A whole new concept became clear

I was reminded recently about a VM workshop that I conducted a few years ago. The focus of the study was a proposed new bridge and approach roads in the city of Lower Hutt in New Zealand. The study produced a quite remarkable outcome. I vividly recall the closing comments of the chief engineer responsible for the project. He said, “We’ve got nothing out of this study that I expected. I thought we might save a few dollars here or there, or change the sizes of some columns and beams: but Instead of that, we have a whole new concept”.

“A whole new concept!”

That’s true. To the surprise of everyone participating in the workshop, the group had produced a solution to completely abandon the current proposal and, instead, the group proposed a whole new concept – comprising infrastructure and traffic management – saving many millions of dollars and bringing substantial benefits that continue to be realised to this day.

For the purposes of this note, there’s no need for me to go into any detail of the project itself, but I will make a couple of comments about the VM process that we used. This VM workshop proved to be a huge building block in my own learning journey in the practice of Value Management. The key to its success (apart, of course, from following our standard VM work plan) was gathering together a large, multi-perspective group that included:

  • Traffic engineers
  • Bridge design engineers
  • Road design engineers
  • Floodway engineers (from a separate but adjoining project)
  • Two local shop keepers
  • The lord Mayor
  • Project Manager
  • Local Council Officers
  • Other project team members

I think the total number of participants was about 20, maybe 25. In those days, this was breaking new ground as to the number of participants in VM workshop which traditionally had been much less than that number.

The breakthrough in changing the design concept was triggered by an engineer working on an adjoining project (who would, in the normal course of project development, have no involvement whatsoever with this project – they are separate entities). He came up with an idea, which he put forward in the prescribed form of a “can we” question. The “Can we” question caused me, as facilitator, to call for “yes if” responses. The “yes if” responses came from the Lord Mayor and the shopkeepers and quickly led to the realisation that a whole new concept was possible. The workshop then went on to produce a workable proposal that eventually became reality.

Now here’s something to think about:

  • IF representatives from the adjoining project had not been there; and,
  • IF the process hadn’t allowed for everyone – even those not involved with the project – to listen, learn and put forward ideas; and,
  • IF I (the facilitator) hadn’t followed up the engineer’s “can we” question with a “yes if” request; and,
  • IF the Lord mayor and shopkeepers had not been there to give “yes if” answers based upon very specific local knowledge; then

It is highly unlikely that the group would ever have come up with the proposal that it did. The VM study provided an appropriate environment for all this to happen, but even that VM structure still required these things to produce that result.

There’s something to think about.