From Practice to Mindset – Weaving Value Methodology into the Fabric of Benesch
Today, Alfred Benesch & Company is well known for our Value Methodology program. By implementing this program and utilizing this approach, we’ve helped countless clients identify innovative solutions for their biggest engineering challenges while shortening construction schedules, strengthening stakeholder acceptance and saving anywhere from a few thousand to a few million dollars on projects of all sizes.
When Mr. Benesch founded his engineering consulting company in 1946, Value Analysis (as it was called at the time) was still a new concept and had only been used to analyze projects that had already been built. Exactly three decades later, the firm’s next generation of engineers would take an interest in the study of Value Engineering and, over time, Alfred Benesch & Company would come to differentiate itself as a firm fully invested in value focused solutions.
“It was our president at the time, Harold Sandberg, that had been interested in sending someone to take the required training for Value Engineering,” recalls former Benesch president Michael Goodkind. “Kasi was selected, and he took to it like a duck to water.”
Muthiah Kasi, a VE expert and Benesch’s former COO, describes Value Engineering as a communication tool and a critical thinking process at its core. “It’s a logical, strategical, organized way to approach anything, from small to more complex projects – you understand, analyze, strategize, document and communicate, that’s all the VE sequence is.”
While the sequence itself is straight forward, Kasi, Michael and Mr. Sandberg saw Value Engineering as a critical opportunity to explore problems from every angle.
“You’re looking at a project and you’re going from Point A to B—you know there are different paths to get there, but each path presents a different way to solve the same problem. For me, VE was problem solving,” Michael says.
In 1984, Benesch conducted the first value planning study of a transportation project for constructability and maintenance of traffic. The Michigan Department of Transportation’s reconstruction of the I-94/M-39 interchange comprised 17 bridges in one interchange, posing several constructability challenges. At the end of the week-long value planning study, Benesch was able to recommend a solution that drastically reduced the overall construction time and saved MDOT $2 million. The firm’s relationship with MDOT only continued to strengthen after that initial study—eventually Benesch would help establish MDOT’s own VE program.
Benesch’s success in VE continued in the 1980s with projects like the Chicago Transit Authority’s light rail line station at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. The commuter line had to be extended down the median of the Kennedy Expressway to a terminal at the airport, and to do this, the station had to be constructed beneath an existing five-story parking garage and a tunnel system had to be created to connect passengers directly from the station to the various concourses. Benesch’s VE study identified cost and time saving opportunities while simplifying the required excavation activities under the existing garage and providing for increased ceiling heights in the new station.
Despite these attention-grabbing successes, Value Engineering wasn’t an easy sell to every client.
By 1989 the company struggled to maintain momentum, and Benesch needed something to differentiate themselves from the competition. A new leadership team was taking over, and they believed that Value Engineering would be what set the firm apart—if they could find a way to infuse the practice into something that was uniquely Benesch. So together with former CFO Robert Carter, Michael Goodkind and now former president Harold Sandberg, Kasi developed and registered a Total Quality Engineering approach, TQE™, to guide the quality of the company’s engineering services.
“I really wanted buy-in on this program from our leadership at the very top all the way down to our designers,” Kasi says. “I knew we could require that our staff train in VE, but I also wanted everyone to believe this was the best way to approach a problem and find a quality solution.”
In 1991, the company took a major step – Benesch’s board of directors went through VE Module I and II trainings to show their commitment to the program and how valuable a more formal approach to planning can be, not only to engineering, but to other facets of the company as well, including finance and operations.
Division Managers at the time, John Carrato and Jack Kweder, later CEO and COO of Benesch, saw the value in training their engineers in VE early on and required their project managers go through the training – something no other company was requiring back then.
By the 2000’s, VE was being applied more frequently to the firm’s most challenging projects. In Peoria, Illinois, a value planning study provided an invaluable solution to an unprecedented problem: an existing truss bridge stood in the way of reconfiguring a sub-standard interchange. The obvious solution was to replace the bridge at a cost of approximately $50 million. The innovative solution, which cost the Illinois DOT just $3 million, was to shorten the existing truss. Benesch worked alongside the contractor to determine the length of truss to be removed and how to do it. A custom-designed load transfer device was developed specifically for this project, allowing the contractor to maintain balance within the suspended spans of the bridge and safely cut the truss. It was, at the time, an engineering first, and would come to be a signature success for the company.
“VE has been a transformational part of our history.” John says. “It allowed us to build relationships at a higher level with our clients; it forced us look at all the opportunities right at the beginning of a job to find the best solution.”
No matter the size of the project or the engineer who worked on it, a value-focused approach to problem solving had become common practice across the company.
“Participating in VE studies, applying that to our projects, and then training all of our people to think about each project a certain way has been absolutely invaluable,” John says. “It’s truly become part of the fabric of our approach to providing quality work and better solutions to our clients, and people like Kasi are to thank for that. Kasi really was the heart and soul of developing this approach at Benesch. He’s still involved in our VE efforts to this day.”
Value Engineering—now known more broadly as Value Methodology—is a core component of Benesch. Over the last three decades, we’ve applied those principles to projects large and small, and even helped clients implement Value Methodology programs of their own.
Today, the firm’s Value Methodology program is run by Chuck Bartlett, who is focused on cultivating the next generation of creative problem solvers at Benesch.
“At Benesch we like to say that Value Methodology is more than just a practice—it’s a mindset,” says Chuck. “And we really mean it.”
Chuck’s perception of VE is that it’s not just a useful tool for clients to save money—it also liberates engineers from their traditionally linear paths to problem-solving. During in-house training sessions, he senses a genuine excitement for diving into old case study projects to explore the ways other engineers had identified unconventional solutions, and how they might do something differently.
“There’s something really gratifying as an engineer when you embrace Value Methodology,” Chuck explains. “Going through the training is such a great learning opportunity—we tell our engineers to have courage, to not hold back, to throw their ideas out there and see what sticks. We tell them: don’t be afraid to cut the truss.”