System Design Best Practices for Consulting Engineers

unleash cartoon

The disconnect between design professionals and their clients has been an aspect of project delivery that I have lived with most of my career. I never truly understood the cause, but I understand better now… in retrospect. My recent consulting activities have brought me a seat at the table with the Owner and their design professionals much earlier than I experienced previously: as early as program development. The new insights have changed my entire perspective of the project design process. I have learned how important it is, letting go of the need for control and cutting the metaphorical leash we sometimes unknowingly impose. We are compensated for our experience, knowledge and judgement, but these must facilitate the design process, not dominate it. Be confident, relinquishing control to a project team will produce better communication and more desirable results.

Developing a Design PROCESS as a Consulting Engineer

End-Users and Architects hire design consultants to provide expertise. Our ability to apply that expertise is significantly impacted by the level of familiarity with the Client’s organization. Depending on the time available, we often face the problem of accepting contributing information during the discovery process that seems to be incorrect, or at least, represents limited insight. Let’s discuss a different perspective…

  • Discovery and needs assessment is NOT the first step in the system design process. It should be Client EDUCATION!

End-Users  are capable of  making their own decisions when provided access to the knowledge required to do so. I have been amazed at the difference in the quality of project delivery recently when I have required the first design meeting be exclusively focused on Owner education. Reviewing best practices across the country with similar organizations, providing technology education and even product/software demonstrations PRIOR to design has proven to be invaluable in improving the quality of the needs assessment process. This also significantly improves recognition of unique project challenges AND validates prioritization of funding. I believe, the best design delivery comes from educating and then trusting client input!

solution-problem cartoon

Defining System Design as a Solution

I must admit, as a person who enjoys designing with leading edge technology, I do run the risk of being too focused on exciting new features that are changing the industry. The educational process discussed above reinforces the discipline to develop deliverables that address clearly defined needs, not the typical system design in a vacuum that ASSUMES value for the client. Until the problems/needs are properly vetted and validated, it is a waste of time to design solutions that may not be perceived as valuable. I can’t tell you how many times I have caught myself mistakenly assuming that features I felt provided clear benefits, were not valued by the client after an educational presentation.

Building a Process With Milestones

I spent the time to create my own security design checklists and milestone schedules. I have found them to be invaluable during the client review and approval process. Including an explanation of the design process, goals AND the schedule for completion of tasks adds significantly to a comfort and confidence level built with the end-user. Share the process with the client and the balance of the design team. Understanding your itemized task list will help to enlist their participation, cooperation and support.

Trust Decisions Made in a Team Environment

As a system designer, very often I catch myself prioritizing spend based on best practices and while there is a solid foundation found in this kind of thinking, it does not deal properly with accommodating limited budgets. Sometimes, hard decisions have to be made regarding needed functionality. There are industry specific design guidelines I can reference for many different kinds of projects, but should that really be the criteria? I have learned to place these decisions in a team decision-making environment If the team is under-educated and unable to develop an overview of the topic, I ALWAYS take the time to educate. Yes, sometimes I get push-back and comments about wasting time, but afterwards, the value is almost always recognized. Team discussions like this produce better decisions and help the client to feel their ideas are being included.


For those comparing this as an alternative process, think about your experiences with project delivery. I see so many engineers being tasked to design in a vacuum… today, I look back at my early career on the contracting side and wonder whether those systems added value. The quality of my services is the only differentiator I can offer to clients and I am always looking for process improvement.

If you would like to discuss this, or other security topics, please contact me via LinkedIn. Also, take a look at my LinkedIn Discussion Board Security Convergence, or my Twitter feed @DLIPTech.

This site is maintained by Douglas Levin, PSP, AHC, LEED AP. It is intended to be my personal professional blog. The content reflects my personal opinions and observations regarding the Physical Security Systems industry and Technology Sectors. The opinions expressed herein reflect my personal viewpoint/ideas and do not in any way represent the position of any other person, organization or company.

About Doug Levin

Doug is a certified (PSP, AHC, LEED AP), experienced business development professional with a focus on the physical security industry. With a diverse background that includes delivering products & services through multiple channels (manufacturing, distribution, specialty & general contracting), he brings a broad industry perspective that adds greater value for his clients. Having decades of experience with sales engineering and design-build of low-voltage automated systems, he also offers a strong emphasis on technical knowledge and consulting services. His career has included responsibility for: profit & loss, operations and sales management with front-line experience in estimating, sales/marketing, project management and developing security design documents & spec writing.
This entry was posted in Consulting Engineering, Physical Security, Technology and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s