Design Process

Effective Design Reviews

Well implemented Design Reviews, an invaluable enabler for delivering projects to time, cost and quality.

In the context of this post a “Design Review” is a pre-planned meeting that represents a key milestone in the design and development phase of a products lifecycle. Well implemented Design Reviews are invaluable and should be seen by the wider team as an enabling tool for delivering a projects scope to time, cost and quality.

From personal experience there are some key considerations to ensure everyone gets the most from the review and for the eagle eyed there’s even an acronym to help remember them…

Objective. Depending when in the programme of work the review is held the objective and evidence, required to verify the objective has been achieved, will be different. For example the initial review will typically assess the viability of the project to deliver a design solution and a key output should be an agreement of the evidence required at subsequent gates to provide the progressive assurance the team are on track. Therefore the technical inputs into early reviews may be outweighed by the programmatic inputs, such as a schedule, organisation and work breakdown structure. It is good practice to include a statement of the objective in the meeting invite.

Requirements. It is critical that any review assesses proposals and evidence in the context of an agreed set of requirements for the solution, therefore authorising a robust Statement of Requirements (SoR) should be a key objective for an early phase review. This should not mean that requirements cannot be added, removed, or amended, but is does ensure that any agreed changes are made against a clear baseline. A great way to maintain focus on the requirements, and ensure the work being presented is relevant, is to use a traffic light coding ( Red, Amber, Green) to illustrate current compliance status as part of the review pack.

Evidence. To ensure the design team give the panel the best opportunity to help them identify any short falls, recommendations or opportunities for improvement, the evidence should be provided as pre-reading with sufficient time to allow adequate review. The maturity and provenance of this evidence is fundamental to the quality of any decision that the panel can be expected to arrive at.

Objectivity. The role of the chair and panel members is to provide technical and programme assurance for the design process, objectively critique the information presented and suggest opportunities for improvement. The Chair should ensure everyone is aware of their respective roles and accountabilities and that panel members have been selected to provide appropriate coverage for the scope and subject matter to be reviewed. It is critical that all parties are aware of personal bias and assess the design objectively in the context of the agreed requirements for the solution.

Minutes and actions. The review record should provide a succinct narrative on the context that led to an action being identified. This is really important should there be any personnel changes in the team or approving authority for the design review. Ideally the person taking the minutes should not be presenting, or part of the panel, thus avoiding distraction. There should also be a standard template to provide prompts for what good looks like and ensure consistency between reviews.

Finally it is important that the team are allowed to, “tell the story”, with a minimum of interruption. I have sat though many a review where the design team are unable to present their information without interruption and invariably the answer to the question raised sits in a future slide of the presentation pack.

Some key enablers to get the most out of a design review are:

  • Have the right people on the panel.
  • Define clear roles and accountabilities.
  • Ensure clarity on:
    • the objective of the review and
    • the information / evidence required
  • Pre-reading distributed and reviewed in advance of the meeting.
  • Allow the team to tell the story.
  • Classify actions in context of the review objective.
  • Ensure there is a well written record of the review.

For the international standards fans out there BS EN 61160:2005, Design Review, makes recommendations for the implementation of design review. This document also supports ISO 9001 which defines requirements for Quality Management Systems and covers those applicable for a design and development process.

If you have any observations that you think may improve this post, or require help with coaching, implementing, or improving a Design Review process, please get in touch. Thanks for your time and attention!