The theoretical framework for this research project is provided by the concept of "Group Decision Support" (GDS), which is attracting increasing attention within the field of modern operational research. In broad terms, GDS can be defined as '...any designed process or method that supports a group of people seeking individually to make sense of and collectively to act in a situation in which they have power.' (Bryant, 1993).
The above definition presents an obvious analogy to the role of value management in aiding design decision-making in general, and the briefing process in particular. It should also be recognised that there is a significant difference between the provision of GDS and the narrower concept of decision support to an individual. GDS differs in that it places less emphasis on substantive data and more emphasis on consensus building and the decision-making process. Given that building design is invariably a group activity which includes both designers and client representatives, it is clearly GDS which is relevant. This is especially true for multi-faceted clients where different interest groups possess conflicting objectives.
2.0 Research Objectives
The principal objectives of the research project can be stated as follows;
1) To identify methods of group decision support which offer improvements to the current practice of value management.
2) To test the practical effectiveness of the identified methods.
3) To make methodological recommendations for relating the appropriate value management strategy to different design situations.
The overriding objective is to improve the practice of value management, thereby improving value for money in the UK construction industry. Particular emphasis will therefore be given to the involvement of leading practitioners.
The scope of the research has been deliberately restricted in order to address areas which have been previously under-researched. Consideration will be limited to the provision of GDS/value management to owner-occupier client organisations during briefing and concept development.
The existence of a number of different categories of building client is widely recognised. Of particular importance is the distinction between speculative developers and owner-occupiers. Whilst both types of client have always existed, the former dominated the 1980s whereas the latter dominates the 1990s. It is argued that this change in emphasis has fundamental implications for the meaning of value for money and for the practice of value management. For the speculative developers of the 1980s, the objectives of building design could be taken largely for granted. Design was considered to be a technical process of maximising floor area whilst minimising construction cost (and time). However for the owner-occupiers of the 1990s this approach is no longer appropriate. Not only do the various stakeholders possess differing objectives, they also often have differing perceptions of the 'problem' which the building is intended to solve. The value managers of the 1980s could rely on the techniques of building economics for the purposes of decision support. However, for the owner-occupier clients of the 1990s, value for money cannot be represented by simplistic cost models alone. This is particularly true for the strategic design decisions which occur during briefing and concept development.
It is contended that the 'paradigm shift' outlined above is directly analogous to that which has recently occurred within the discipline of operational research (OR) (Rosenhead, 1989; Dando and Bennett, 1981). The traditional 'optimising' paradigm of OR was essentially concerned with searching for efficient ways of achieving a pre-defined objective which remained constant over time. Whilst this approach is perfectly valid when applied to static problems which are well-defined, it has consistently failed when applied to 'soft' problems which are messy, dynamic and ill-defined. Unfortunately, it is problems of this nature which invariably distinguish the process of client briefing (O'Reilly, 1987; Salisbury, 1990). The continued failure of the optimising approach of traditional OR has led to the development of an alternative underlying paradigm which is based on "learning". This differs in that there is no longer any pretence at representing any sort of universal reality, the concern is with modelling the "perceptions" of the problem stakeholders. Of central importance are the soft issues of conflicting objectives, internal politics and contrasting value judgements. Whereas traditional 'hard' OR is predominantly concerned with the identification of optimum solutions to known technical problems, the emerging discipline of 'soft' OR is concerned with learning about multi-perspective human problem situations. The emphasis no longer lies on revealing some notion of underlying objective reality, but on constructing a "shared social reality" by means of group decision support. Only when this has been achieved can designers be expected to satisfy their clients' aspirations for value for money.
The existence of the above dichotomy between 'hard' and 'soft' approaches can be readily recognised by comparing the literature on building design (and client briefing) to that of building economics. The former recognises that design is an iterative, learning process. However, the latter invariably takes the existence of a pre-defined brief for granted. With a few limited exceptions, the techniques of building economics have been developed and applied within the optimising (or satisficing) paradigm of the 1980s. Unfortunately, the underlying assumptions are rarely relevant to the multi-faceted building clients of the l990s. The 'wicked' problems of building design can no longer be tamed by the allocation of simplistic probability profiles. The inherent uncertainty of building design relates not just to outcomes, but to the very nature of the problem itself.
There is an obvious analogy between the concept of constructing a "shared social reality" and the dialectic process of briefing for multi-faceted clients. However, the potential benefit of applying the emerging methods and techniques of soft OR have yet to be recognised by practising value managers. Within the 1980s paradigm, group decision support was provided by the techniques of building economics. Within the 1990s paradigm, meaningful group decision support is much more likely to depend upon the emerging methods and techniques of soft OR.
4.0 Previous Research
It is clear that the US approach to value engineering, as described in the literature (e.g. Miles, 1971; Dell'Isola, 1972), falls firmly within the optimising paradigm. Whilst this approach can often be justified when addressing well-defined technical problems, it is by no means universally applicable. This would go some way towards explaining the gulf between US theory and US practice as observed by Palmer (1992).
Within the emerging British tradition of value management, distinctive methodologies have been developed by Green (1992, 1994) and Kelly and Male (1993). Whilst these two approaches have been developed independently, they share a number of similarities. They both recognise the potential role of value management for the purposes of problem structuring in group situations. They also both advocate the application of value management within the context of an evolving framework throughout the project life-cycle. However, Kelly and Male's approach remains rooted within the American tradition of functional analysis. In contrast, the intellectual origins of Green's 'SMART methodology' lie firmly within the still-developing field of soft OR. SMART value management is based upon a "decision conferencing"strategy and draws from the latest developments within the field of decision analysis. Furthermore, it is only Green's approach which has been rigorously tested in practice and adopted by a number of leading practitioners. Indeed, the SMART approach to value management is now mandatory within many major client organisations.
The initial development of SMART value management was funded by the Chartered Institute of Building (Green, 1992). Further development work has been supported by several client organisations. These previous research projects have all been characterised by close collaboration between academia and practitioners.
Despite the relative success of SMART value management, it has become increasingly apparent that it is by no means applicable to all design situations. There is therefore an urgent need for research which seeks to relate different methodologies to different design situations.
5.0 Research Methodology
Given the VAMRU's previous experience on developing the SMART methodolgy, it is contended that the development and testing of new methodologies cannot be achieved by practitioners and academics working in isolation. The chosen methodology therefore gives considerable emphasis to an ongoing interaction between researchers and practitioners.
Whilst the ideal methodology would involve exploratory case studies in real situations, there are a number of practical and methodological problems with this approach. One of the major difficulties lies in securing access to live construction projects whose timescales correspond to that of the research project. Previous attempts to secure access to case studies after the award of a research contract have found this difficult (e.g. Murray et al). It is therefore intended to adopt a research methodology based upon exploratory case studies carried out in a 'laboratory setting'. This will be achieved by simulating value management exercises using data based on past construction projects.
The simulated case studies will be organised under the guise of six expert seminars. It is envisaged that these will be attended by both value management consultants and client representatives. A number of leading practitioners have agreed to participate in these expert seminars. Some degree of realism will be achieved by presenting each participant with a separate brief; they will then be asked to role play a specific part. VAMRU already has considerable experience of running similar simulations within the context of training workshops for practitioners.
Each seminar will be designed around a series of simulated value management exercises designed to test the potential benefits of a range of methodologies from within the emerging field of 'soft' operational research. Particular attention will be given to the following, all of which are as yet untested for the purposes of briefing/value management:
The proposed research methodology has an established track record and is well described in the GDS literature (e.g. DeSanctis and Gallupe, 1987). Qualitative data will be realised by direct observation. Quantitative data will also be produced by feedback questionnaires following the use of each methodology. Assuming six participants, three simulations per seminar will realise 108 data points, thereby enabling identification of the key variables which influence success.
The active input of leading practitioners will be invaluable for the purposes of both interim dissemination and to ensure that the critique of the adopted strategy takes into account the views of best practice. The establishment of a steering committee comprising several industrialists has ensured continued practicality and accelerated dissemination.
6.0 Research Programme
The overall programme of the research is two years in duration. The primary stages are as follows:
Stage 1: Literature review Duration = 6 months
An extensive review of the emerging 'soft' methods of group decision support and an evaluation of their suitability for the purposes of client briefing. Particular attention will also be given to the recorded failings of the traditional briefing techniques and the extent to which the identified alternative methods could have produced improved outputs. This will provide a benchmark against which to compare the effectiveness of the proposed new approaches.
Stage 2: Preparation of case study material Duration = 6 months Realistic case study material, based on past projects, will be prepared in collaboration with the participating clients and practitioners.
Stage 3: Simulated case studies Duration = 6 months
These will involve the participation of practising designers and value managers. The case studies will take place within the context of six expert seminars, thereby enabling the new methodologies to be tested in a laboratory setting.
Stage 4: Analysis of Results Duration = 5 months
The case studies will by analysed and written-up, thereby highlighting both advantages and disadvantages of the proposed methods. Quantitative data will enable the success of each methodology to be correlated with key variables.
Stage 5: Dissemination Duration = 5 months
The most important criterion of success for research of this nature is considered to be the extent to which the advocated approaches are adopted by practitioners. It is therefore proposed to give sustained emphasis to the process of dissemination. In addition to the expert seminars, this will be achieved through a series of open seminars together with publications in both the professional press and academic journals. A practice guide will also be prepared for non-specialists.
Bar Chart of Research Programme
7.0 Benefits and Exploitation
It is widely accepted that the decisions which have maximum impact on value for money are those which are made during the early stages of briefing. Nevertheless, techniques to improve the quality of these early decisions remain under-researched. In all too many cases designers implement a favoured solution having spent insufficient time 'exploring the problem'. At best, this results in the need for a considerable amount of re-design work. At worst, it results in a building which fails to satisfy the client's requirements. Whilst the potential benefits of the proposed research are difficult to quantify precisely, even a small improvement in the current practice of briefing/value management could offer significant reductions in design time. It could also result in buildings which are better suited for their intended purpose, thereby enhancing the productively of British industry. Value for money will never be achieved by simple cost efficiency alone, it is also necessary to ensure that building solutions solve the right problem. Direct exploitation would result immediately as a result of the active involvement of practitioners.
This research project has been funded by the EPSRC, a UK based research grant council.
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