Three Common Engineering Change Management Problems and How to Solve Them

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engineering change management solutionsYou can’t engineer without a process for managing product changes, but the road to a solid engineering change management process is frequently bumpy, and lined with certain battles.

If you can fight through the initial pain of setting up a process, having a solid and formalized way to manage change leads to less scrap and rework, better inventory planning and less conflict between teams.

Problem #1: Everyone “needs” to be involved with the process

When you’re first creating a engineering change management system, everyone thinks they need to be involved—especially on a small team, where everyone has a strong vested interest in the product’s success.

Reviewing and approving changes is easier-said-than-done, and while everyone thinks they will react quickly to emails, and be quick to sign-off on ECOs, this is rarely the case in reality.

With too many people looped into the change process (or if the wrong people are included) you will struggle to get changes through in a timely fashion.

Solution: If you’re experiencing bottlenecks, chances are there are too many people involved.

Bottlenecks are frustrating, but they can be avoided by making sure only the people who really need to sign-off are included in the process.

Common culprits for bottlenecking are those at the VP level, who want to see everything, but tend to overestimate their ability to do a million things at once.  In many cases, these folks don’t need to be tasked with the official sign-off, as they may pass that duty off to a delegate.

Changes are only useful if you can actually get them approved, so don’t stuff your change board. If the office of the VP needs to “sign-off” on something, but the person signing-off is actually his or her representative, be honest about how your process works, and allow flexibility for the VP—or an approved substitute—to sign-off on the change. One approach in this situation would be to add the VP to a group that has one or more voting requirements so if they do not get to the issue in time someone else will.

Problem #2: No one is following the change process

Your team sat down, talked through the options and agreed on a change-routing. But changes are still being approved via hallway conversations, documentation is updated after the fact and changes are slipping through the cracks in the mad rush to get things done.

Solution: Provide the proper motivation for adoption.

Unless you’re a one-man-band, a consistent change process is critical to the success of your organization—making changes ad hoc will always come back to bite you. (Take the case of one large company who redesigned a part out to make the product 30% cheaper, and then found out on the shop floor that the redesigned piece was what had been holding the product together!)

If you haven’t experienced a crisis due to your lack of process, it can be tough to convince your engineering team to put a formal change process into place. In this case, the burden is on management to provide the right motivation.

One team we worked with solved this problem by creating an ”Engineer of the Month” club to reward those who approved changes in a timely fashion. Another way you could demonstrate the importance of engineering change management is to develop change-control KPIs that your engineering team is responsible for meeting.

Ultimately, achieving buy-in for any formal process is a top-down endeavor. If any of the managers are even a little bit on the fence about change control, you will not succeed. A system is only as good as the people, so training, encouragement (carrot/stick) and proper visibility of process docs are all required.

Problem #3: Your change management process isn’t scaling

In the early days, your formal or informal paper-based change management system worked fine, but now the folders of ECOs, test results, spreadsheet printouts of BOMs and sticky notes are getting out of control.

Solution: Consider electronic change management tools

If you are working with hundreds of parts, dozens of vendors and outdated, inconsistent or nonexistent naming conventions, it might be time to adopt a system that can help you simplify.

Electronic change management tools can capture your complete change history in one location, and manage access and routing of changes automatically. This becomes even more of a necessity as you continue to grow, and add vendors or team members in multiple locations. At this level, a system that routes ECOs/MCOs electronically to anyone in the organization or supply chain, automatically notifies individuals when decisions are needed or changes have been approved and allows users to assess ECOs/MCOs online is a much better way to keep a tight grip on changes to the product record.

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About the Author

Alex Gammelgard
Alex managed social media marketing and communications at Arena from 2011 to 2012. Although coming in fresh to the manufacturing industry, Alex is married to an engineer and is well ... Read More 

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