Although design reviews are recognized as being important to verify design before production, the lack of depth of reviews is alarming. The cause of these inadequate reviews must be shared by both the contractors and the government. Contractually, the government rarely requires the contractor to do a comprehensive technical review and the contractor doesn't do so unless required to, even though it may be cost-effective from his point of view. Even when the right words are used, the end results depend largely on corporate policy to allocate sufficient resources to perform a detailed analysis of the design and associated processes.
The objective of all design reviews, both internal contractor and contractor/government, is to ensure that the design will fulfill its requirements.
The government and contractor both recognize that design reviews represent the "front line" of readiness for the transition to production. The review should be conducted by non-project, impartial, objective senior technical experts at the contractor and subcontractor alike. Many design reviews fail in meeting objectives. They often lack specific plans and discipline in requirements, criteria in execution, and depth in review. They tend to concentrate on the performance characteristics of the design at the expense of manufacturing, quality, test, and support. The main trap to be avoided is conducting a design review as a mini-project review. Some design reviews degrade to the point of familiarizing people with an overview of the hardware design. Little depth or breadth of the design is reviewed and minimum contribution to design in maturity is realized. A design review that rationalizes acceptance of risks because correction would compromise schedule or cost is almost worst than no review at all.
Internal contractor design reviews should be conducted to validate the design at each step of the process before a commitment is made to the next phase or design stage.
Sound design reviews identify technical risks in
performance, test, manufacturing, producibility, and use. Internal contractor
design reviews are mandatory at every key design and development milestone.
The soundness of the review is evidence by the topics to be reviews. Some
typically forgotten topics are:
- Product safety
- Component applications
- Materials Mission profile to detail requirements analysis
- Manufacturing and inspection processes and plans
- Tooling and test equipment
- High risk technology to manufacture and use
- Reliability and maintainability
- Test equipment and special equipment
- Built-in test
- Producibility and inspectability
- Subcontractor design
- Design margin analysis results
- Production readiness
- Software design walk-through
The government/contractor design reviews also play an important role in ensuring a mature design. The technical competence of the reviewers (both government and contractor) must be equal to or greater than that of the designer. "Observers" are not a proper part of the design review. Team ownership of the product design can be enhanced by functional area review leaders. In order to ensure positive contributions and sound action items, the preparation by the reviewers should be very detailed in the technologies and disciplines to be reviewed. The most basic customer/contractor reviews are:
- System Requirement Review
- Preliminary Design Review (PDR)
- Critical Design Review (CDR)
- Functional Configuration Audit
- Physical Configuration Audit
- Production Readiness Review
The design review process is critical to reducing program risk. It provides the discipline necessary to ensure timely identification of problems and their solutions. It is an efficient way to evaluate the maturity of the design, find areas needing correction, spot high technology risks, look at the producibility and design margins, and evaluate the manufacturing and quality aspects of the design. The independence and competence of the reviewers is essential. Maintaining the dual review categories and providing necessary visibility of the results will help to ensure a low risk program, which will transition a mature design into production.