Companies today face many challenges as they scale from early research and development stages to commercial production. Global competition, environmental compliance, and more distributed supply chains are just a few hurdles that must be overcome. The stakes are high if you fail to innovate and beat your competitors to market. To succeed, your new product development and introduction (NPDI) processes rely on fast and effective engineering change reviews.
So, what would your management team say if some engineering changes (e.g., ECRs, ECOs, Stop Ships) had been stuck in your change control board (CCB) for several weeks or even months, stagnating and not being monitored or managed to completion? I think it’s easy to say there would not be any kudos coming your way!
For smaller or start-up companies, project teams are typically small and highly focused. Pending changes can be easily discussed at the project team level enabling the entire team to review changes immediately and approve them quickly. However, as companies grow and product lines expand, cross-functional collaboration becomes more difficult—creating additional hurdles to speed engineering change review cycles.
Ultimately, if you’re not measuring your cycle times, you can’t determine the best way to improve them.
You need quantitative data to know where to focus your improvement efforts. If you are measuring your process cycle times and continue to miss your key performance indicator (KPI) targets, you will want to consider how and what you are measuring.
In my experience, most companies target approving change orders in five days or less to reap the benefits sooner rather than later. How does your company measure up? Consider three key ways to get a handle on your change metrics and improve performance.
1) Common Issues When Measuring Processes
You need to determine the right metrics to measure before you can start diagnosing and resolving delays in your processes. Here are a few common change cycle time measurement errors and recommendations to improve your results.
Issue example #1: Using “process-blind” metrics and intermingling ECOs with other change types:
Problem: Engineering change requests (ECRs) typically have longer review cycle times. Deviations and Stop Ships are more urgent and are given special attention to release immediately to prevent line-down situations and other critical production issues. Measuring different change types together provides inaccurate metrics and results due to incorrect assumptions. It is important to create KPIs based on the types of changes to ensure you can address each type correctly. Otherwise, you may obscure problems when reporting, especially if you are using an average cycle time across all change types.
Solution: Create KPIs that are specific to each change type. For example:
- Deviations and Stop Ships might have one-day target review cycles
- ECO approval targets might be five days
- ECR approval targets might be set to 10 days
Issue example #2: Using the originated date as the CCB review cycle time start date when measuring the KPIs:
Problem: The CCB team does not start reviewing the change until it’s gone through multiple rounds of creation and vetting between the initiator (often the engineer), his/her manager, product line stakeholders, and change analysts. So, the CCB review-cycle “clock” should not start until it’s been routed to the CCB for review.
Solution: Measure change review cycle time from the point of CCB entry through final CCB approval.
Issue example #3: Ignoring that many changes enter CCB reviews multiple times:
Problem: The story your metrics tell you can be unclear when changes have entered CCB review multiple times due to errors, demotions, and/or rejections. While these changes typically accumulate more total elapsed time in CCB review, the final CCB review cycle may be short and within the established goal.
Solution: Changes with multiple CCB entries should still be held to a single KPI target for the entire combined CCB cycle (e.g., five days) rather than say, five days for any individual CCB review. You might also need to measure the number of times the same change enters CCB to address other errors caused by sloppy or poor documentation of changes.
2) Analyze Your Metrics
Make sure you understand how and what is being measured. Once you do, review the data more closely by looking at individual changes to see what happened and to ensure you are measuring the right KPIs. You need to look for trends and patterns that help you determine if there are regular, common issues leading to slower cycle times. Here are just some key areas to focus on during the analysis process:
- Individual approvers
Are specific individuals consistently the slowest to approve changes during CCB? Can you determine why? Is there a bandwidth issue, or do they need to bring in specific niche expertise which creates longer approval cycles?
- All lifecycles are not created equal
Full production releases are characterized by lower change volumes and higher impact to build and shipment schedules. This can cause CCBs to run longer as more functional teams are required to review the impact to product planning, production, and inventory.
However, the prototype release lifecycle is characterized by higher change volumes and lower
impact to inventory or other production related issues. Prototype changes should be reviewed and approved quickly to support aggressive new product introduction (NPI) targets. Do you want to hold your prototype CCB review KPIs to the same target as full production CCB reviews? More likely, you will want to create tighter KPIs for prototypes.
- Where should cycle time measurements start and end?
Consider the process to determine if the KPI measurement should start with the CCB entry date (as is standard for ECOs), or the originated date. Originated dates may be more appropriate for changes like Deviations and Stop Ships. Measuring different stages within the change process may be necessary to understand where the problems are ultimately occurring.
3) Adjust your processes
It’s important to measure the right information and analyze the data to determine root causes so you can improve your review processes and cycle time. Making course corrections will help you launch products on time, with fewer quality issues, and increased margins.
As you work to reduce change cycle time, consider having well-defined approaches, but be sure to include ways to introduce continual improvements while avoiding a “one size fits all” approach.
- Create clear accountability: Determine who should be monitoring and facilitating completion of CCB reviews (e.g., an originator or dedicated change analyst). Without clear owners to drive to completion, it’s easy for changes to get overlooked or stuck with any given approver.
- Set up live meetings: Many CCBs can be successful with online review processes, but when the change is more complex—and/or it involves many parts and integrated assemblies—don’t be afraid to call a live meeting to review, gain consensus, and collect all approvals quickly.
- Analyze your CCB approval matrix: Many growing companies tend to include too many approvers in the CCB approval matrix. Monitor and adjust your routing approval processes by clarifying which approvers are actually required to grant approval and which participants simply need to be informed (as observers). Ensure that CCB approvers are clear on their responsibilities based on the products and/or departments they represent.
- Take advantage of system automation to keep your process running smoothly. Create parallel approval routings whenever possible (when dependencies don’t exist). Utilize escalation or transfer of authority when CCB reviewers are unavailable. Ensure correct approvers are included with criteria-based routings.
It’s never too late to start improving your performance. The key is to start where you are, determine where you want to be, and then put a plan in place to help your organization achieve the desired results—faster NPDI cycles—by following these simple recommendations:
- Establish the right KPIs for each type of change
- Communicate KPIs to process stakeholders
- Review, analyze, and understand the metrics
- Continually adjust processes to reduce cycle time
Product lifecycle management solutions help distributed product teams and supply chain partners stay connected to speed change cycle times to deliver better products faster. Contact us today to see how we can help speed your change review processes.