Written by Alison Sickelka

How to Get the Most Out of Your Design Review: Part 2

In the last blog, I set the stage of a (fictional) manufacturing company’s goals to accelerate its product design lifecycle. Executive leadership believes the key to getting to market faster—and staying ahead of the competition—is to accelerate their 15-month design lifecycle down to 12 months while still meeting their strict performance and safety requirements. In more tactical terms, product development needs to move through their formal and informal design reviews faster to reach the design freeze milestone. I’ve called this representative company Stratus Aerospace.

Throughout the 12 months, each team will perform informal design reviews leading up to a formal major milestone series of reviews that will freeze the design. Although each company looks a bit different in their approach, for the sake of ease let’s pretend this major milestone review or series of reviews is called “The Design Reviews” and freeze the design. The formal phase is set to begin on August 01, 2020. Today is August 01st, 2019, or exactly 12 months prior to the milestone Design Reviews, and work is beginning on Stratus Aero’s new product. The next year will be coursed with activity as various teams scramble to do in 12 months what they typically accomplish in 15. Let’s take a look behind the scenes and see how everyone prepares for design freeze.

Read the first blog in the series


Most companies agree that the bulk of design work is done in the engineering department. In the case of Stratus Aero, a majority of the design engineers are based in corporate offices in Denver, Colorado. But, there are many satellite offices across the nation where designers are spread, including the 3D printing and manufacturing teams in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and the quality engineering team in Seattle, Washington.

Design engineers spend their time modeling and designing the product, identifying components to be sourced from the supply chain, finding improvements in the current iteration, and hosting working sessions with collaborators. For each of these activities, the engineers work mostly within their PLM suite so they can share information with the Tulsa and Seattle teams, in addition to their procurement team and the supply chain. Unfortunately, engineers face many challenges that chip away at their new 12-month timeline:

  • Loading models into the PLM suite or on an FTP share site can take upwards of three hours, so many times engineers take screenshots or use other workarounds that risk IP.
  • Once a model is in the PLM suite, only one collaborator can check out the design at a time.
  • Many collaborators don’t have access to the PLM suite, so engineers are forced to prepare models to share. In fact, Stratus Aero’s engineers spend 20 percent of their time on administrative efforts to share models.


As engineering struggles to load, share, and collaborate on 3D models and other valuable product data, procurement is meanwhile holding the ties between engineering and the supply chain. The procurement team researches suppliers, cuts the deals, signs the contracts, and ultimately serves as the gateway to engineering.

To select the best supplier, procurement has to work closely with engineering to understand the new product designs and market requirements. But to say the relationship between Stratus Aero’s engineering and procurement team is tense is an understatement:

  • Engineering has a goal to increase innovation in performance and security, so they want the best supplier for the job. Procurement has a goal to keep costs down. As a result, each team’s recommendations for suppliers almost never line up.
  • Without PLM access, procurement has to rely on whatever information engineering provides to them. The result? Procurement makes decisions based off stripped, fragmented, bare-bones versions of designs from engineering, and run the risk of their designs getting out of sync with the latest design intent. 
  • Even if procurement somehow manages to get access to the PLM tools, it’s often so complicated and burdensome that they spend more time asking questions in a training room than they do interacting with the supply chain.


Stratus Aero has hundreds of suppliers, for everything from engine propulsion units and gears to airline seating and coffee warmers. In an effort to become close partners with Stratus Aero, each supplier wants to make recommendations for innovation and improvement to product designs. But as we’ve already uncovered – collaboration in the supply chain is challenging to say the least.

The supply chain rarely gets to have close interaction with Stratus. It’s too challenging for Stratus engineers to provide fully complete designs for close collaboration – so they just don’t. Instead, engineering provides a list of specifications that suppliers have to meet for their specific part without knowing the bigger picture. As a result, both sides miss out on huge potential for innovation and cost savings with the supply chain.


In the 12 months leading up to the design freeze, the manufacturing and service departments are pretty quiet. They really can’t do much to ensure the design can be built and delivered in a way that makes it easy to support without access to the product data. This team should have a major input on the design, especially because they could provide valuable input as to whether new designs will work in the aircraft, be easy to manufacture, and whether or not a design could be serviced efficiently in the field. But they also can’t access the PLM tool. Engineering might provide designs for manufacturing and service’s input, but without the big picture it’s too challenging to determine how well the new design will work.


And finally—the IT and executive leadership team have to ensure that the PLM tools and staff are in place to support engineering. IT’s budget reserves tens—even hundreds— of thousands on capital-intensive GPUs, memory, and storage servers and the IT staff to support the whole collaborative mess. Ultimately, the leadership team will be accountable to approve the design freeze. But, they struggle to get on the same page and understand mission critical issues without proper access. Or, they will require engineering and other functional areas to put in additional work pull out information for them.


As the year goes on, engineers are scrambling on last minute changes that they couldn’t make along the way because collaborating was too hard. Engineers are spending budget to travel across the country for design reviews, or sending screenshots in powerpoint presentations. It’s not just in that year that Stratus Aero suffers. Poor collaboration in the early months inevitably leads to missed critical components or challenges for manufacturing, which will cost major time and dollars to fix during production.

What’s the common denominator here? People can’t get the information they need when they need it. Because of this problem, they can’t make decisions. 

But what if they could? What if procurement, manufacturing, and the supply chain didn’t have to rely on whatever engineering sent them over FTP or in a screenshot to make decisions? What if engineers didn’t spend 20 percent of their time preparing and sharing models? What if IT and management didn’t spend upwards of $1 million to enable broken collaboration? Our next blog uncovers what a smooth, streamlined collaboration process during the year would look like.

Check out our white paper to learn more about the pains of design collaboration:

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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.