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Running Design Reviews in Hardware

What is a design review?

In a design review, participants examine and evaluate a design based on a set of criteria. Different teams and companies often have differing standardized approaches to the process. Some prefer more formal design reviews where non-design stakeholders (subject matter experts, vendors, suppliers, etc.) participate in the evaluation, while others use an informal design review on an ad-hoc basis where participants consist of cross-functional teams (mechanical and electrical engineers).

Regardless of their type, design reviews are meant to reduce design risk and surface up issues before expensive prototypes or final products are launched. This is done by leveraging the knowledge and perspective each participant brings to the table. By virtue of having different jobs, each participant will be looking for potential problems from individual angles, making it more likely that critical questions are asked. At its core, a design review is all about collaboration between different partners, whether they be internal or external stakeholders.

Why is a design review important?

As hardware products become increasingly complex and consequently more expensive, a mistake can be costly at best and deadly at worst. The cost of addressing a fault increases as it progresses through different development stages. Expensive materials add up, more engineering manpower is wasted, and if a mistake makes it to the final product, companies can also lose reputation and customer loyalty.

While not as fun or exciting as designs themselves, this makes the design review a process that hardware companies can’t overlook when staying competitive. But, design reviews can be lengthy affairs that pull engineers away from working on their main projects. This lost productivity along with the actual hourly cost of an engineer makes design reviews an expensive process to carry out—which is why it’s vital for them to be run efficiently.

How to best run a design review:

  1. Align stakeholders: Ensure that no mistake or problem will be overlooked by including the relevant people like mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, subject matter experts, customers, vendors, suppliers, or manufacturers. Each person can catch issues in different areas of the design! However, it’s important to be strategic and intentional with who to bring in. As mentioned previously, design review meetings can be costly in terms of labor and lost productivity.
  2. Share documentation: Make sure to share important documentation about the design so that everyone has the same full context. Useful documents to share are schematics, data sheets, design notes, and anything else having to do with the specific design.
  3. Keep track of changes: Designs can go through countless changes before the final product is launched. It’s important for teams to have a version control system where changes are tracked and easily identified. This makes it easy to identify where things may have gone wrong or revert back to previous designs
  4. Prepare a Checklist: Standardize the design review process by creating a checklist that covers all of the bases. Since different designs require design reviews that often involve different stakeholders and participants, a pre-made checklist guarantees that important questions aren’t forgotten.