Valve in Design Review

Design Review - The Power Of Mingling Minds

What happened at your last project design review?  Think about it, was it valuable?  Maybe more than you think . . .

Stimulation for this post is a project from a bit ago, at Synthesis.  It was a redesign effort that, according to the customer, was way overdue.  With permission, we will talk about the project overall, but leave out the specifics.

A Fantastic Product To Fill A Market Niche

Power in the Design Review ProcessThis project came to us as a reengineering & redesign of a product that has been around for several years.  The originator saw an opening in a rather niche market and figured out how to fill it.  His solution is a complex product with a bunch of engineering and many clever design aspects.  He then built his business around the product and for several years has been fairly successful.

Our kudos to him for the big effort, and the skill to make the business a success.

Because it is a large industrial product, they don't sell a huge number of them, but some customers have several.  Many are active 24-7, so it is a big deal if something goes wrong.  To keep customers happy, the company has service personnel that jump on a plane when needed and rush out to fix the products.  The paradigm works . . . mostly.

Over the years, these service guys have made several design change requests to fix common problems and improve customer quality.  However, but the owner is reluctant to change the product.

While the owner retires, the rest of the company want the maddening bits fixed to improve product quality and reduce service trips.  Seems like a simple design review and engineering change requests - and the right thing to do, right?  That is where Synthesis enters the equation.

This story is not about the changes or the redesign, but the missed opportunity for years, and why.  And, what we can learn from their situation.

Initial Review And Engineering

As the project began, they gave us (Synthesis) a full set of files.  I personally reviewed them, and I am impressed with the detail and attention in the design and drawings.  They are not standard CAD drawings in the sense of paper.  It is all electronic and everything has hyperlinks - from part numbers to drawings to CAD files.  Truly awesome, and perfect for both production and for service.

I sat and wondered about the time and work in the documentation.  All by one guy while trying to start a company.  Maybe this is a special SolidWorks feature that connects to other software that I don't know about?  I'm not sure, but it is a really good job.

OK, I don't know for sure, but I am told the company owner did all the design on this product by himself.  I am also told he is quite proud of it, so even when customers and employees request changes, they just don't happen.

There are 2 things boggling my mind.  First, all the design is without design review.  That is pretty amazing, but rather silly at the same time.  Second, that is a whole lot of NIH.  Most companies don't survive when the owner is that filled with himself.  (I'm told he was very hard to work for, so he must be brilliant to keep it all going.)

Design Review as a Power Tool

After looking through a pile of drawings and listening to suggestions of those who manufacture and service this product, I have two burning questions.  How many problems could have been saved (and money saved) if the simple engineering design review process were included in the initial work?

And, Second, how much more successful could this company have been if running changes to address repeat problems were implemented over the years (instead of just repeatedly sending out a service guy to fix it . . . for customer after customer)?  Higher quality, happier customers, bigger profits, and less expense fixing problems. . . . Why not?

I find it amazing that some really smart people can't see the end of their nose - even with a mirror.  A situation that is really quite sad.  Sorry, I diverge.

The design review process is one that accelerates product to market, then at the same time, eliminates a bunch of potential issues by thinking through them up front.  In my view, there is no smartest person - because if you put a bunch of smart people together with a goal, the results will exceed any one solo.  Think about it . . . even Einstein required help from lots of really smart people in his work - especially from his wife.  We give him honors, but without his wife and other key people, he would not accomplish the things he did.

Best Way For Design Review

Valve in Design ReviewSo, how do you best use this Design Review tool?  Perhaps I don't know "Best", but I do know several time refined things that work really well.

  1. Invite smart people to focus on the goal.  Usually this includes stakeholders in whatever the product or process is.  Engineering, Production, Service, Marketing, Sales, etc.  Often it includes outside individuals that are good at seeing past the obvious.
  2. Everyone checks their ego at the door.  (Yes, much easier said than done.  However, if you want success, you must disinvite those who are not team players - even, or perhaps especially if it is the boss.)
  3. Stick to the subject matter.  Make the meetings meaningful by posting project charts and task lists, then stick to items in the design that relate to making the next steps, improving progress, and other future goals (like manufacturing).  That might include customer needs, reviewing stated requirements, making decisions about trade-offs, or talking about ways to innovate beyond hurdles.  Later in the process it might include test results, ideas for improvements, and sorting out manufacturing or packaging needs.
  4. Think as a team and NEVER disregard a thoughtful comment.  No matter how odd something first sounds, drilling into the thought process that stimulates it can be truly enlightening.  Every member is there to contribute.  (And you have to douse the nay-sayers that find something wrong with every idea.)
  5. Finish with lists of "To Do's".  Don't let "Mr. Teflon" escape.  Everyone focuses on the same goal, so everyone leaves the meeting with an assignment - even if the assignment is to assist someone else with their tasks.

The above is not definitive, but it is effective.  Integrate these into your design review processes and watch the improvement.

Fantasy Football

The process of design review are kind of like playing Fantasy Football.  It's just so much better with a fully functioning team.  In the example above, we will never know what success was lost, but my gut says he lost a lot.  A collaborative team makes a big difference.

I wonder how much success he sacrificed by designing in a vacuum . . .  Hard to say, but even if you do most of the work yourself, having outside design review input is so powerful.

At Synthesis, our approach to the redesign is one that includes lots of input and design review.  That is the way we tackle things around here, and I believe it contributes to project success for our customers in product development.  While we all feel it once in a while, there is really no place for NIH when maximizing success.

Good luck in your approaches to a better design review.

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