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June 23, 2021
Best Practices

No matter the technology in place within your shipyard, managing change more effectively is a high priority. Information platforms like Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) systems are one tool that can help, and their implementation is becoming more common at shipyards. PLMs have long been a staple of change management and configuration control within other industries, but until recently, did not fit the realities of shipbuilding.  

Any specific implementation of a change management strategy is very dependent on what is in place and the situation in the shipyard. This means no one size fits all approach exists, but we can still generalize a strategy that every shipyard can use to start seeing results. Both with and without an information platform, to get a handle of change activities in your organization, you will need to understand the flow of change information, get control of your data, and (most importantly) identify the goal you are genuinely trying to achieve. 

Note: This post is based on an answer from Malay Pal, SSI Solution Specialist, to an attendee question from our latest change management webinar. You can watch the full webinar here: 

You already manage change 

Even if you don’t have a change management specific solution, PDM, or PLM system, you do have a change management process of some kind. You already manage change in some way. Before using IT tools to manage engineering change, it is necessary to look at the strategies and practices for managing engineering change.  

First, you need to ensure that your organization understands how changes flow and the processes already used to manage change. You don’t need to have a detailed understanding of everything, but enough to know where the significant causes of rework or errors come from. Then, once you have identified a significant source of change related issues, address it. 

Other strategies include: reducing the number of engineering changes, early detection and implementation of engineering changes, making accurate assessments of engineering changes to ensure that they are necessary, the efficient implementation of engineering changes (using the right resources and tools), and reviewing and evaluating engineering changes after their implementation to adjust processes in the future. 

Tactics and processes to support change management strategies 

For complex products like ships, several practices and tools can support these strategies. Instituting a clear Engineering Change Management (ECM) process that supports effective control of product changes makes the information behind each change easily discoverable. Establishing a design authority to wield the necessary control in ECM mitigates the risk of a change falling through the cracks. The design authority should include representatives from all stakeholder organizations (i.e., a cross-functional team) to manage and work on engineering changes. Doing so reduces the chance of siloed working. 

Some other tactics to consider are: 

  • Developing several solutions to engineering changes. 
  • Assessing the change’s impacts on time and cost. 
  • Involving of production teams early in the design and engineering process. 
  • Involving of suppliers early in the change assessment and implementation process and cross-enterprise ECM process (if applicable). 
  • Documenting and providing centralized access to change status and history.  
  • Instituting a formal post-implementation review of engineering changes. 

Tools as a catalyst to effective change management 

Naval shipbuilding projects are more often than not more complex, involve more varied stakeholders, and have longer design, build, and operational timelines than other shipbuilding projects. These types of projects necessitate the use of computer-based tools to support change management. 

However, no one tool is a silver bullet. Some may make certain aspects of change management easier, but the right solution for your organization will depend on your specific challenges and requirements. However, the following ground rules would help in the implementation and use of all IT-based tools for change management: 

  • Using a standardized data model to develop a common understanding of the underlying business process between various stakeholders (e.g. something conceptually similar to the SWIFT system in the banking industry). 
  • All product (information) records should include parent and child relationships, birth and death information, revision/modification history, and the details of any constraints on product use (guidance on use or applicability). 
  • All staff should be familiar with their organization’s product information model and maintain an accurate recording discipline, regardless of whether their activities relate to design, procurement, manufacturing, sales, maintenance, or support. 
  • It is necessary to have a clear understanding of how changes are connected. If the change situation is not understood, a tool can provide only limited help.  
  • Product information should be presented dynamically, enabling users to see a product’s change history from the past, present, and future.  

Technologies to turn to 

Looking at some more specific examples of the tools which can support the engineering change processes in shipbuilding, they include office productivity tools (MS Word, MS Excel, email), CAD software, PDM/PLM, and ERP. Each of these tools provides different functionalities and requires different levels of digital maturity to use effectively. 

  • Office productivity tools: Track changes mechanism, document properties management, routing (through email). 
  • Document management system: Some document management systems provide ECM capabilities like versioning, workflow or routing, etc. However, such systems handle engineering artifacts as documents. 
  • CAD: Some of the COTS CAD software available for ship design and construction provides high levels of ECM capability without the need for a separate PDM/PLM system.  These ECM-specific capabilities include associativity between parts & assemblies, file versioning, change propagation/impact analysis/traceability, collaboration, etc. The ECM coverage is limited to the business processes handled by the CAD software (e.g., design & fabrication), after which hand-off is required to PDM/PLM/ERP systems to extend change management to other business functions in the shipyard/enterprise.   
  • PDM/PLM: PDM/PLM systems provide ECM capabilities, starting with the product definition phase, and can extend to the complete ship lifecycle. They provide necessary ECM functionalities, like versioning, workflow or routing, search/query, change propagation/impact analysis/traceability, collaboration, reports generator, knowledge management, etc. 
  • ERP: While ERP systems handle change management, such systems can trigger a change process based on production issues. When implementing a change requires a change in the product definition, a PLM system provides the necessary functionalities.  

Don’t fall into the trap 

While computer-based tools are essential to support engineering change management, you and your teams need to carefully look at the capabilities and limitations of the tools available and choose the most feasible solution for the shipyard. As the digital maturity, IT infrastructure, and challenges being solved evolve, your teams can incrementally implement more capabilities. 

Most importantly, don’t fall into the trap of thinking you need to put in a big bang style effort to implement a complete PLM system before seeing results. Some organizations waste years going down this path. At some point, maybe even while working on your first challenge, you will have enough of a view of the organization to see how a platform for managing change would connect everything. This is great, but make sure that you don’t lose focus. Pick the next piece of your process to improve and build it into the platform. If your chosen strategies and platforms don’t allow you to enhance your solution incrementally, maybe it is time for a change? 

Webinar: How to Stop Worrying About Shipbuilding Change

Watch the webinar see the strategies you can implement within your shipyard to achieve change transparency. 

You’ll log off with: 

  • Strategies to get control and visibility over customer, production, or supply chain driven change. 
  • Techniques for making, reviewing, and tracking changes with and without a PLM. 
  • Bite-size takeaways for your team to implement as part of their change management process. 

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