19 January 2023


Collaborative Engineering

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RHEA’s experts have been using concurrent design for nearly two decades to accelerate the early phases of complex engineering projects such as space programmes, defence systems, factory design and luxury yachts.

In this new blog series, they share their insights into how you can ensure concurrent design sessions are rigorous and the outcomes are high quality.

By Gwendolyn Kolfschoten, Concurrent Design Expert

Catch up with last month’s post: Part 3 – Validation and doing the maths

4. Quality in is quality out

When we support our stakeholders to present the information they bring to the table in a structured and complete manner, it is far more likely that we will be able to identify issues and challenges in this information than when it is presented in a vague and unstructured manner. Our mantra is ‘Quality in is quality out’ – effectively the opposite to what we have all encountered at some point, which is ‘Garbage in is garbage out’.

But how can we enhance quality and rigour before the information is presented?

Clarity and focus

First of all, it is important that we ask domain experts what we need from them. Vague instructions like “Can you present a status update?” or “Can you present how you foresee your contribution in the system?” is an open door to a lot of unstructured and unfocused information.

Asking a domain expert to present critical challenges, key risks or the most important changes made to the design is already more focused. In addition, it really helps to review the presentation before it is shared with the team.

Another quick win is to scratch things out of a presentation. Often domain experts feel the urge to explain too much ‘background information’. It is good to explain in laymen’s terms what the subsystem is and what it does, but presenting its history along with generic developments and trends in the field is a step too far, unless this is somehow focused on the solution direction that is relevant for the study.

For the content, there are several ways to support shared understanding when presenting domain-specific information to the team. Share these tips with the team to help them provide quality and rigour in their presentations:

  • Zoom out before you zoom in. First, show the team how your contribution fits in the bigger system overview. This helps everyone to see the contribution in perspective and ensures that the presentation has a starting point that is recognizable for all. Do the same when you present multiple elements or aspects; zoom out, link to a bigger picture or overview and zoom back in.
  • Visualize. When it is a technical system, it is critical to have a picture of what it will look like. A picture says more than a thousand words, even if it is just a rough sketch or doodle, or a picture of something similar.
  • Compare. “These solar panels are about the size of one-quarter of a football field” says a lot more than “They are 2500m2”. Using metaphors and comparisons helps laymen to understand what the system looks like, which in turn helps them to understand the impact of the system.
  • Create a shared language. If concepts are new to the team, make sure to give them a clear name, and ensure that that name is used consistently. In some cases it helps to create a glossary of terms.
  • Use colour. Colour helps people to understand things intuitively. For instance, when similar aspects have the same colour, people will assume they belong together. Also, colour can be used to indicate a specific component or aspect. (“The blue here means…” is easier than referring to an unfamiliar name for an element.)
  • Use a traffic light system. The colour range of a traffic light (from green to yellow/orange to red) intuitively signifies things that are less or more urgent, pose less or more risk, or contribute less or more to a budget. This concept can be used both in pictures and in text.
  • Use humour. Things that are funny are much more easily remembered. When something is particularly difficult to remember or understand, a joke about it will help others to understand and remember.

Find out more

In this series of blog posts on concurrent design, we present techniques to improve rigour and quality. These offer a toolbox for concurrent design team leads to support their teams effectively in improving and testing the design. We cover aspects such as how to handle validation when working with rough estimates, how to zoom in and focus without losing a holistic view, and how to keep the team on track and contributing positively.

Follow RHEA Group on LinkedIn to be alerted to new posts in this series.

Catch up with our previous blog series on 10 Success Factors for Collaborative Design.