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Managing and supporting product life cycle through engineering change management for a complex product


This paper reports a case study of design and engineering change management in the design and manufacture of automated train systems in a company. The paper uses a combination of surveys and interviews to map the information flow processes in the design and engineering processes. Based on the interviews and data collected on information flow and communication processes, the paper identifies the sources of engineering changes in the design process. Further, the paper takes cognizance of the change in the organizational structure of the company’s engineering change processes to evaluate the engineering change notice (ECN) policies and its application in the company to identify the cause of errors in the engineering change process itself. Based on the analysis, the paper describes a support system that incorporates a novel, context-based ECN generation and workflow routing support system that is intended to reduce the cognitive load of the design engineer. The goal of the system is also to measure the causes of ECN to aid and improve managerial action.

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  1. 1.

    We have used the name Atrain to anonymize the name of the company.


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We would like to thank all of the engineers and Team from the Atrain company who spent numerous days and hours working with us during the 4-year duration of the project. They were part of the study, design of the system and the transfer of the systems to the company for final implementation. Specific mention goes to Curt McCullers, Bob di Silevestro and Ron Thomas. All data collection was done by the informed consent of the participants jointly with the personnel of Atrain. This work was funded by a grant to CMU from Atrain. All the authors and associates were funded by the grant. Significant contributions from Michael Collins, Russ Milliken, and Mark Thomas who were part of the n-dim group at the time of the project are also acknowledged.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

All data collection was done by the informed consent of the participants jointly with the personnel of Atrain. This work was funded by a grant to CMU from Atrain. All the authors and CMU associates were funded by the grant. There are no conflict of interest in the work reported.

Author information

Correspondence to Eswaran Subrahmanian.

Appendix: Scope and methods of the information flow study

Appendix: Scope and methods of the information flow study

Scope of the study

The scope of the study was:

  • to study the D-spec process to understand the context of the generation of ECNs

  • to study the ECN process, its intent, its practice and its forms

  • to solicit and identify improvements to the ECN process

With these objectives in mind, we identified the methods for data collection and interpretation using an information flow-based analysis of the process. A more detailed methodological rationale for conducting such studies from an ethnographic and information system point of view is elaborated in (Davis et al. 2001).

Methods for the study

The method followed in conducting this study was twofold. Questionnaires were distributed to design engineers, and interviews were conducted. ECNs over three consecutive years were reviewed, and current ECN forms were analyzed. Choosing many means for gathering information helps ensure the validity of the information obtained by cross-checking the sources of data. The Project manager of this project at Atrain identified all participants in the study.

Questionnaires Specific questionnaires were developed regarding the D-spec and ECN processes. The D-spec questionnaire was distributed to 250 engineers, of which 100 responded. Engineers who indicated that they had indeed completed ECNs in the past, as well as similar engineers (identified by Company A personnel) who did not fill out a D-spec questionnaire, were then asked to fill out an ECN questionnaire. One hundred ECN questionnaires were distributed, and there were approximately 50 respondents.

Interviews Project Manager and Carnegie Mellon personnel selected approximately 25 people for personal interviews jointly. These people were selected based on their answers to the questions on the D-spec questionnaire or were recommended to be interviewed by company A personnel. An attempt was been made to cover as many levels and functional areas of the organization as possible. In terms of coverage, achieving breadth in functional areas was given preference over depth in the levels of the organization. This approach was taken to attain maximum coverage of the information flows of the organization in a lateral direction. Extensive notes were taken by all three authors and associates for transcription and reference. Interviews emphasized the questions in the questionnaire but were asked in a narrative form. The interview flow was free form in order to elicit problems in information exchange as well as to understand information needs, interaction patterns across functional and project structures and the characterization of time-consuming tasks. Interviewees were specifically encouraged to discuss any particularly vexing problems with the D-spec and/or ECN processes.

Analysis of current forms The current ECN forms were reviewed for ease of use and clarity of design using standard information design criteria. As one of our objectives is to identify ways to improve information exchange, the evaluation of the forms provides the basis for interpreting some of the answers on the questionnaire with respect to time consumption level and difficulty levels in the ECN process.

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Subrahmanian, E., Lee, C. & Granger, H. Managing and supporting product life cycle through engineering change management for a complex product. Res Eng Design 26, 189–217 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00163-015-0192-1

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  • Information flow analysis
  • Engineering change policies and management
  • Organizational change
  • Change support system