Engineering Change Management Process Overview

Written by: Steve Shaw

Read Time: 5 min

Editor's Note: This blog was originally published in May 2023, new information was added in February 2024.

What is engineering change management?

Engineering change management (ECM) in manufacturing, though a complex process, aims to achieve a very simple outcome: the quick, effective, and efficient response to engineering change notices or requests. Regulatory requirements, shifting market demand, supply chain dynamics, competitor’s decisions and more can all trigger the need for adjustments to a product’s design and bill of materials.

How engineering change management impacts the engineering design process

Well-executed change management processes keep all aspects of the design engineering process calibrated. Designs must be adapted to remain in sync with new requirements as they’re identified, changing the overall engineering context, even if specific changes are minor. Those adaptations then have to be understood and accommodated as necessary throughout the extended engineering team.

How engineering change management impacts downstream stakeholders

Further, every discrete manufacturer, particularly those whose products are complex and configurable, needs to manage the impact of each change across the enterprise—not just within engineering. The processes affected by engineering change management are highly interdependent and concurrent, so companies must ensure that timely, accurate updates are received by all stakeholders. Engineering change can only be accurately propagated in real time across the entire business via a robust digital thread.

Engineering change management vs. engineering change request vs. engineering change notice

While engineering change management refers to a broad array of processes and a specific discipline, two specific process inputs are used to initiate and document changes: the change request and the change notice. They often, but not always, occur serially, with the request, if approved, initiating a notice.

An engineering change request can be created either to introduce an enhancement to an existing design, or in response to a problem report. It details the changes needed to realize the improvement or resolve the problem identified. The request provides the information needed by business or engineering decision-makers to proceed with or cancel the proposed change.

An engineering change notice may be issued in response to an approved change request, and authorizes the work needed to effect the change. The notice may address one or more change requests, or may be issued without reference to a change request, depending on permissions set by system administrators.

Engineering change process stages

However initiated, the engineering change process typically comprises a series of stages or checkpoints on the continuum from change request to implementation:

1. Identify and describe the problem (or opportunity)

When a problem is first perceived, the symptoms that define the problem are recorded. These may be identified by any stakeholder: an internal employee, a customer, or an end user. (Similarly, opportunities for enhancement, though not technically problems, may arise and be documented for further consideration.)

2. Pursue formal change

In the next stage, the symptoms are evaluated by appropriate personnel and a formal decision is made to investigate the symptoms or explore the enhancement.

3. Identify problem cause

Through investigation of the documented symptoms and execution of appropriate analyses, the root cause of the problem is identified. This work may include the identification of relevant design modification, parts, or documents.

4. Propose solution

With the root cause of the problem identified, a course of action to fix the problem is now proposed. As in the previous stage, the team or individual preparing a solution may identify relevant parts and documents needed to effect the change correctly.

5. Implement solution

In the final stage, if a change is approved, the best solution is finalized and implemented. As part of the implementation work, the users of the change process identify necessary part or document revisions, whether old (that is, pre-existing elements that require a related change) or new (that is, those that have been newly created in response to the change process). This stage includes incorporation of the solution into production, if appropriate.

Building an efficient ECM process

As we’ve mentioned, effective engineering change management is an opportunity to improve the efficiency of the development process as well as overall productivity. On the other hand, a poorly or partially optimized process can create bottlenecks and impair the product’s ability to realize its full potential value for the enterprise. The three central pillars supporting an efficient ECM process are workflows, traceability and access.

Workflows related to initiating a notice or requesting a change need to be clear, straightforward, and unburdened by excess complexity. Approval protocols should involve an appropriate level of oversight and stakeholder input, and strive for swift resolution without compromising rigor.

Traceability is crucial. The origin, details and rationale of every new or changed requirement must be clear to every stakeholder, for whom that background is important context for understanding how broad or focused its impact will be. The importance of traceability drives the need for the process itself to enable detailed tracing as a given situation warrants.

Easy, secure access to the status and documentation of every in-process engineering change allows different stakeholders to interact with the process and respond appropriately, according to his or her role and responsibility. Once accessed, the data with which they interact must be accurate in real time, or the resulting response, premised on out-of-date information, may introduce and propagate costly errors.

What does an engineering change management workflow look like?

It’s helpful at this point to visualize the stages, components, and relationships between them, in a typical ECM process. The engineering change order workflow encompasses change notices and change tasks. It’s generally initiated by an engineer once the change request has been investigated, a proposal submitted, and analysis activity has been completed.

The analysis generates a detailed description of the issue, and the analytical results that have either determined the cause of the problem (in a change investigation) or prescribed a fix to the problem (identified in the change proposal). The analysis may also identify relevant objects that could be causing the problem, or that may need to be changed based on the proposed solution.

PLM Image engineering change management process


Using PLM for engineering change management

Applying the principles, processes, and tools of product lifecycle management (PLM) to ECM is an effective strategy for realizing the ECM-specific objectives discussed here. But the value of such an approach extends far beyond engineering, by ensuring that ECM is an integral part of the enterprise-wide digital thread significantly enabled through PLM. In concert, PLM and ECM can drive critical functional outcomes on which the success of a given product – and the enterprise itself in aggregate – depend, including:  

  • Easily configured change processes that scale to meet business needs
  • Flexible workflows that get the right tasks to the right users
  • Streamlined interactions with changes
  • Easy-to-understand reviews that meet the particular needs of different roles
  • Improved change validation to ensure that business rules are met
  • Mass updates, setting effectivity and planning supersedes
  • Thorough, accurate and fast reporting of change results

These PLM-fueled outcomes collectively result in business-level benefits to productivity, visibility, governance, and overall enterprise value. 

  • Productivity is amplified, as the entire enterprise is easily able to participate in the change process.
  • Visibility improves, such that critical and ancillary teams and contributors are able to understand, evaluate and respond to the impact of changes on plan.
  • Governance is strengthened, due to increases in the speed and quality of decision-making across the business.
  • Enterprise value is realized directly through better change analysis, and resulting reductions in scrap and rework.

Watch this video to see change management in action within Windchill:


In summary, engineering change management practices can be an opportunity for major improvements in efficiency, or create expensive engineering bottlenecks. Success lies in agility – assessing, implementing, and industrializing changes quickly and accurately, while incorporating input from all appropriate stakeholders.

Executing ECM strategically as an integrated function of product lifecycle management can ignite that agility, and fuel profitable improvements within the engineering development cycle, and across the enterprise.

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About the Author

Steve Shaw

Steve Shaw is a Product Management Senior Director in the PLM segment and has been with PTC since 2001. He leads the team responsible for Windchill’s core PLM capabilities, including BOM management, change and configuration management, platform structures, supplier management, collaboration, and quality. Prior to joining PTC Steve was a mechanical engineer with the Electric Boat division of General Dynamics. Steve holds an M.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Tufts University and a B.S.M.E from the University of Vermont.