Dame Judith Hackett at CABE Conference 2018 Viewpoint

TWO SIDES TO EVERY STORY – TWO SIDES TO EVERY PHRASE

Posted by Fabrick on 15 November 2018

Last month I attended the Chartered Association of Building Engineers (CABE) conference in Warwickshire. Whilst there was a stellar line-up of speakers talking about issues from risk to diversity, sustainability to design, one speaker stood out for her openness about where the industry currently is and the immense challenge we have ahead – a challenge that will affect all of us.

Dame Judith Hackitt, author of ‘Building a Safer Future: Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety’ provided the keynote address on the first day of the two-day conference. She spoke candidly about the need for the industry to change, in particularly “the need for a joined up regulatory process that goes hand in hand with a tougher regulatory regime that has real penalties and sanctions for those that don’t conform.” Clearly indicating that those who don’t follow instruction will face punishment, it illustrates where the industry is and the massive change we are about to face.

There was much to agree with in what she had to say, and there was one phrase that stuck in my mind long after she had completed her address, and that was ‘value engineering’. Not so long ago value engineering was a phrase that was commonplace and was used to describe a company – typically a contractor or system supplier – working to provide better value to a client. This would be through engineering a solution that involved a cheaper solution or faster way of delivering a building without compromising the design intent or the performance of the building.

However, over time value engineering has come to mean something very different for some – typically corner cutting that results in clients not getting the building they thought they were going to get. In Dame Judith Hackitt’s words, it’s a phrase she claims she would be “happy to never hear again. It is anything but value, it is cutting costs and quality.”

A few weeks after the conference, I presented at a webinar hosted by Building magazine with speakers from architects, engineers and designers BDP and leading contractor Willmott Dixon. The webinar – titled ‘In a changing world how is the way we communicate having to evolve’ – looked at the challenge marketeers are facing. As part of this I mentioned the need to be careful about phrases that we use and how, over time, they end up meaning something slightly different, and often not the original intended message. Value engineering was one of those phrases, but it was interesting how this split opinion.

Why many agreed with Dame Judith Hackitt that value engineering is something that needs to be stamped out, many jumped to its original meaning. As one person put it,

“Value engineering is the art & science of optimising the cost to meet the customers’ requirements for the purposes of the product or service throughout its working life.

Invariably value engineering establishes the optimum price for a product or service but rarely is this the lowest price which is what Hackitt should be arguing against rather than value engineering which has positive outcomes rather than negative.”

So this all leaves us in something of a quandary. With the industry going through some of the biggest changes it has seen in decades, should we be concerned that we can’t agree on the meaning of some of the widely accepted phrases? I can see the dilemma from both perspectives – I appreciate the original intent of the phrase ‘value engineering’ but I also understand how it has become diluted over time.

As the saying goes ‘there are two sides to every story’ and this is what makes marketing in the construction sector so interesting and challenging. As a marketer, I have to provide my clients with advice that takes into consideration possible risk and impact on brand reputation. This means considering if phrases like value engineering are now too negative in their context. I hope this is a trend that doesn’t go too far and ends up sanitising the language we use. As an industry of professionals we need to be able to communicate effectively, consistently and not worry about what we say and how it might come back to haunt us in years to come.

David Ing, Managing Director, Fabrick

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