Value Management Strategies

5 Ways to Make Space for Change

by: Jeff Rude, CVS

I don’t know if I’m alone in this thought, but I’m damn glad that 2018 is over.  Last year not only flew by, but it did so with so many whips and curves that my neck has developed a permanent kink.  The one thing that keeps coming to me is the fact that I didn’t take any time to prepare for it.  I did two things instead: 1) I looked back on how well 2017 went and I assumed it would be the same for the next year, and 2) I charged into 2018 with a reckless abandon and foolish übermütig. I failed to plan and as a result, the year grabbed me by the throat and savagely whipped me from side to side.  Why didn’t I plan? Because I didn’t have time; I figured I could handle anything that came my way. I didn’t leave any space to think about what to ask for. More importantly, because I didn’t know what I was chasing, I also had no idea what not to chase, or, more importantly, what to say “No” to. As a result, I got a lot of things thrown my way that overwhelmed me. I faced them all with a level of success… but it was at my own expense. Looking back, I kept waiting for the time to make a plan, but the time never came.

I once flew business class on Qatar airlines.  When I sat down, they asked me what I wanted, and I said champagne because it’s the only thing that I connect with business class. Later I saw them bring a cart down the aisle and shake a cocktail for the guy in front of me. I think they even had caviar for him.  He knew what to ask for, where I didn’t know where to start.  When the flight attendant said I could have anything, my “anything” was much smaller than my fellow passenger’s. I vowed that the next time I flew business class, I would come prepared. This opportunity has yet to arrive.

The good news is that we are in the beginning of a new year and there is still time. The parties have been thrown and the feasts consumed. Folks are still reeling from 2018 and you can catch some time while everyone is on their heels and put some real effort into building a good 2019. Rather than make it overly complicated and/or abstract, there’s really only one point to drive home:


The simple principle to take away is to make space. While there are a million self-help books, videos, classes, and programs, really none of it is worth anything if you don’t make space to figure out what you actually want. Make real space, not ten minutes in front of a calendar but a half day as a minimum… a bare minimum. I actually recommend two days.  Categorize the time as a planning or strategy session, and I’m sure you can find a means of expensing it into your life to make it worthwhile.

“How in the world,” you may be thinking, “would I ever know what to do with two whole days of time?” Well, my friend, I have a basic model that should suit the bill. It’s a five-step process, complete with time allotments, that you could copy and paste into an agenda. 

The process is as follows:

Download the PDF here

Even if you start off with nothing, it’s like that high school exercise where your teacher would ask you to take out a blank piece of paper and just start writing… even if you have nothing to say immediately, something useful will come out of it.

The next push-back I generally hear against the assertion that you need to make space for this planning is, “We do these things already as part of our business operations or way of life.” And to this, the only appropriate response is, of course you do… of course you do. But let’s be honest, did you really take the time to think everything through, or did you fly through it absentmindedly, like when you brush your teeth in the morning?

2019 promises to be very interesting, to say the least. There are some indications that it will be wilder than 2018 and possibly building up to an even crazier 2020. No matter how you slice it, wouldn’t now be a good time to do this, before yet another year happens to you instead of the other way around?

Even if you already know everything…

Even if you’ve seen it all before…

Even if you don’t think you need it…

Make the space!

A Look Back at 2018

2018 was a busy year at VMS. We led over 100 Value Engineering studies, 26 Design Charrettes/FACDs, 17 Business Process Improvement studies, 13 Project Controls projects, 8 Risk workshops, 6 Trainings, and 2 Cost Estimating projects. And this was in addition to multiple service projects!

VMS also began development on a suite of software tools and expanded our team from 22 to 44 personnel. As the year ends, VMS looks back on some of the memorable moments that helped make this another successful chapter for our company:

  • VMS rang in the New Year by earning the Project Planning & Delivery Services contract for King County’s Wastewater Treatment Division.
  • Our risk team completed a Sound Transit capital budgeting risk analysis totaling $10 billion.
  • With the growth of our team, VMS established new physical offices in Portland and Seattle and moved its Southern California office to a larger space in San Marcos, CA.
  • VMS performed a comprehensive review of the project control processes for the US State Department’s Overseas Building Operations (OBO) and developed recommendations and actions that could allow them to better deliver capital projects.
  • In June, VMS attended the Association for the Advancement of Cost Engineering International (AACEI) Conference in San Diego and presented technical papers. More than 400 attendees stopped by the VMS booth to learn about our company. We also started a corporate AACE membership this year to further support our team’s professional development.
  • VMS developed a unique and innovative process, support structure, and methodology for performing Portfolio Management. This is just one component of a comprehensive suite of tools we are developing to help clients make informed value-based decisions for the management of capital portfolios, programs, projects, and the required resources. In addition, VMS is further enhancing its VMSPro® software platform to support portfolio management activities.
  • In September, VMS staff came together from all over the country for our annual company meeting in Portland, where we aligned on corporate values and discussed the future of VMS.
  • VMS conducted a process improvement study for Caltrans to optimize the design task work flow for projects that have relatively low risk and few complexities – “non-complex” projects. VMS lead a multi-functional team comprised of several subject matter experts representing Headquarters and the Districts for three workshops to brainstorm, evaluate, and develop a new process for “non-complex” projects. The team also identified other streamlining opportunities to improve the delivery process and shorten the project schedule for all projects.
  • VMS assisted in Seattle Public Utilities development of the Ship Canal Water Quality Mega-Project, including developing estimates, schedules, risk analyses and technical recommendations to improve the organization’s project delivery.
  • VMS finalized the development of formulas for the capital cost estimates for King County’s Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) program. VMS is also leading and managing a cutting edge CSO technology pilot program that could revolutionize how wastewater is treated, potentially cutting future capital expenditures in the Puget Sound Region by billions of dollars.
  • VMS supported multiple infrastructure project delivery Risk Workshops and comprehensive Risk Analyses for Sound Transit, King County, USACE, and the US State Department.
  • VMS developed strategic plans for a number of Caltrans Districts and Divisions. For example, VMS worked with Caltrans District 10 to develop a 5-year Strategic Action Plan through 2023. The plan was the hard work of committees comprised of District, Central Region, and Headquarters functional groups, and outlines priorities and associated action plans with 1-, 3-, and 5-year targets. We facilitated workshops that illuminated the District’s strategic issues, shaped the District’s priorities, and ultimately provided the roadmap of action items in the plan.
  • VMS conducted two VMF-1 and two VMF-2 Value Methodology (VM) training courses in 2018. VMS taught a dozen U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Value Engineering Officers advanced techniques in VMS.
  • VMS led VE Studies on several transportation mega-projects for a variety of clients. Notable projects include the West Seattle Ballard Link Extension (light rail project) in Seattle, WA; the Brooklyn Queens Expressway Reconstruction project (highway structure) in Brooklyn, NY; and the I-5 Managed Lanes project in Orange County, CA.

VMS would like to thank all its team, clients and contractors for their hard work and partnership. We look forward to working together to make 2019 an even better year!

VMS’s Ashley Carson Earns Coaching Certificate

Ashley Carson, VMS’s Vice President of Organization Effectiveness, has earned her coaching certificate from the Hudson Institute.
The Hudson Institute of Coaching has been providing developmentally based coach training for leaders for more than 30 years. Their International Coaching Federation accredited program provides professionals with an understanding of the essential elements needed to become a masterful coach.

Ashley’s year-long training focused on self-development, the methodology of coaching, how to coach a person through different transition stages and how to create continual development. 

“One of the primary tenants of organization development is to strengthen the client organization so they can be better equipped for the future. Becoming an executive leadership coach further expands my ability to help facilitate growth of leaders at all levels. I see it as an essential skill as a manager of our small team and as a partner to our clients,” said Ashley. “I have a widely developed leadership background, and this certification process amplifies that skillset. I am excited to start taking more coaching clients in 2019 and help them achieve their goals.”

VMS congratulates Ashley on her achievement and looks forward to further expanding our suite of service offerings in 2019.


VMS now has offices across the US:

  • San Marcos, California – Headquarters
  • Portland (OR)
  • Seattle
  • Grand Junction
  • New York City

To contact any of our offices, call (760) 741-5518

Value, Defined

At VMS we work to improve the value of all our client’s projects.
But what exactly is value?

Our technical definition of value is the relationship between performance, cost, time, and risk in accomplishing a function or set of functions. 
In actuality, we all know that technical definitions do not always apply so neatly to real-world applications.

So what does value mean to our clients?

For them, value means identifying and minimizing a project’s risks, streamlining business practices, improving product features, reducing costs, providing training, decreasing production time, enhancing designs and overall, creating better returns on their investments.

On each of our projects, VMS works closely with our clients to determine what value means to them individually, and how that value translates to their products and services.

Once we’ve determined our client’s definition of value, our team use a variety of tools and techniques to measure, analyze, and make recommendations to help clients reach their goals.

The meaning of the word “value” means something wholly different not only to each client but on each project. At VMS, we are experts at helping our customers make decisions and adjustments to realize their best values, no matter what they may be. 

The Value of Authorship

Writing a book is no easy task. It is an exercise in determination, patience, and discipline.

As November is the national month for three different writing and literacy programs, VMS would like to celebrate the authors on our team.

Rob Stewart, VMS President, has authored three books on the management of value and risk:

VMS’s Technology Director, Ethan Brown, has written two books on software development:

  • Learning JavaScript, 3rd Edition – Covers practical JavaScript programming topics in a clear and approachable manner perfect for beginners, while also going over complex concepts such as functional and asynchronous programming.
  • Web Development with Node and Express – Shows how to build dynamic web applications with Express, a key component of the Node/JavaScript development stack.

VMS’s Chief Operating Officer, Terry Hays, wrote the chapter on value engineering for Maynard’s Industrial Engineering Handbook – Fourth Edition (McGraw-Hill). He has also written training manuals on value engineering that cover construction projects, product designs, manufacturing processes, and administrative systems and procedures.

VMS’s other experts on staff have also authored a variety of white papers and journal articles detailing new ways to improve value engineering and risk management practices.  You can read them here.

We thank our team members for taking the time to share their knowledge and expertise, their papers and books help us all improve our skills and gain a better understanding of our industry.

The Value of being Aware

Social engineering is the psychological manipulation of the natural human tendency to trust.  People inherently want to be helpful, so some con artists assume a level of credibility with you to gain access to information that seems harmless but is actually very important.

What usually happens is people hear a professional sounding voice on the phone or see a seemingly trustworthy email, and then scammers use that and other psychological tricks to con people into opening malicious files or sharing critical information.

At VMS we advise our team to be suspicious of unsolicited calls or emails looking for information, such as:

  • Emails looking for names of our team members. For example: “I need the names of your engineers for the company sweatshirt order…”
  • People you do not recognize claiming to know you and asking for help. For example: “We met at a conference, can you please look at my paper and give me some insights?”
  • Emails from authority type institutions such the IRS, federal courts, etc.Pushy people calling you and asking you to take immediate action on a previously unknown issue.
  • Social media invitations from people you do not know.

Remember that social engineering cannot be blocked by technology alone. We all must be on the lookout for potential threats.

The Value of being Vigilant

Everyone thinks they are too smart to be conned. We all know that emails that come from foreign princes willing to share their riches with us but first need our banking information are a scam. We know not to open any email attachments from suspicious looking senders.

However, phishing attempts have become more sophisticated and anyone can be tricked.  Here are some red flags we train VMS employees to look for:

  • Emails looking for general information (email, fax or phone number), specific technology or more information about products/services advertised.
  • Emails soliciting business and marketing services.
  • Students looking for help, peer reviews or comments.
  • Emails that target an employee’s ethnicity.
  • Emails with spelling and grammar mistakes.
  • Generic email addresses (Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo) and foreign email addresses (IN, RU, IR, CN, CU.)
  • Emails with no job titles or contact information.
  • Remember do not open attachments or hyperlinks from unknown sources!
  • Scammers can recreate your company’s email signatures and logos, or even mimic a current co-workers email address. Be suspicious of emails from a co-worker asking for any form of money, check or credit card information.

Think before you click. Think before you respond. And remember to report any suspicious emails to Defense Security Services. 

The Value of Coming Together

The Harvard Business Review recently published an article claiming that companies who participate in teambuilding exercises that solely focus on teambuilding and nothing else will never achieve lasting long-term results. However, companies who have their employees come together and mutually decide on goals and objectives are much more successful.

Just a week after the article was posted, VMS cleared two days from our busy schedule of client work to bring all our employees together to do exactly that – to better understand all the facets of VMS and to determine our goals and values as a group.

At VMS the needs of our clients are constant and ever-changing. Many of our managers are gone for weeks at a time, consulting on dozens of projects.

So why then, did the VMS Management Team decide it was worth our time to devote two full days to non-billable work?

Because it is their firm belief that to produce the best results for our clients, our team needs to be unified.  We need to know that everyone has the same definition of success, is working towards the same goals and has a full understanding of our services, capabilities, and the talents of our team.

Based on a survey of our employees’ experiences at VMS’s offsite, the event was a valuable use of everyone’s time.

How did we make our offsite a success?

By using the same practices we utilize on our client projects.  As we began planning our offsite, we asked employees what they wanted to achieve during the event. What information did they want to take away? What did they think VMS’s strengths were? Where could we improve?

With the information we received from all the different functional areas, we looked for common themes and issues. Next, we developed a plan on how the event would address those concerns. We also asked for feedback during and after the offsite, so we could make on-the-fly adjustments and begin planning how to improve next year’s event.  One example of the many outcomes which emanated from the offsite was the group identification and prioritization of the values we hold most important at VMS.  These included:

  • Care and Concern
  • Innovation
  • Invest in People
  • Trust
  • Humility and Grace

Ultimately, by building a solid internal foundation, VMS can better serve our clients. By operating as a cohesive, well-informed team, VMS ensures that no matter the challenge, or who is on our team, we will deliver the exceptional results we are known for.

The Value of Thinking Before You Post

Loose lips may have sunk ships, but with today’s social media landscape, loose tweets can sink fleets.

October is National Cybersecurity Awareness Month and VMS would like to share some of the social media safety practices our employees use to help ensure the security of vital information.

Social media can be a double-edged sword, while it allows us to share more information and at a more rapid pace, it is also those same features that increase possible operations security risks. People, especially those who work with critical data, need to be careful about what they tweet or post. VMS encourages our team to:

  • Think smartly about what you post or share online. Remember that anyone can see what you write, so be careful what you disclose about your family and occupation.
  • Remember to use privacy settings to help protect your personal information.
  • Remember to turn off location features from your devices and posts so others cannot track you or where you are working
  • Double check before connecting to any public wireless hotspots to ensure that the network is legitimate

By taking a few moments to think before you post, you can help ensure that your information, and your company’s information, stays secure.