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Are engineering change requests a necessary part of your process?

Engineering Change RequestAlthough a solid engineering change management process is absolutely essential to product launch success, it’s easy to fall into an overly complicated, unnecessary, or misunderstood engineering change request (ECR) process—especially if your process lacks purpose.

In some cases, by the time you craft the ECR, add in the appropriate documentation, talk it over with the product engineer and send the ECR around for approval, the engineering change order (ECO) is completely redundant.

So if your ECRs are just being used as quasi-ECOs, do you really need them? If the same people go through the same process twice for every change, and there are no real differences between ECRs and ECOs, what’s the point of having both?

Give your engineering change requests a purpose

While there are some exceptions, ECRs are actually an important part of the change process for most companies. However, it’s important that you know why you are writing ECRs in the first place, and that you enable the right people to participate in the ECR process.

In many companies, an engineer will write an ECR, send it to the key engineering team leaders for approval. Once approved, it’s common to create a more detailed ECO to put through a similar process but generally with key product team members outside of engineering.  In this example, the ECR is a fairly unimportant part of the overall change process.

In some ways, having engineers create ECRs is somewhat less efficient. When an engineer submits an ECR, it’s not usually to request a change, but rather to propose a solution. To make the most of your ECR process, and distinguish it from your ECO process—consider incorporating customer, supplier, and manufacturing team feedback into your ECR process.

How can you make the most of ECRs?

Some companies use ECRs as a way to document proposed engineering changes before investing more time to create detailed fixes or solutions to problems. Companies that use product lifecycle management (PLM) solutions like Arena can benefit from controlled and automated change processes that allow all dispersed teams to stay on the same page while driving to product launch. ECRs are a great way to informally discuss an issue and capture key concerns or possible solutions before teams invest the time to document and route a formal ECO to all key stakeholders.

In fast-moving product companies, engineering change order provides a formalized way to review and approve changes outside engineering. Within our customer base, we see this in a variety of ways.

Some organizations even use engineering changes as a way to address customer complaints. One really innovative way to do this is to link your customer case system to the request system in your PLM solution. We have companies like Kinsa that have done this to speed the customer feedback loop.

Other companies use ECRs and ECOs to improve communication with suppliers and contract manufacturers. This helps your supply chain partners catch problems with the parts you’re planning to design with and purchase (e.g., environmental compliance issues, material availability). Encouraging suppliers to submit changes also gets them involved in driving continuous improvement.

In general, ECRs are a great way to capture issues and product fixes before brining your extended product teams into an ECO  review and approval process. ECRs can capture defects at all levels—supplier defects, shop floor production issues, or customer concerns.

So consider your goals, your team requirements, and choose the right ECR and ECO process to drive product development success. For more best practices, consider this white paper on breaking down barriers to product innovation.