Product case study – addressing storage problems using the CIRCLES product design framework

This post is to illustrate the CIRCLES product design framework. It is applied to a space optimisation problem I encountered at the block where I live. Expand each step of the CIRCLES mnemonic below to read how the example unfolds and the solutions it leads us towards.

Comprehend situation – background

As part of my role as a voluntary director of a Right to Manage board for a block of 137 apartments I took on a task to review how we can improve our parcel management at the block.

When the property was built in 2006 it was before the proliferation of online shopping. The concierge office did not require large facilities for parcel sorting and storage. It was primarily used as an operational base for the Concierge during their shift, to answer residents queries, for key management and to hold oversized deliveries for a few hours.

Fast forward 14 years and services like Amazon Prime and other mail order companies mean the small concierge office are struggling to cope with capacity. This is compounded by one-off events such as Black Friday sales. The volume of parcels arriving every day are too high and there is not enough space to hold them. This results in parcels being piled up, often sorted by size and weight (so as to optimise space) rather than by flat number. Parcels are often held for multiple days before collection. This causes storage and mobility issues in the concierge office and could prove a health and safety risk.

Identify customer

There are four types of users of the concierge office:

  1. Residents – who wish to collect parcels or occasionally leave them for return. Residents often enjoy stopping to talk to the concierge – who are the heart and soul of the development. In this case space to stand and chat is useful. Sometime residents are in a hurry and require their parcels as quickly as possible.
  2. Concierge – the concierge rotate duties and each work 12 hour shifts on alternate days. They are responsible for signing for and storing parcels until they are collected or returned. Additionally they maintain and monitor site security and need easy access to keys and site documents for trades people and visitors. As the concierge often don’t see each other they need a predictable parcel storage system so they always know where to look for each item.
  3. Delivery drivers – who primarily drop off multiple parcels for different apartments and require signatures from the concierge on receipt. Concierge need space to inspect the packages that have been delivered to ensure all items signed for are present and not visibly damaged. Occasionally drivers will also collect returns which need to be easy to access as drivers don’t like unnecessary delays.
  4. Trades people and cleaners – who require quick, easy access to the concierge, often to enquire what needs doing or to gain access to apartments or restricted areas.

For this problem, we will focus on the concierge and residents.

Report needs – use cases

Requirement 1 As a concierge I want additional secure storage capacity for parcel deliverables so that more parcels can be stored safely and any parcels not collected can be stored out of sight overnight. I’d like a systems so I can quickly find parcels for each of the 137 apartments (and often multiple residents at those addresses).

On analysing residents needs with parcel management (i.e. their pain points that contributed to the problem of storage) it became clear that one reasons parcels were piling up was because users didn’t collect parcels quickly enough. For example, they work late and the concierge had finished work before they got home. In the morning it may not be convenient to collect the parcel as they leave their apartment for work. This led to a second requirement:

Requirement 2As a resident I want to be able to collect parcels at a time suitable to myself so that I can collect parcels when the concierge is not around and thus collect them quicker.

There were other requirements for users of the concierge office – but for brevity of this post I’ve omitted them.

Cut, through prioritisation

Note: The CIRCLES framework assesses and prioritises the various needs (use cases) by looking at the cost to implement and the value delivered for the various requirements before choosing one with the highest return to focus on first. In this example we did some back of the envelope type calculations and identified that addressing the first requirement would have the biggest impact.

Improving accessibility of parcel collection is a nice to have – the immediate focus for the development’s managing agents is to improve storage and thus health and safety working conditions for their onsite team.  

The remainder of this analysis will focus on that first use case above.

List solutions – solving the parcel problem

Our management company proposed the following options:

  1. Ban residents from having multiple packages delivered together
  2. Insist items are collected within 24 hours and to advise residents they need to personally take delivery of packages over 50x50cm

This would be impractical to govern and unfair to residents who pay a sizeable service charge (or rent) – with one of the key resident facing on-site services being parcel management. Residents also have no say over the size of packaging used by retailers.

At this point I began brainstorming alternative ways to address the issue:

Tactical ideas

  1. Additional shelving units in the concierge office.
  2. Speak to ‘problem’ residents to understand why parcels are not being collected in a timely manner and identify opportunities to adjust to the service to accommodate their needs (e.g. varying concierge hours).
  3. Educate residents around the cost, impact and risks of providing parcel management facilities.
  4. Create a secondary secure space at a different location within the development for holding larger items.
  5. Mark items with a date and after a defined period (e.g. 3 or 5 full days) implement a different storage strategy (e.g. move to another location or return to sender).

Strategic ideas

  1. Identify out of hours collection options for items – e.g. self-service digital lockers – similar to Amazon Lockers. This doesn’t need to be for all items, but could be used on request by residents knowing they want the item that night but will miss the concierge before they go home.
  2. Redesign of concierge office to make better use of space.
  3. Remodel existing floor space to better utilise space and create additional secure storage.
  4. Extend existing parcel arrival user notification service to include location based reminders – alerting residents when they arrive at the development and have outstanding parcels to collect.

Evaluate options

Quick wins

The tactical options were reviewed to understand if any provided quick wins.

  1. Rearranging existing office furniture and creating more storage shelf space was an easy win.
  2. In parallel concierge were asked to track the average age of parcels being stored and if there are individual residents abusing this service. It may be that speaking to these residents to understand why they don’t collect parcels in a timely manner, and educating them around the problems this causes may resolve the major bottlenecks.
  3. Additional secure storage areas were identified on site – but there would be significant impact on time and practicalities to move items between the two locations. For example, whilst the concierge move/retrieve items from a secondary location they cannot provide access, sign for deliveries or monitor site security. Additionally the larger items (which cause the most issues) could cause a health and safety risk for the concierge to move. These options were discounted for now.

Longer term solutions

We plan to evaluate opportunities to utilise existing co-located space to create additional storage. This could involved utilise the adjacent recycle centre room, or relocating the concierge office.

Notification services for parcel collection were considered – but as this is a vendor product we have less influence on achieving this.

Storage space today

What wasn’t immediately apparent was the relational position between the concierge lodge and the recycle room. Other directors had struggled to visualise by eye how this space could be better arranged. To assist this, I mocked up the space by creating a floor plan and 3D model:

2D floor plan of existing concierge office
3D floor plan of existing concierge office
Opportutities

Using the floor plan it became apparent there were 3 remodel opportunities:

Option 1
Remodel option 1

Addition of new internal wall Creation of new door between rooms by knocking through wall connecting existing spaces (subject to survey approval) No loss of space to recycle room

Option 2
Remodel option 2

Addition of new internal wall Creation of new door between rooms by knocking through wall connecting existing spaces (subject to survey approval) 50% reduction in recycle capacity in room but 71% more storage than above option

Option 3
Remodel option 3

Complete removal of recycle room Sealing existing doors to recycle centre Either creation of new door connecting the spaces, or removal of connecting internal wall (subject to survey approval)

Benefits

Option 1:
7sqm+ of secure storage space created.

Optimise space – unlock unused space with no impact to existing recycle bin capacity.

Improved security – all parcels could be locked out of sight at night.

Additionally ability to move other concierge tools and services out of sight.

Improve working conditions – all general storage behind the concierge desk could be relocated to give the concierge more space.

Option 2:
Same benefits as option 1, with key difference of:

12sqm+ of secure storage space – 71% more than option 1.

Option 3:
Same benefits as option 1, with key difference of:

16.5sqm of secure storage space -142% increase over first option – but do we need all this space?

Larger concierge space which could be utilised to add communal residents facilities such as sofa and book exchange.

Costs

Option 1:
No significant reduction of recycle capacity.

Low cost to achieve.

Will require structural survey before adapting any walls. Survey may reveal need for more structural beams to be added if wall is load bearing.

Option 2:
50% significant reduction of recycle capacity.

Similar cost to achieve as option 1.

Will require similar structural survey as option 1.

To be confirmed if reduction of recycle capacity can be relocated to another bin store on site to mitigate issue.

Option 3:
100% reduction of recycle capacity. 

Highest cost to achieve. If wall is to be removed then survey more likely to reveal need for more structural beams to be installed – significantly increasing cost to achieve.

Will require similar structural survey as option 1.

Summarise

  • In the short term tactical option 1 (additional shelving units) is a no brainer.
  • Longer term (6-12 months) we will assess remodelling the space, focusing on remodel 1 or 2 which has the lower cost to achieve without significantly impacting recycle space capacity. An assessment of recycle needs will be conducted to understand if we need to retain existing capacity, can relocate lost capacity, or can live without some existing capacity. This work will be rolled into the wider site programme of works.
  • In parallel, I will investigate digital storage lockers to assess what options are on the market, and if there is a problem to be solved – assessing customer needs and desire for this service amongst leaseholders.  It is proposed that if we do introduce overnight lockers this would introduce limited locker capacity in a secure space (e.g. inside entrance lobbies) to allow concierge to leave small items for residents over night. This would be an on-request service and use different codes for each use – for security.  Concierge would remove items not collected overnight from the locker and prioritise residents by those that collected items promptly when using the lockers.

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Darren

Darren

Darren is an experienced product manager currently working in the Real Estate industry. He is passionate about using data, listening to people and focusing on user experience to identify and solve real problems and in doing so to make a lasting impact for our communities.

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