Why I could never work for Lego

by Nigel Hurst on February 20, 2014

Lego_thumbLike so many people, I’ve loved playing with Lego ever since I was young. Even today I still love opening the colourful box, tipping out the bags of brightly coloured pieces and then following the instructions wondering how this new Lego creation will come together. Lego’s greatest business turnaround from near bankruptcy to market leader has already been documented in another excellent Bearing blog article so I won’t repeat it here. 

Yet, I recently came to a startling personal conclusion whilst building a new Lego set for my son: I could never be a Lego designer. Or at least I could never be a good Lego designer. I’m too practical. I’ve spent too many professional years developing and delivering projects, both simple and complex within a backdrop of time timescales and even tighter budgets. Value Engineering is an important aspect to successful project delivery, where providing Value for Money to the Client is key.

Just to clarify, and to quote Wikipedia “Value engineering is a systematic method to improve the "value" of goods or products and services by using an examination of function. Value, as defined, is the ratio of function to cost.”

legomovieset_thumbAs I was building this particular Lego set I was over-thinking how – in my personal view – it was over-engineered and how so many of the add-on parts were unnecessary. I would have value engineered them out at the design stage, reduced the number of components, simplified the kit and provided greater value to Lego by reducing the manufacturing cost, without reducing the overall performance and play value of the Lego set.

I was recently standing on a busy city centre street corner looking up at a 7 storey apartment building trying to figure out what the large metal sculptures were on the roof, which could only be seen clearly by a few neighbouring apartments at high level. On the architects’ drawings and scale model, perhaps these metal sculptures were highly significant to the overall design of this building, and yet in reality in this busy city centre neighbourhood the design intention was completely lost. These could have been value engineered out early in the design process and saved the client money.

 glazing_thumbI recall a similar situation once where during a building refurbishment project design meeting the “signature” architect was trying to justify the cost of a new art installation, even after the budget cuts meant that half of the building would have to retain unacceptable existing single glazing.  New double glazing is clearly more functional to a building than a new art installation.

Value Engineering is of course not simply about cutting art from projects. It is a much larger and systematic analysis process where every aspect of a project is interrogated in the pre-execution phase by the team in order to identify areas of cost and time saving (during the delivery phase), with the express purpose of ensuring that value for money is delivered without compromising function.

Which brings me back to Lego. The clients are children (and big kids) and part of the value and fun of Lego products is the added value which each set brings. That is their trademark. Every project is different and has its own characteristic and budgets.The additional components in a Lego set which are looked upon by me as unnecessary are often part of what a makes a toy just that little bit more special to a child.

Which is why I think I should stick to my sector of project initiation and execution: I’ve spent so many years value engineering projects and ensuring value for money for my clients perhaps it’s best I don’t work for Lego!

About Nigel Hurst :

Nigel Hurst is a Director at Bearing Consulting and a Programme & Project Management Consultant. He has a background as an Architect and has international experience from working on three continents for both public and private sector clients. With over 15 years of professional experience he has delivered a large number of successful projects in the place management and urban development sectors. He also has worked extensively on PPP/PFI projects within the UK market. He was educated in England, Canada and studied architecture at Cardiff University in Wales. He is now delivering a number of projects across Bearings markets in Europe and Africa, where he brings a wealth of stakeholder experience and project skills.

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