Review Checklists: Critical Design Review

Quick Summary
A checklist to guide a Critical Design Review, held when a prototype exists that everyone can huddle around and constructively criticize.

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What this is

A checklist to guide a Critical Design Review (CDR). This review is held when a major product deliverable—or the entire integrated project deliverable—has reached a point in design and prototyping work where "viability" of the design can be judged, and by extension, the project can be considered to have reached a state of significantly reduced risk.

The "design review" terminology (as opposed to project review) arose from standard use of this design checkpoint on technology-oriented projects. However, the concept is applicable to any project. Based on what the project is charged with creating—whether a technical system, a new process, marketing literature, written documents, etc.—we want to reach a point where we know our solution is truly viable. We want to reach a point where we can confidently say, yes, as designed, we know this is going to work, meet customer needs, and meet project goals, because we have built something real, reviewed it against the goals, and conquered all the major related risks.

A key aspect of this point is that something tangible exists that is observable and testable to demonstrate that this viability point has been reached. One technique for this demonstration is a "Chicken Test": A reality test on a prototype that verifies the feasibility of the system, critical components, and major innovations of the design. (The name derives from tests done on new jet engine designs for their ability to ingest birds without failing. It is done as part of a design "early warning" process to uncover design flaws before investing the millions of dollars necessary to fully build and fly a new engine.)

Why it's useful

This review provides the team and sponsor with an objective look at whether key project deliverables have reached a state of significantly reduced risk, plus readiness to proceed to the next phase of project work. In general, once a major project deliverable exists in draft or prototype form, the next stage of work will expand the costs incurred, as more people get involved in testing or reviews (and for certain projects, more equipment purchases, manufacturing, etc. occur.) Holding a CDR for major components of a project, and for the project overall, provides a financially important sanity check.

It is also a great checkpoint for looking ahead to what is truly left to do on the project. For difficult projects—those that have experienced issues in solution development and are running over budget or behind schedule and where risks have not yet been conquered as planned—this review is a critical "facing reality" moment for the team and management. Is this project ready to proceed? Or do we need to face up to an unplanned reality and adjust our goals and/or plan for the rest of the project?

How to use it

  1. The Critical Design Review should be organized and led by the project manager or appropriate sub-team leader for a major project component.
  2. Distribute review materials several days prior to the meeting, and check with key individuals to ensure they've put time into a personal review. Design reviews attended by unprepared people are much more likely to be inefficient, and much less likely to find all the issues.
  3. Use the checklist on the next page to focus on whether the known technical risk areas have been successfully reduced or eliminated, and whether any new risk areas have been identified.
  4. Follow up thoroughly after the CDR to act on what has been decided. This review is not a formality; done properly is engenders critical communication and other follow-up work.

When a project-level CDR has been held, consider having executives formally sign off on this critical project achievement as acknowledgement of their permission to proceed.

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Related Templates
Preliminary Design Review Checklist
Allows the Project Leader and team to suggest alternatives in product performance, time-to-market, product and project cost, and risks. Design should only have occurred at the sub-system and block diagram level at this point.

Detailed Design Review Checklist
Held during the Execution Phase, after a preliminary specification has been written, and sufficient detailed design work and/or simulation has occurred.

Final Design Review Checklist
Held after all design and documentation and most if not all testing is completed. Last milestone in the design process before release to pilot manufacturing.

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