7 Design Review Problems That Block Engineering Teams

Adam Keating

March 10, 2021


min read

Engineers want to solve tough problems and build high quality products, quickly. They don’t want to spend 25-50% of their time administering a process filled with manual, disconnected and incorrect steps that should be automated for them.

The design review process is one element of the design and manufacturing lifecycle that is most guilty of wasting time, creating administrative work and allowing for opportunities for quality to be compromised. 

Design review processes today range from an informal check with a colleague to a robust workflow that is supposed to be driven by PLM. However, most engineering teams have experienced that 90% of the work in a design review is done outside these systems (getting the files, attending the meeting, marking up designs and documents, providing feedback, giving updates, solving problems, etc). Ask yourself, how much time do you spend solving the problem, versus all the rest of the work associated with the process? You will likely find it’s only a fraction of the time when you really think about all the work you are doing.

After speaking to hundreds of engineers, designers and managers this year, we’ve compiled the top 7 problems in the engineering design review process and brief insights into solutions for you to implement today.

1. Slow Review Cycles

How often do your engineers respond to questions about progress with frustrated sighs as they wait on someone else's review? Feedback loops that include suppliers, customers, and internal teams take too long to complete. Without simple ways to execute your review process, capable teams become stuck waiting for feedback. 

The culprit of this problem is that as engineers we’ve put a lot of emphasis on processes and tools like PLM, but have failed to focus on introducing key collaboration tools and systems of engagement to make the work easy. While many teams treat their PLM like a one-stop-shop, the PLM is where final work is stored, not where iterative progress happens. With a system of engagement connected to the PLM, the team can get the data they need in a place where they can immediately continue the work AND sync the normally lost data back to their PLM.

2. Frustrating and Disconnected Manual Processes

When someone asks you to review a drawing today you are forced to print or download it, mark it up, then re-upload it and share it back. The feedback you are providing probably only takes 25% of that time, yet you waste the other 75% doing manual work. Similarly, someone asks you to review CAD, you either have to screenshare, join a meeting or fumble through a CAD tool to find the right model and view point. You should be providing your engineering knowledge to solve problems, not wasting it doing work that software is meant to do.

To fix this problem, we must automate these administrative steps by connecting collaboration tools to your data sources - ensuring you have the right information, but in a format you can easily work with. Meetings are not the answer, we need to fix the underlying problems and give engineers the right tools.

3. Decisions Based on Bad Data

When engineering teams don’t have the right data, they are bound to make bad decisions or waste time. When they don’t use the right data to make those decisions, they run into issues of accuracy that can derail projects and create catastrophic problems. This isn’t just an efficiency problem, it's a quality problem that results in costly changes and potentially devastating safety/quality consequences.

When someone downloads the wrong file or works based on an earlier iteration, it takes time for someone to realize and correct the error. Forcing users into extremely complicated and messy systems with little to no focus on user experience, is asking for them to work outside the tool, compounding the likelihood of bad data.

Building amazing user experiences can make it much easier for end users to understand where the data came from, what is most recent and how to use it to solve problems. User experience is not just a team that software companies should have, it’s something every engineering IT organization should employ as well.

4. Communications Silos

No matter how effective a manager or engineer may be, no one is perfect. Things move fast, changes happen and communications end up in emails, calls and meeting notes that are often left unactioned, misinterpreted  or lost altogether.

Software development teams have been capturing all their information in issue tracking tools for years. They use boards and hubs to collect, manage and prioritize information. In doing so, all their learnings and histories are built into a system that’s easy to work with and connected to their day-to-day work. This means software teams get to spend their time building great software, not chasing down files and feedback. It's time for engineers to catch up and finally eliminate the endless emails.

This is an area where visible dashboards and auto-generating records make an enormous difference. The more easily team members can see what's happening and drill down to find key information, the more quickly they can either move on to something new or address an immediate concern with the project at hand.

5. Excessive Emails and Meetings

As the world moves more toward asynchronous work, especially with remote, dispersed teams, organizations cannot afford to let poor communications processes slow them down. Today, engineers are often forced to collaborate using long email chains and endless meetings. These communications methods work for certain tasks, but teams cannot conduct real design review within email, nor can they depend on meetings for visibility of project statuses. Meetings should be for making final decisions or solving a particular problem - it should not be the most efficient way to do a review. You simply don’t have time!

Accessible review tools with built-in communication that allow for real-time or asynchronous discussions reduce the need for email and meetings and also provide insight into progress.

Where are the reviews? What needs to be done? What is holding up the process? When teams can immediately see what’s happened, and what comes next, they do not need to wait for someone else’s instruction or a meeting to happen.

6. Too Much Admin Work, Not Enough Real Review

Engineers spend too much time converting their work into digestible formats. Taking screenshots, marking up images, attaching files, commenting on design needs, and emailing for feedback is an outdated workflow, especially for multiple revisions. Double this effort when you consider all the work of packaging it up and sharing it. This admin work takes too much time away from engineers that would be better used on actual design review.

Let great software create presentations and packages so that engineers can get back to what they do best. Engineering time is wasted when spent on administrative details and the sooner we embrace automation, the quicker we can build better products in shorter time frames.

7. Overlooked Errors

These six bottlenecks create frustration around the entire design review process. That frustration leads engineering teams to skip or rush through their design reviews, which inevitably allows more errors to slip through review and into the finished product. 

Smarter, easier to use tools allow engineers to share information early and often while ensuring no one ever misses a design review. There is no excuse for not knowing relevant information when the data is easy to access and automatically communicated from one person to the next. Design review exists to root out errors, but when the review process is bad, the errors are masked until it is too late.

Are you struggling with one of these problems today? If so, don't wait to correct the holes in your process. Time is valuable, especially with more teams working remotely. The sooner you fix it, the faster your company can move forward.

November 4, 2020

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