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Design Reviews and Action Item Lists in Automotive Project Management

written by: Jean Scheid • edited by: Marlene Gundlach • updated: 8/31/2009

Design reviews and their effective operation are critical to the automotive industry. A car is a very complex product. Even those that have been working in the industry for years, often are amazed at how the process all comes together in the form of an exciting vehicle that a customer will buy.

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    Design Reviews: An Effective Tool in the Automotive Design Process

    One of the tools that enable such a complex product to be delivered in a timely manner to the market place is design reviews.

    Design reviews should happen on an informal basis in the project teams on a weekly basis. These will help new engineers get access to lessons learned from peers and get a “fresh eyes" opinion of their designs. The informal reviews provide a non-threatening environment for inexperienced engineers to learn how to present information, and they also provide the opportunity for more experienced engineers to teach others.

    There is also a need for more formal design reviews in the automotive industry. These should occur at specific points in the product development process. They should also be scheduled whenever there has been a major development or change in the product or process design before the project continues. The intent of the formal design reviews should be to get an independent assessment of the technical merits of the design or process. They should also be used to obtain senior management approval and buy-in to the design direction and allow the project team to request any help required that they might need.

    Design review should not be used as the only method to reach decisions about the design of the automotive system in question. However, they should be used to help reduce the risk associated with the new design and to evaluate whether the project is on track or not.

    For design reviews to be effective, the person that is presenting should not just be overload with questions. They should be a team and cooperative event. Attendees to design reviews should include other engineers who understand the technology and the risk associated with the project design. The attendees should be from all of the functional areas involved in the project including manufacturing and the service area.

    Design review topics and formats can vary. However, it is recommended that they include the following sections:

    • General project definition
    • Specific design specifications
    • Design alternatives
    • Product testing status
    • Review of major issues
    • Quality status
    • Sourcing status
    • Cost status
    • Project timeline
    • Help required
    • Review of actions from the last design review

    As can be seen in the list above, design reviews should also concentrate on the cost and timing of the project. Cost and timing constraints will keep the design process structured and aligned with the overall project goals.

    Typically, many items will need further study after a design review has finished. These items can range from minor data checks to complete changes in design direction. One of the most important tools for effective design reviews is an action item list.

    An action item list is just what the name suggests. It is a list of actions or activities that were agreed in the design review. It is a list of actions that need to take place in order for the project management team to successfully deliver the project.

    There are many formats that an action item list can take. The exact format is actually not that important. However, there are a few key categories that an action list should always include. They are as follows:

    • Action
    • Name of person who requested the action
    • Date the action was requested
    • Status of the action
    • Name of person who is responsible to complete the action
    • Next follow-up date or expected closure date
    • Actual closure date

    It is important that the action item list is reviewed regularly not just at the next formal design review to ensure that the items are progressing towards closure. Regular reviews will also give the owners of the action items an opportunity to highlight any concerns or questions they have about the delivery of the item.

    In summary, the automotive business is very complex. Engineers and project managers need all of the tools they can get to help them successfully bring a vehicle to market. Two of the most effective tools that engineers and project mangers can use are design reviews and action item lists.

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    Design Review Images

    Courtesy of Flickr, korowelangCourtesy of Flickr, Coventry University