To deliver reliable energy at a reasonable cost to ratepayers, utilities require infrastructure improvements and projects to be delivered at the highest quality at a competitive price.

Value Engineering Centers (VEC), when used effectively, are an innovative way to expand a qualified engineering base while controlling costs. Utilities must feel confident that an engineer-procure-construct (EPC) partner’s approach to using a VEC will truly maximize the value to the project.

Commitment to the VEC Approach

Effectively integrating VEC resources means using an EPC team with a dedicated approach to delivering project value for utilities.

  • Relationships: EPC partners that best leverage VECs take the time to build face-to-face relationships with resources based internationally. Frequent trips establish and nurture the rapport between U.S.-based EPCs and global engineering resources. The investment to travel and connect with remote colleagues results in better work, less rework and quicker response time.
  • Expectations: Establishing clear expectations upfront with remote team members avoids misunderstanding, which erodes trust and can poison a working relationship. As part of a robust project management process, utilities must rely on an EPC team to set up and secure agreement on the scope, schedule and budget for projects among all personnel.
  • Overcommunicate: While communication has historically been seen as the key challenge to managing VEC teams, with technology and thoughtful scheduling, this should no longer be an issue. EPC partners that are committed to making the VEC strategy work will look beyond email contact and project procedures. EPCs should think creatively about how video conferences, phone calls, team meetings and one-on-one discussions can keep resources connected and encourage genuine two-way conversation.
  • Culture: EPC partners that take the time to understand cultural differences, performance indicators and even how feedback should be delivered nurture engaged and effective VEC teams. Consideration of time zone differences, office nuances and respect of home and personal commitments help team members feel valued. While VECs may be located around the world, the skilled engineers and personnel are all similar in that they have a desire to produce high-quality work in a motivating environment.
  • Quality: The value and excellence that can be expected of a VEC is reflected in how an EPC partner manages quality. Utilities must understand what mechanisms are in place for top-quality project deliverables, what quality reviews exist and what certifications and qualifications are required. EPCs must have established processes to require and manage project performance and quality outcomes.
  • Ownership: Empower VECs to make decisions and own the results. EPC partners should look for skilled employees on the project team that crave opportunities to shine and then give ownership of responsibility to further attract top talent. A sense of ownership and feeling of responsibility for project deliverables allow team members to excel.
  • Process: A robust project management process benefits all personnel, regardless of location. EPC partners that utilize the right process and document management systems allow secure but open access to VEC teams for real-time collaboration, greater efficiency and enhanced trust.

As an innovation in project management, VECs can be a considerable asset in achieving project goals. Utilities should challenge EPC partners to understand how VECs are leveraged to achieve the best value for their infrastructure and capital projects.

Tim Carey, PE, PMP, is regional energy practice manager for Burns & McDonnell in Chicago. His team focuses on power plants and other heavy industries, serving clients on projects from small studies through to full EPC execution.