A Basic Primer on Value Engineering

In my library school program, we were required to take two ‘out of discipline’ graduate classes that were not in the library program. I wanted to take grant writing, but I waited too long to sign up. So I ended up taking a class on assistive technology (which will have to wait for another blog post) and one on ‘value engineering’.

The value engineering class was really pretty simple: some reading and a final project. The important thing about it was the head start it gave me with all the administrators and managers with whom I’ve had contact in various library positions since. Just this week, three things came across my desk that asked questions like: Are we using ‘lean’ process improvements? Are we “optimizing people and processes in systematic ways”? Are we using a “plan-do-check-act review”? All of these questions are fundamentally about value engineering or a similar format.

SAVE, a professional organization for value engineers, defines value methodology (also called value engineering, value analysis, or value management) as “a systematic and structured approach for improving projects, products, and processes . . . used to analyze and improve manufacturing products and processes, design and construction projects, and business and administrative processes. “ Although somewhat vague, this does define the important bit, which is that there is a structure to improving anything that an organization, school, or library is doing.

An example: A small library collects late fees in a very old fashioned way – they take the change (the fee is a dime a day) and put it in a cigar box in a drawer. They write down the amount on a slip of paper each time. At the end of the day, someone totals the amounts, counts the change, and sends it to finance. An Coins, Change, Money, Currency, Cash, Financeauditing company comes in and is concerned about three things: 1) some fines may go uncollected since there is no connection between the ILS (integrated library system) and the money collection, 2) employees may be stealing since there is no record of which fines are paid (see concern 1), and 3) patrons may steal the money, as it is unsecured.

The proposed solution is a cash register system. This sounds great until you analyze the problem and the proposed solution. The cash register does not connect with the ILS and so does not tell if all fines are collected, so neither concern 1 nor concern 2 are addressed. Instead of being in a drawer, the register is out on the counter and does not track employees or prevent the drawer from being opened by others. The money is not secure from patrons, and, if anything, it gives the appearance that the library has more money to steal. Concern 3 is not addressed. This is an example of doing something to address a problem, but, without the proper investigation and analysis, the ‘solution’ actually does nothing to fix the problem and costs additional money.

I do not want to get bogged down in the details of value engineering; there are plenty of sites where you can learn more about both theory and application. But it is an important concept to be familiar with. Other similar frameworks exist and have much the same end goal. Things like Six Sigma, Lean Process, Pareto Analysis, and other similar constructs are all concentrated on creating additional value through eliminating waste or unnecessary steps. In all of them, there is a common thread – that you need to identify a problem, investigate possibilities, implement a solution, and then review the solution to make sure it actually addressed the problem. Using any of these systems would tell you not to replace the cigar box with a cash register.

It doesn’t necessarily matter which program you use, and there are cautionary tales about getting too concerned with the philosophy behind the systems. Consider what is likely to work best for your organization. Then use surveys to identify items that need improvement, come up with some crazy ideas, implement them, and put one of the various improvement frameworks to the test.

Has anyone used value engineering or a similar framework in your library? If so, how did it turn out?

About Shawn Friend

This entry was posted in Issues in Librarianship (generally), Library Statistics, Planning, Productivity and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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