Inspiration from SAVE Events

By Michael Pearsall, P.Eng., CVS, FEC – Vice President / President-Elect, SAVE International

I think we all take SAVE International for granted at times and don’t entirely appreciate the benefits of fully participating in the organization. My thoughts this past month have been turned to this topic a great deal in part due to some discussions I have had with other SAVE members.

Recently I have heard the age-old rumblings about SAVE getting old and outdated with many competing methodologies. It is easy to fall down this rabbit hole of negative thinking, but I am not going to let myself go there. Instead, after a few interesting conversations with SAVE members, I would like to highlight some of the benefits our Transportation program has had because of SAVE and some of my personal inspirations.

Starting back in the late 1990’s when we were first dipping our toes in the waters of VE, I can thank SAVE members for support. I organized the first Module I training for the Ministry of Transportation with Roger Sperling and Howard Greenfield from LZA as the instructors. I will credit them with selling me on why we needed to be members of SAVE. On a more basic level, if SAVE hadn’t existed at that point there wouldn’t have been a certified training program to set us down the correct path. A year or so later when we assembled our initial VE program and operating procedures, another team of SAVE members in John Robinson, Don Stafford and Bob Rude were of a big help.

In my opinion, one of the early milestone events that made a huge difference in our struggling VE program was the introduction of Performance Measures. For this, I must give credit to CalTrans and specifically George Hunter whom we wouldn’t have met without SAVE. This was truly a turning point in our program, which led to greatly increased implementation results.

At various SAVE conferences, summits and events I have had the opportunity to meet and strike up relationships with key players in the industry, who have both inspired and mentored me in different ways. I can’t mention them all here, most of them know who they are and can pat themselves on the back. A couple who have passed on I will mention though.

At the very first SAVE event I attended I had the opportunity to meet Eleanor Miles. In those days, conference proceedings were still printed in hardcopy and I had her autograph mine. I have kept that on my bookshelf ever since and used it for inspiration. Not quite the same as meeting Larry, but close enough to help me along in my early days. A couple years later I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Charles Bytheway for the first of many times. Instantly we seemed to connect and suddenly my historic stress around FAST diagrams melted away. He was both unassuming yet captivating and inspiring to me at the same time. If I hadn’t attended those SAVE events, I would have never had the resulting spiritual experience of listening to his stories and the impact they had on me.

I don’t think many of us give enough credit to SAVE chapter events. I have never been fortunate enough to live close to the epicenter of my chapter and thus I haven’t attended nearly as many chapter events as I would like. However, I can remember driving five hours in the early 2000’s to attend an event for what was then the Northern New York chapter. The main keynote of the evening was a speaker from Xerox who introduced me to using cause and effect diagrams in a VE study. A couple of weeks later I found myself a day into a challenging VE workshop that was struggling, and in a moment of blind inspiration, I suggested that we try using a cause and effect diagram. Suddenly the workshop turned around and we ended up with a multiple award-winning study. Had I not attended that chapter event, we would never have gotten the results we did.

One thing I always like to do at conferences is attend at least one paper presentation outside my normal field of practice. One year at a SAVE event I attended a manufacturing session on using target-costing. At first, I didn’t see a direct use in highway VE studies; however, a few months later we were faced with a budget crunch and I was asked how VE could help with a large group of projects about to be tendered. Target-costing proved to be a big part of the solution we needed.

Another major milestone in our VE program I would like to acknowledge is the incorporation of Risk in our VE studies. To be fair, I have to give the bulk of the credit to SteVE Holmes on this; however, through SAVE events we were able to learn about the range of possibilities using risk registers through to detailed cost-risk in VE studies.

The last couple of years I have had the pleasure of working with Mark Gabel from WashDOT to include a Transportation Track at the annual Value Summit. Along the way I have gotten to know Mark better and have been included in a nice Cost Risk Estimating Management (CREM) community of practice he has helped form. This year we have another great Transportation Track at the 2020 Value Summit and you too can enjoy the benefits of participating.

I have mentioned in a few columns that one of the benefits I have enjoyed when I was the SAVE Director of Conferences and continue to enjoy in my current Board position is that as part of the paper evaluation sub-committee I get to read all of the papers. While to some this may seem like a boring task, I look forward to it each year. I get to see trends in the industry and draw inspiration from a variety of backgrounds. Recently another manager came to me with a unique project he was hoping VE could help him with related to testing connected and automated vehicles and related technology on our highways. Initially we weren’t sure how to approach this study; however, after some thought and reflection, I found some inspiration from the approach of recent papers using VE in the service industry.

To sum things up, what I am really trying to illustrate is that there is a lot of inspiration you can get out of SAVE if you participate. I have been concerned from time to time recently hearing some people say that they don’t see the value in participating in SAVE. I would counter that if you are not inspired and seeing value then you need to change the lens you are looking through.

That all said, I will echo President Hoekstra’s recent comments about being very pleased to see the excellent response to our call for Tiger Team volunteers. Obviously, a lot of other people see benefit in participating and supporting SAVE and want to share in the inspiration.

In closing, I would like to give everyone a reminder that the 2020 Value Summit will once-again have a dedicated track for Transportation. Mark Gabel of WSDOT has been working hard again this year to make this happen and I can’t continue to thank him enough.

Until the next issue, I would like to continue to encourage any transportation professional out there who would like to share their stories to contact me at

Hope to see you all June 6-10, 2020 at the 2020 Value Summit in New Orleans, LA. Mark your calendars now!