How to Flub Your Design Review

We would like to share some common approaches that consistently lead to failed design review meetings. They are somewhat embellished for effect, but, sadly, are not all that far removed from real world experiences. If you are interested in an ineffective design review, please be sure to:

  1. Assume that the stakeholders understand the meeting goals, the design format, and the diagram notations. It should all be pretty self-explanatory. Focus on slogging through the content.
  2. Read the design document to the stakeholders as if it was a novel. It’s riveting material: people go to bookstores to hear authors read their work all the time.
  3. Wing it. You’re smart enough to discuss your own document without preparation.
  4. Don’t set business context. It’s a technical design review, why waste time on the business?
  5. Distribute the design document minutes before the meeting. Frankly, they probably would not have read it in advance anyway. If they complain, tell them that.
  6. Be defensive. You need to protect the sanctity of your design. I mean really! Who’s the architect here?
  7. Allow tangential discussions. In fact, pursue a few yourself. People love interesting side discussions to liven up a “single topic” meeting.
  8. Own that design! There is no “us” or “we” in MINE.
  9. Talk nonstop without pausing to breathe. You will complete more quickly without the interruptions.
  10. Worry about capturing the comments later. If it was important, you’ll remember it.

Joking aside, a design review is an activity vital to the vetting of a design – part of our measuring thrice philosophy – and critical to gaining stakeholder buy-in. We provide our team with a core set of guidelines that avoid the pitfalls listed above. We ensure that design reviews receive the focus and attention that they deserve. These boil down to two critical steps:

  1. Respect your colleagues’ time. Your design review needs to be a well-orchestrated event which requires preparation and practice.
  2. Respect your colleagues’ opinions. The goal of your design review should be to vet your design with others. Refer to the “Strengthen the Design” item in our Architect or Diplomat article for our philosophy on feedback – good, bad, useful, or otherwise.

We will delve into the details of running a good design review in a future article, but in the meantime for some additional helpful tips, try our articles on facilitation and diplomacy. And please avoid 1-10 above!

Dan Hughes was a principal consultant and partner at Systems Flow, Inc., where he leads the technology services practice.

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