Product case study: designing solutions for a storage problem

This post is part of my personal portfolio – to illustrate my problem solving skills and mockups to show possible solutions.  It loosely follows the CIRCLES product design framework.

Comprehend situation – background

As part of a new role as Director of a Right to Manage company of an apartment block I’ve taken on a task to optimise parcel storage at the development.

When the property was built in 2006 it was before the proliferation of online shopping. The concierge lodge did not require large facilities for parcel sorting and storage. Fast forward 14 years and services like Amazon Prime and mail order food and clothing companies (not to mention days like Black Friday) mean the facilities are struggling to cope. We are seeing too many parcels arrive every day and not enough space to hold them as parcels are often held for multiple days before collection. This causes storage and mobility issues in the lodge and could prove a health and safety risk.

Identify customer

There are two primary users:

  1. The concierge – who work 12 hour shifts and are responsible for signing for and storing parcels until they are collected or returned
  2. The residents – who wish to collect parcels or occasionally leave them for return

Report Needs – use cases

Requirement 1.

As a concierge

I want additional, secure, storage capacity for parcel deliveries

So that more parcels can be stored safely and any parcels not collected can be stored out of sight overnight.

On analysing user pain points contributing to the problem of storage it became clear that one reasons that 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 main requirement:

Requirement 2.

As a user

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.

Cut, through prioritisation

Improving the accessibility of parcel collection is a nice to have – the immediate focus for the managing agents is to improve storage and thus health and safety working conditions for the concierge.  The remainder of this analysis will focus on that use case.

List solutions – solving the parcel problem

The management companies suggested solution was simply to ban residents from having multiple packages delivered together, 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 with one of the key services being parcel collection. Residents also have no say over the size of packaging used by retailers.

Thinking up ideas to assist with the first requirement, I identified tactical and strategic solutions.

Tactical:

  1. Additional shelving units in the concierge lodge.
  2. Create a secondary secure space at a different location within the development for holding larger items.
  3. 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:

  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

  • In the short term option 1 is an easy win.  In parallel we will track the average age of parcels being stored and if there are individual residents abusing this service. It may be that targeted resident education solves the major bottlenecks in the short term.
  • Longer term, we plan to evaluate opportunities to utilise existing space to create additional storage. 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:

Opportunties:

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

Option Description Benefits Cost
1.

[Top right]

  • 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
  • 7sqm+ of secure storage space
  • 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
  • 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
2.

[Bottom left]

  • 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
As above option, with following key differences:

  • 12sqm+ of secure storage space – 71% more than above option
  • Similar cost to achieve as above
  • Reduction of recycle capacity by 50%.  To be confirmed if this capacity can be relocated to another bin store on site to mitigate issue
3.

[Bottom right]

  • 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)
  • 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 facilities such as sofa and book exchange
  • Will require structural survey before adapting any walls. 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
  • Significant reduction of recycle capacity 

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.
  • 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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