Written by Alison Sickelka

How to Get the Most Out of Your Design Review: Part 1

Every day, manufacturers in the biggest industries come up with new ideas for the next innovative product. From aerospace and defense to automotive and heavy equipment, companies are inspired by new market demands, requirements, and opportunities to build something new. The companies that do it best—and fastest—stay ahead of the competition.

But that’s easier said than done. It takes the collective power of everyone in the company to successfully design a new product innovation. All that collaboration during product development moves toward a series of important milestones: The Design Reviews. This set of formal reviews allows the team to confirm executive buy-in and move the process forward to ensure the product doesn’t face delay. At the end of these reviews, the team will freeze the design, move concepts into production, and ultimately turn ideas into reality. Let’s look at this process from the perspective of a manufacturer itself.


For the purposes of this blog, let’s make up a company to represent similar discrete manufacturers. Stratus Aerospace is a global company that designs, manufactures, services, and sells aircraft and satellites. Stratus’ mission is to connect people through fast, safe, and easy travel and communications.

When Stratus Aero comes up with a new idea, they have to accomplish certain steps before they hit the large-scale manufacturing line:

  • Test the feasibility of their idea internally and with customers
  • Develop the technology, timeline, budget, and design envelope
  • Design the product so that it meets their customer and business goals
  • Test the product for performance and safety in a virtual and field test environment

On average, these steps of the product development process take about 15 months. Along the way, the engineering team seeks input from their supply chain, internal teams, and customers to optimize their design. In these ad-hoc review sessions, teams collaboratively ensure that the design meets customer needs and Stratus’ strict safety and performance requirements. The ultimate goal is to avoid any surprises when the team goes into the formal series of Design Reviews.

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Executive and management teams at Stratus Aero want to break into the top-tier market share with new innovations in safety and luxury in their newest aircraft line. They believe the way to do this is to accelerate the 15-month design lifecycle. The faster they hit design freeze, the faster they can release their new products to market. Overall, that will save them significant cost and get them ahead of the competition.


With this goal comes one major challenge: once the team reaches the design freeze milestone, any design change will come with enormous costs. The company risks an enormous price tag, and could actually cause their timelines to increase. Their intended goal is at risk of failure.

So how can Stratus avoid changes late in the game? In the months leading up to the formal series of design reviews, everyone in the company needs to be able to access the data they need when they need it so they can quickly and confidently make decisions. But simply put—this doesn’t happen.

Although Stratus Aero is a fictional company, this problem is very real across the manufacturing industry. Many manufacturers today face similar challenges:

  • When collaborating with the supply chain, a company’s engineers juggle the risks associated with sharing IP and overcoming security restrictions from the IT team. 
  • Engineers can’t interact well with their internal teams, which means those teams can’t get the information they need when they need it. Other functional areas struggle to get the information they need from engineering so they can provide the necessary feedback.
  • It’s difficult for the feedback from these internal teams or suppliers to make it back into the engineering group to help inform the design.

So what does the 15 months look like leading up to the Design Reviews, and where can Stratus—and other manufacturers—make improvements? We’re going to look at all the challenges and missed opportunities that Stratus Aero faces in their PLM process in the next blog.

About Alison Sickelka

Alison Sickelka has worked with product teams for over a decade, in both business and product roles. Currently, Alison oversees product management at Vertex Software. Alison and her team work across the organization and with customers to ensure Vertex discovers and delivers valuable solutions to market that customers love.

Alison has been at the cross-section of business and technology throughout her career, and enjoys spending time understanding customer needs and then working with engineering and stakeholders to develop new solutions to solve those needs. Prior to joining Vertex, Alison served as senior product manager at SpotX where she worked with leadership to shape the product roadmap, identified new market opportunities, and drove projects from inception to launch.

Alison holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communication from Iowa State University and a master's degree in media management from The New School.