How do we apply design on cost reduction exercise?

We have been approached to facilitate a brainstorming session for a cost optimization exercise on public infrastructure projects etc. The outcome is to achieve lower Life Cycle Costing (LCC) for such projects. Any tips on how to design such sessions and with a group of engineers from various groups who have little or no background on user centered design process? Or is user centered design even the right tool to use?

Hi Vickie! Thanks for posting the FIRST EVER post in this forum!

Hmmm interesting question. I love to see how design can help engineers in an engineering project. just to get more context: Care to explain more what LCC means? Why did the departments approach you for help? What do they wish to get out of the session, i.e. what does a successful session look like for them?

I’m not sure if I can explain LCC properly but if I’m not wrong it’s the entire project lifecycle cost (from Design, tender, construction to maintenance), not just upfront cost, capital expenditures (capex) vs ops (opex) expenditures. For eg if we use concrete to build a structure, it will cost more upfront but maintenance cost is lower, but if use steel, upfront cost maybe lower but it’s more costly to maintain, so overall LCC is not lowered.
The project team’s outcome is to achieve specific actions to make the LCC lower for the selected projects.

@Vickie Ah ok I see. It feels like there’s 2 ways I might approach it if I was in your situation:

  1. Without challenging the brief, turn up as a facilitator of the brainstorming session
    This is probably the easiest and most straight forward way to help them. Design thinking can be applied whole, or in part. In this case, you can just help them by organising and facilitating a normal brainstorming session. Warm up activities to break the ice and know one another, have some activities to prime the mind for brainstorming, and run through brainstorming exercise (7 rules of brainstorming, idea round robin, S.C.A.M.P.E.R. etc). Check out this collection on Public Design Vault - a few tools there might help. Help them prioritise ideas after getting a large volume of ideas using priority matrix, chart out smaller ideas into a larger concept or roadmap. The usual ways you might run the ideation phase of a larger project.

I think the pros of this is the immediate benefit the team will get from you. After all, that’s what they approached you for. It can be a one-off engagement and they would leave with a good impression and perhaps consider more engagements in the future. It works if your team is strapped and might not have bandwidth for deeper collaboration, or if the issue is not aligned to your team’s larger mission/strategy. The cons could be that this might be a superficial intervention and if there’s larger/deeper root issues at play, facilitating a brainstorming session might not help them solve the root causes.

  1. Challenge the brief and ask them for a longer engagement to do a proper project on this issue.
    Perhaps there’s opportunities to optimise costs by understanding how users use the infrastructure and therefore how engineers can build it. Say it’s a neighbourhood with many elderly and building facilities far apart might make it hard for the seniors to access. So building them in one place might be more elderly-friendly in that case. That changes the brief - from what materials should we use to build the facilities, to what do we build in the first place. Help them reframe a cost/infrastructural/engineering issue to the larger picture of the citizens’ experience of using such facilities (and how engineers/ experience of building it).

I think this works if they have the appetite to collaborate on something longer, if it’s not an urgent, burning issue, and if their bosses are open to try different ways of doing things. It does mean more bandwidth and resources to commit to, which is a consideration for both their teams and yours.

A middle ground between the 2 approaches could be you facilitate the brainstorming, give them some quick wins, but continue to engage them after the session to see if there’s interest to do a longer project.

Does this make sense? :thinking::grinning:

1 Like

Thanks for the detailed suggestions!

Yea we ended up have to go with no 1 cos the project team has very tight timeline. We only have a week to design. So we tried to ask questions to get them to think wild, praying that they will rethink if there’s even a need to build these structures. But many times they will just said they are pressured by external stakeholders to build even though they know it’s not the best option. So we have a group who are like jaded and just wanna get things done and pressured by stakeholders etc. so we also try to balance it by not giving them the impression that using design doesn’t value add and is a long drawn process.

The team is struggling cos we are not familiar with the engineering terms and are afraid we can’t value add much even though we are clear we are just the process facilitators.

Sounds like your team had tried to make the best of a situation with tight constraints, difficult stakeholder management, etc. Don’t beat yourself up over it! :wink: You help them in a little way today, maybe they will come back for more in the future? From experience, creating real impact (within org or outside) needs a long runway, so it’s ok to feel like you not made much impact today, because the small wins today will add up to a larger one tomorrow! :+1: