Concurrent design is a method that is used to accelerate the early phases of complex engineering projects. RHEA’s experts have been using it for nearly two decades for projects as varied as space programmes, defence systems, factory design and luxury yachts. Now, in this blog series, they share 10 key factors that contribute to the success of the approach and are broadly applicable in collaborative engineering.

By Gwendolyn Kolfschoten, Concurrent Design Expert

1. Create Shared Understanding

In this post, we explain what concurrent design is and look at the importance of creating shared understanding.

What is concurrent design?

Concurrent design is based on a series of sessions where the client, experts from various domains and system engineers work together to develop an integral, consistent design based on shared understanding and rigorous design decisions. The method is mainly applied in the early phases of design and aims to identify key trade-offs and challenges early in the project. It emphasizes a quantitative, fact-based approach to increase the quality of decision-making, despite the uncertainties and interdependencies that are characteristic of these early design phases.

In summary, it offers an approach, process guidance, a facility and software to support a multi-disciplinary team in effective collaboration and decision-making.

Why shared understanding matters

Concurrent design aims to identify and analyse multidisciplinary, integral solutions to a design problem. The approach is used to pinpoint key trade-offs and challenges in the design, as well as gaps and challenges in the requirements. Stakeholders are therefore involved in a preliminary phase to identify challenges early on and solve them in an integrated way, in a joint effort with the customer, to enable adaptation of both the design and the requirements.

This approach requires a high level of shared understanding regarding the requirements, system and various elements. Shared understanding needs to be based on a holistic perspective because individual elements and subsystems are linked to the system as a whole. Further, shared understanding requires clear, focused explanations, openness about risks and challenges in each domain, and good listening.

Participants have to develop a shared language to understand each other’s domains sufficiently to comprehend how they are interrelated and the consequences of changes in related subsystems. For this purpose, visualization is very important. It helps participants to understand elements and relations, and to see how each change has an impact on the overall system.

Effective visualization

Visualizing both the problem statement and the potential solution is an important aspect of concurrent design. Given that “a picture is worth a thousand words”, making a joint visual or map is one of the most powerful ways to create shared understanding.

In all circumstances, it is helpful for the team to have a system overview at hand, either on a wall or at the table. It is even better if the overview can be edited or modified, so that changes to the design can be visualized directly. It can be valuable to have modelling experts present to make these live changes.

Colour helps to give meaning to visuals and to clarify and emphasize differences. Colour also makes it easier to pinpoint aspects of the picture (“the blue thing here” is an easier statement than having to identify something by its purpose).

If parts of the system need an explanation, it is best to add text or symbols in the picture, rather than in a separate description (as long as participants can read the text). When text is embedded in an image, it reduces cognitive load. Augmented reality takes this another step further, providing an extra way to add explanations to aspects of the image.

Merged models help shared visualization

When we use visualization to understand a complex system, it is useful to create a joint or shared image. However, when experts have different ideas about the system, it can be difficult for them to ‘let go’ of their own understanding. Therefore, it often helps if each member of the team draws their own picture before they start merging models and views.

Then, when merging the models, make sure to use elements of each one, so all stakeholders recognize parts of the overall model.

Visualization tools

Visualizing can be enabled in a variety of ways. In concurrent design, we use several methods: for example, one option involves using sketches, drawings, pictures and images. A whiteboard digital screen or digital drawing bord works well for this.

We also often use COMET™, our software platform, to define requirements and design elements (building blocks) with the whole team. COMET allows users to define the system in the form of a tree-like structure where a functional and physical breakdown of the system can be created and visualized.

Our tips

  • Create a shared language
  • Link explanations of detailed design aspects to the overall design
  • Use lots of visualization.

Further information

Find out more about concurrent design and RHEA’s solutions.