Posted 16 March 2021 in Blog, Concurrent Design, Engineering.

RHEA Talk Logo

RHEA Talk: Understanding Concurrent Design for Critical Infrastructure

On 9 March 2021, we held our first RHEA Talk webinar in which three experts explored the power of concurrent design for complex projects, hosted by John Bone, RHEA Group’s Chief Commercial Officer:

  • Sam Gerené, RHEA’s SEMT Business Unit Manager
  • Rajko Brokken, Change Manager, Netherlands Defence Materiel Organisation (DMO)
  • Mark Roberts, RHEA’s Business Development Director, Security & Defence

RHEA has been providing concurrent design services to the Netherlands DMO for over 18 months, led by Sam Gerené, who has over 15 years’ experience in using and developing concurrent design methodology and related software. Among his roles, Mark Roberts is Project Director for Spaceport 1, planned for construction in North Uist in Scotland, which is using concurrent design for many aspects of the project.

Here we summarize our experts’ answers to some of the questions raised at the event. You can also watch the video of the complete event.

What factors are related to the success of concurrent design projects?

Rajko: It is important to have support from the upper regions of the organization, which means convincing them that it will help them achieve their strategic goals faster. And you also need support from the people who will be involved in the projects. It doesn’t usually take very long before they see the benefits, such as making decisions far more quickly and enjoying the face-to-face, interactive way of working. It makes us more agile and it’s more enjoyable for participants.

Mark: The primary measures of success include having one version of ‘the truth’, but the most significant benefit is the collaboration and communication element. It also provides maintenance of the requirements and evidence for regulators.

Rajko: Before we started, we visited other organizations [using concurrent design] and learned they were able to speed up the procurement process by factors of three or four, had a reduction of failures of 30% and a reduction in resources needed by 50%. After just one and a half years, we are already speeding up the process by two to three times, and believe we will improve this to the factor of four that ESA achieves. The improved quality of the products and interaction between our engineers is also important.

RHEA Group Sam GereneInstead of approaching the problem sequentially, we parallelize a lot of the work by bringing the whole team together in a properly documented, repeatable process. You don’t have to wait for one expert to finalize all their work before the next can start working. By doing this, we can get results four times faster with half the energy that is usually required to do it.

Sam Gerené, RHEA’s SEMT Business Unit Manager

What applications would not be possible without concurrent design?

Sam: Most things are possible without concurrent design but it will take you much longer and the chances of failure are higher. The projects we do for the Dutch MoD, for example, are to provide capabilities to people in the field when they need it and it is of utmost importance that they get it on time, so we have to become faster and more agile. With concurrent design we can make sure that the solution meets the needs of multiple stakeholders first time and captures security requirements from the start.

Mark: We’re using concurrent design for the Spaceport 1 project because we need to ensure we don’t design something that prevents companies using it. They all have different requirements and the design would take a very long time otherwise, but we’re in a race to get to operational status as quickly as we can.

How has COVID impacted your concurrent design projects?

Rajko: Next to data, agility is also key. We’ve tried to uphold the principles of concurrent design, which are best met with physical attendance and facilitated collaboration, but since COVID we have had to work in a hybrid way. It’s not the optimal way of using concurrent design, especially when you are introducing it into your organization, but we have still been able to support our customers within the MoD and speed up their projects.

Mark: Our stakeholders are all over the world, so I probably wouldn’t have been able to meet up with them all anyway. Our approach has been to be very focussed, including the team interaction, even though we’re working in a hybrid way.

Rajko Brokken Dutch DMO MoD smallSpeaking as a change manager, concurrent design delivers. It proved very quickly that it had the potential to add to our strategic goal. It involves the employees in an active manner, not prescribing what they should do but inviting them to participate. The team collaboration and team building is a very beneficial aspect of concurrent design too – in fact, our participants tell us after each study how much fun it is! I’m a very pleased customer so far.

Rajko Brokken, Change Manager, Netherlands DMO

How much can you reduce a project lifecycle by if you use concurrent design?

Sam: The benchmark we use is the European Space Agency, where I worked in the concurrent design facility for around 11 years. We measured that we were able to speed up by a factor of four – the feasibility of a space mission would take from 6 to 9 months and now they do that in 4 to 8 weeks. At the Dutch MoD now we are already coming close to those numbers.

The results depend on an organization’s team and their normal way of working. For some studies we have been twice as fast, sometimes four times faster and sometimes even 10 times faster. I think in general it’s fair to say that between two and four times is achievable in a short time if you bring in the right experts.

What does the future of concurrent design look like?

Sam: As technology progresses, we can embrace things that help us do our work better. At ESA, work is going on to use augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) in the process. And we are collaborating with others to bring artificial intelligence (AI) into the mix to help engineers come up with better solutions faster. The team can be creative and come up with a possible solution, and then we use AI to analyze if there are better potential architectures, which the team can then work with.

Rajko: It’s good to evolve and add AI and VR to the concurrent design method. But my advice is to stick to the core principles of physical participation led by a facilitator. AI, VR and AR are just technologies to support the process, not replace the engineers. It’s the brain power of the people you bring together that is vital and one very beneficial spin-off of concurrent design is the team building and collaboration, and the increased acceptance of other people’s points of view, because the system is data driven.

RHEA Group Mark RobertsCritical infrastructure is, by its very nature, complex. There are always numerous stakeholders, often with different and potentially conflicting requirements. The project dependencies may drive different pressures, there are regulations that need to be integrated and security needs to be built in from the start. And any of these might change. Concurrent design is able to track all of this, giving you one version of the truth, and also optimize collaboration between multidisciplinary teams.

Mark Roberts, RHEA’s Business Development Director, Security & Defence

How do you adapt when multiple contractors are involved?

Sam: We have a documented, repeatable process but we are always learning and adapting what we do. Concurrent design is not so rigid that you cannot deviate slightly and facilitators will have their own styles. But there are core values that you have to be aware of, which we refer to as ‘rules of engagement’.

Rajko: One option is to include criteria in your contracts requesting that they use a certain method. Alternatively, we are promoting concurrent design within our ecosystem and inviting people to participate in sessions – where they are allowed, say after a contract has been assigned to them – to create a level playing field in terms of approaching a project.

How do you manage resistance to change?

Rajko: Make sure there’s a compelling reason to change, that it’s within your strategic goals – in our case it was to speed up the procurement process. Then you should invite your senior stakeholders to see how it works, what results can be achieved and what conditions need to be met in order to make it perform. And make sure you get the right expertise on board to demonstrate results to your employees too. So it’s a top down and bottom up approach.

Getting the requirements right at the start is critically important, such as security. There is an adage in the security world that if you design in security measures at the outset, they’ll cost X. But if you design them in retrospectively, they will cost a multiple of X – and the conventional view is that cost is 10 times X.

Mark Roberts, RHEA’s Business Development Director, Security & Defence

Find out more