Instituting an engineering change process one step at a time

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We often meet small and mid-size manufacturers when they’re in the midst of a growth stage—and the processes they’ve created on the fly are no longer good enough to keep product development running smoothly. While the engineering change process is one of the first places most of them want to add more structure, we typically recommend that they take a phased approach instead of trying to implement an entire end-to-end change process all at once.

If your company finds itself in a similar position—needing better engineering change control but not yet ready for a full-blown change management process—start the way that many of our customers start, by pinpointing the specific change-related challenges you’re facing and instituting some structure there.

At a high level, the change process is about identifying problems, solving problems and disseminating solutions. A complete engineering change process might include these seven steps (which are described in more detail in an article on the Arena website):

  1. Issue identification & scoping

  2. Engineering change request (ECR) creation

  3. ECR review

  4. Engineering change order (ECO) creation

  5. ECO review

  6. Engineering change notification (ECN) circulation

  7. Change implementation

The engineering change request (ECR) process

Steps 1-3 make up the engineering change request (ECR) process, where issues are identified and tracked and solutions are proposed and evaluated. You may want to start by adding more control to your ECR process if your biggest challenges sound like this:

  • Your customers, salespeople and service teams are unsure how to alert the right people in your organization when they encounter problems with your products.

  • You have no good way to compare proposed solutions and pick the most promising one.

  • You fear you’re missing out on the best solutions because you don’t have a way to get all the right people involved when a product issue arises.

The engineering change order (ECO) process

Steps 4 & 5 make up the ECO process, where change orders and related documentation are circulated, reviewed, discussed and ultimately approved or rejected. You should think about implementing a more structured ECO process if:

  • You need input from partners, contract manufacturers (CMs) or remote employees before you can make a decision about a change—but you’re getting slowed down by involving them in the review process.

  • The complexity of considering multiple changes at once prevents people from making decisions on any of them.

  • Your team is wasting too much time manually creating ECO packets and sitting through lengthy change control board (CCB) meetings.

The engineering change notification (ECN) process

Steps 6 & 7 make up the engineering change notification (ECN) process, where key stakeholders are notified of changes and the organization makes sure that changes are implemented. You might want a more formalized ECN process if any of the following situations sound familiar:

  • You’ve lost weeks in your production schedule because no one remembered to notify purchasing of a change to a component with a long lead time.

  • You’ve had to scrap thousands of dollars worth of parts because your CM didn’t get notified about a change—and you didn’t know that until it was too late.

  • You’ve watched the production line stay down longer than necessary—just because the process for notifying your CM of an approved change was so cumbersome and difficult.

If your company needs more structure in its engineering change process, the scenarios above can help you identify a good place to start. But don’t forget that whatever processes you implement have to work for your organization. Try a phased approach if you’re not ready to implement a complete engineering change process all at once, and make sure you’re instituting practices that are a good fit for your organization’s structure, culture, growth stage and product development process.

You can learn more about engineering change orders, the engineering change process and their role in product development in this article on the Arena website. You’ll also find some additional ECO-related resources on that page, including free downloadable ECO templates and samples.

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