Create a free account to continue

Re-Evaluating Value Engineering

It's an effective methodology for redesigning existing products, but to limit it’s employ to that challenge is to realize only a fraction of it’s potential.

Value Engineering is a product development discipline-approach-methodology that nestled into a few industrial pockets years ago and, aside from some automotive or precision machine design pockets where it persists, it seems to have gone unnoticed or long forgotten by many businesses.  Read below for a brief glance at the practice of Value Engineering and what it has to offer your designs.

Value Engineering, also called the Value Methodology, has been around in an expanding and adapting form since the late 1940’s.  It would not be wise to jump to the conclusion, however, that because of its birth date it is antiquated or out-of-touch with our current needs or development pace.  It is based on solid principles, which are universal, objective, and timeless.  I mentioned too that it has been evolving since the 1940’s.

The primary focus of Value Engineering is assuring that the greatest functionality is provided for the least cost or expense, to maximize value.  Certainly that idea is as ancient as barter and just as valid today as it ever was.

Like many programs or methodologies, it consists of a problem solving approach or “job plan” and a set of tools and skills.  In this way, it is very similar to Design for Six Sigma or Lean Product Development since we learn and implement Value Engineering the same way we learn other methodologies and programs.

Generally, Value Engineering is broken into 3 “studies” that organize the overall “job plan” or problem-solving approach.  They are as follows.

  • Pre-Study:  collecting customer information, defining scope, and assembling a team and resources
  • Value Study:  the problem solving step, including product design
  • Post-Study:  the execution and post-implementation data review activities

The Value Study step is where the real engineering and problem solving activities take place.  It follows a problem solving approach expressed as follows.

  • Information Phase:  gathering data to understand the problem and aid in design
  • Function Analysis Phase:  understand the necessary or desired functions and the worth or importance of each
  • Creative Phase:  generate ideas to address each function and solve the problem(s)
  • Evaluation Phase:  rank and assess the ideas and select the most promising solutions
  • Development Phase:  design and develop and test the product or solution
  • Presentation Phase:  get buy-in and approval to execute the solution (I prefer to think of this as the “Decision Point”)

You will notice that the six steps of the Value Study basically describe any product design and development process.  Together with the Pre- and Post-Study steps the job plan basically describes most “Phase Gate” or “Stage Gate” product development processes.

What does this mean?  It means that the ideas we are often glued to today to improve our product development performances have been around for a very long time in one form or another; longer even than our topic of Value Engineering.  It also means that it is very simple to integrate the Value Engineering principles and practices into virtually any existing product development process or roadmap.

At the heart and soul of the Value Engineering methodology is Function Analysis.  Simply put, Function Analysis is a discipline of identifying the functions your product or solution needs to have in order to meet customer expectations.  Once the functions are understood, the practitioners seek to enable those functions in the least costly way possible, with a special focus on long-term manufacturability.

The primary tool for mapping out the functions and understanding their importance is the FAST Diagram (Function Analysis System Technique).  In my opinion, it is a brilliantly versatile and simple method of laying out the functions and features of a product.  Fundamentally, it challenges the practitioner to identify elements of the design addressing why something is necessary or present from one direction, and how something is accomplished from the other direction.  For every “how” there is a “why” and for every “why” there is at least one “how.”  Looking for alternatives and options for how a “why” can be accomplished is what drives the creative problem-solving process.

As I mentioned above, the whole method is based on solid, universal, objective, timeless principles.  As a result, though many of the training materials and examples describe mechanical or electro-mechanical design applications, the approach and the tools work equally well for electronics design and software development.  For myself, I’ve used the FAST Diagram tool to lie out and communicate plans for cultural, behavioral change initiatives and training plans.  It’s fantastic to be able to quickly explain how we are going to improve something and why it’s important with an easy diagram.

Ironically, and unfortunately, Value Engineering is often employed to re-design existing products.  It is seen as a methodology for removing cost from legacy designs without sacrificing performance.  In truth, it is a very effective methodology for such, but to limit it’s employ to that challenge is to realize only a fraction of it’s potential.  Once tooling investments and supply contracts are established, it’s difficult to take cost out of a product.

True Value Engineering focuses on maximizing the function-cost balance from the very inception of the product concept and in this way shows its true potential to maximize a business’ profit and customer satisfaction.  In this way it shares a fundamental, universal principle with Design for Six Sigma, Lean Product Development, and many other product development methods.  It’s always better to design it right the first time, then it is to fix it after production starts.

So, with so many programs and methods out there, how do we know if Value Engineering is the one we should incorporate, and why should we choose it over Design for Six Sigma, or Lean Product Development?  I will make my advice and my answer as plain as I know how.

If you even suspect that your products could improve the function-cost balance, then you will do yourself a service to explore Value Engineering.  If you are already integrating or executing DFSS or Lean Product Development methods, Value Engineering and these other methods are not mutually exclusive.  In fact they are very complementary.

DFSS focuses on eliminating variation in product quality and performance.  Lean Product Development focuses on eliminating wasted time and resources in product development and product production.  Value Engineering focuses on maximizing product performance while minimizing manufacturing cost.  They are all similar in outlook, but battle different enemies.  But, because they all share the same fundamental ideas such as a step-by-step problem-solving approach, and good principles, they can be integrated together rather easily.

A colleague whom I greatly respect, Kent, and I worked together to devise a very nice and practical integration of DFSS and Value Engineering practices and tools into our business’ existing “Phase Gate” product development process.  It’s really quite easy to do when the practices are understood.

If your business does not have a strong Six Sigma or Lean understanding, then Value Engineering can be a very practical way to drastically improve your product development methods without needing to first learn or increase your understanding in other business and production improvement methods.  It will require a significant amount of leadership and behavioral change to successfully implement, regardless of how many methods or programs your business may or may not already practice.

Finally, Lean Product Development and Design for Six Sigma both find less of a foothold in high-end electronics design and software development.  In both of these disciplines, variation is generally minimal and production in the realm of software development is little more complicated than making photocopies of a pencil drawing (relatively speaking).  The enemies, variation and waste, are just not as damaging.  However, the pursuit of maximum function for minimal cost is still just as important.

I’ll offer one last thought to help you with your decision to explore Value Engineering.  Very recently I wrote about Axiomatic Design.  I believe that Value Engineering is and excellent balancing agent for Axiomatic Design practices, which are similarly applicable for mechanical, electronic, and software challenges.  Where Axiomatic Design, in its pursuit of maximizing functional performance, tends to drive higher design complexity, Value Engineering practices and skills, which drive creative processes around satisfying functional needs with simpler or less costly options, can counter-balance Axiomatic Design’s tendency to overcomplicate.

If this post has piqued your interest in Value Engineering I recommend seeking contact with SAVE International.  SAVE International is generally the accepted authority on Value Engineering and the Value Methodology, though there are many sources of materials and education out there.  Through SAVE International you can ask for and receive a great deal of advice and information and can arrange for both training and internationally recognized certification in the Value Engineering methodology.

If your products or solutions might leave room for more functional performance or a little less cost in achieving functional performance, then Value Engineering might be a discipline worth your time and energy to integrate.  It can be incorporated as an element of your existing product development practice, or it can be made the backbone methodology by which you operate.  It is also very complementary to Design for Six Sigma and Lean Product Development, if those are already in place.

Take a good look at your design and product performance needs.  Consider whether another look at Value Engineering might not be worth your time.  It’s been very successful for a very long time and for very good reason.

Stay wise, friends.

More in Operations