I remember my first design review. Well, not exactly the review itself, but I remember the lessons I learned while doing it because it significantly shifted my view of what a design review is supposed to accomplish. I was tasked with reviewing a project and providing comments about the design. It was the nature of my mentor’s response to my comments that started to shape my understanding that there can be disconnects with idealism and practicality.
In this review, I was able to develop a pretty detailed understanding of how the design was structured and how it would work. The idealist in me compelled me to identify not only potential problems in the design but to suggest better ways of implementing portions of the design. My mentor’s response to my suggestions caught me completely by surprise – he did not want to hear the suggestions. According to him, the purpose of the review was to determine whether the design did or did not meet the system requirements. The time for optimizing design decisions was passed – would the design accomplish the requirements or not.
His response baffled and irked me. Wasn’t a design review part of the process of creating the best design possible? Also, I had some really blindingly brilliant observations and suggestions that were now going to go to waste. Looking back, I think the hardline approach my mentor took helped make me a better reviewer and designer.
As it turns out, my suggestions were not discarded without a look; however, the design review is not the best point in the design cycle to explore the subtle nuances of one design approach versus another. Those types of discussions should have occurred and been completed before the design review process even started. On the other hand, for areas where the design does not or might not meet the system requirements, it is imperative that a discussion be initiated to identify where and why there might be some risks in the current design approach. My mentor’s harsh approach clarified the value of focusing observations and suggestions to those parts of the design that will yield the highest return for the effort spent doing the review.
Does this sound like how your design reviews proceed or do they take a different direction? What should be the primary accomplishment of a successful design review and what are those secondary accomplishments that may find their way into the engineering efforts that follow the review process?