have to simply because the owner wants to see floor plans and every floor
plan includes walls, doors, windows, and rooms.
Even an early schematic plan can offer great value. Understanding the
spatial arrangement of rooms and the building mass allows for downstream
team members to analyze the design for everything from fire egress and
potentially expensive site constraints, to preliminary quantification,
budgeting, and a basis for tracking design trends.
A significant benefit of BIM is trending. Trending is impossible without BIM
and an easy, smart reporting tool. Never before have we had the ability to
track quantities in near real time. Publishing your model on a weekly basis
allows the pre-construction group to update material schedules and cost
estimates as the design progresses. Each one of those weekly data points is
reported through graphs and the rest of the team is able to follow trends
through the design phase when the majority of cost implicating decisions are
Trend reports keep running totals on pretty much anything on a BIM project.
I’ve seen general contractors watch key material quantities, such as
concrete and steel, and compare them to initial budget baselines. Architects
use trend reporting to monitor space and area ratios to ensure they satisfy
the program during schematic design. Construction managers can utilize trend
reports to identify spikes in quantities or costs and address the issue at
the point of design. All of these scenarios mean that better decisions are
happening much earlier in the project, helping us to avoid VE down the road.
Additional Benefits of BIM
Better BIM earlier in a project also allows for more thorough review of
the constructability of the building by extracting quantities from the
model. Currently, most of the energy expended by pre-construction teams is
in counting and quantifying to help determine a cost, this isn’t really that
productive nor helpful. Especially when we have models that already know the
While it is true that project cost is the main metric on which the owner
bases their opinion, it is only one component of the true constructability
of the building. You see, the same thing can cost more or less based on the
context within the building. An understanding of the challenges of actually
building the building has a direct impact on the cost. This only comes as
the result of analyzing the building and all the data associated. Here’s
where this comes together. If the pre-construction team is using up all
their allotted time on tracing and counting, they don’t have any opportunity
to analyze the data to gain a deeper understanding necessary to offer
suggestions for a more economical building solution.
A seasoned estimator looks for irregularities to refine selections and
increase economy of scale instead of spending majority of their time
counting objects and tracing lines. Buying 100 of the same doors is cheaper
in the long run than 90 of one kind and 10 of another, even if the 10 doors
are slightly less expensive in unit cost. With one door type, you have one
detail, and one item to track on the construction site. Adding a second type
doubles that effort and adds to the overall cost.
Through BIM, and rapid quantification tools, you can spend your time
understanding the building, understanding the data, and offering suggestions
at the point of design where the ideas will have the greatest impact on the
overall project. All of which means less work to undo during the VE phase.
Simply leveraging and extending BIM early and often means that the decisions
of your team will be accurate and save the project time and money.
The Best of Both Worlds: Better VE through BIM
You might say “None of my projects afford early collaboration and
regardless of using BIM, I have to go through a VE phase. How do I use BIM
to help with VE?”
Simple. The same methods and techniques around rapid quantity extraction can
work for VE as well. Imagine this, a collaboration meeting where all the
decision makers from the various trades and disciplines get together and
analyze the building for VE opportunities. On one screen you have model data
management software such as Assemble Systems pulling quantities, filtering
through the building, helping the group to visualize the context around the
items in question. The quantities are instantly verified, then plugged into
the estimate, and the budgetary effect is realized in real time. Project
stakeholders collaborating to analyze the building to find opportunities
that can immediately impact constructability.
VE can be a thing of the past. All it takes is for a collaborative team to
share information and expertise with the common goal of a better building.
We all, as a collective industry, need to make the decision to let go of
“how we’ve always done it” and embrace the power and potential of BIM.
Just imagine what it would be like to only make a decision once….
About Assemble Systems
Headquartered in Houston, TX, Assemble Systems is a model-based data
management software company. Its flagship product Assemble is a cloud based
platform allowing AEC firms to leverage BIM data for increased project
insight, advanced project collaboration and data-driven decision making. For
more information, visit