July 4, 2024

What is Early Supplier Involvement (ESI), why it’s important and how to get started

Discover the importance of Early Supplier Involvement (ESI) in product development. Learn how early collaboration between sourcing and engineering can enhance innovation, reduce costs, mitigate risks, and accelerate time to market.
Avatar Nancy O'Flaherty

The Significance of Early Collaboration Between Sourcing and Engineering

In the fast-paced world of product development and manufacturing, the relationship between sourcing and engineering departments often determines the speed, cost-efficiency and overall success of bringing new products to market. Historically, these two critical functions within organizations operated in silos, with minimal interaction until the later stages of product development. This siloed approach can lead to inefficiencies such as communication gaps, delays in decision-making and increased risk of errors or rework, ultimately hindering the timely delivery of products to market.

However, a paradigm shift is occurring as businesses recognize the immense benefits of fostering early collaboration between sourcing and engineering teams. This blog post delves into the importance of this collaboration, drawing on examples, benefits and strategies to make it work effectively. Let’s explore the practical steps to enhance collaboration.

The Crucial Interplay Between Engineering and Sourcing in Early Product Development

Engineering and sourcing are traditionally viewed as distinct functions, each with its responsibilities. Engineering focuses on designing and developing products, while sourcing is concerned with procurement and supply chain management. However, the lines between these roles are increasingly blurred in today’s competitive market. Early collaboration between these two functions can lead to a harmonious integration that enhances product quality and performance.

Understanding the Traditional Divide

Traditionally, the engineering team takes the lead in the initial stages of product development, focusing on design, functionality and innovation without substantial input from the sourcing or procurement team. The sourcing team would only become involved after the design phase, tasked with finding suppliers that can produce the required components at the required cost and timeline. This sequential approach leads to issues such as difficult or expensive designs, delays in sourcing materials, and, ultimately, missed deadlines and overrun budgets.

The Value of ESI

Engineering teams often drive innovation by conceptualizing new products and refining existing ones. However, translating these concepts into market-ready products requires a robust sourcing strategy. Organizations can ensure that engineering designs are innovative and manufacturable by involving sourcing teams early in the development process.

ESI supports decreased product costs for organizations. This is because sourcing teams can provide valuable insights into material costs, supplier capabilities and potential supply chain disruptions. By aligning engineering excellence with an informed sourcing strategy, companies can create products that are not only cutting-edge but also cost-effective.

Mitigating Risks

One of the primary benefits of early collaboration between sourcing and engineering is the ability to identify and mitigate risks early in the product development cycle. Sourcing teams possess a deep understanding of the supplier landscape, including potential risks such as geopolitical instability, material shortages and logistical challenges. By involving these teams early, engineering can design products with alternate materials or suppliers in mind, in so doing, reducing dependency on single sources and enhancing supply chain resilience.

Accelerating Time to Market

The pace of modern innovation is relentless and companies must bring products to market swiftly to maintain a competitive edge. Early collaboration between sourcing and engineering can significantly accelerate the time to market.

When sourcing teams are engaged from the outset, they can begin procurement processes in parallel with product development. This concurrent engineering approach ensures that long lead-time components are ordered early, reducing delays during production ramp-up. In addition, sourcing teams can identify potential bottlenecks and work proactively to address them, ensuring a smoother transition from development to manufacturing.

Fostering Innovation Through Supplier Expertise

Suppliers are often a valuable source of innovation, possessing specialized knowledge and expertise that can enhance product design and performance. ESI enables companies to tap into this reservoir of knowledge, fostering innovation and driving product differentiation.

For instance, suppliers can suggest alternative materials or manufacturing techniques to improve product durability, reduce costs or enhance sustainability. By applying supplier expertise, engineering teams can develop products that are both innovative and aligned with market demands and regulatory requirements.

Practical Steps for Enhancing Early Collaboration

While the benefits of ESI are clear, implementing this approach requires deliberate effort and strategic planning. Here are some practical steps to enhance early collaboration within your organization:

1. Establish Cross-Functional Teams

Forming cross-functional teams that include members from both engineering and sourcing departments can facilitate better communication and collaboration. These teams must work closely throughout the product development cycle, from concept to production.

2. Implement Collaborative Tools

Digital collaboration tools can streamline communication and information sharing between engineering and sourcing teams. Project management software, shared document repositories and collaboration platforms can enhance transparency and ensure that all team members are aligned.

3. Foster a Culture of Collaboration

Creating a culture that values collaboration and cross-functional teamwork is essential. Encourage open communication, regular meetings and knowledge-sharing sessions to build trust, and foster a collaborative mindset within the organization.

4. Engage Suppliers throughout the Product Development Process

Input received from suppliers, who frequently hold valuable expertise and insights, enhances product design and functionality. Involving suppliers encourages collaboration and communication, therefore streamlining project execution and decreasing lead times.

5. Align Objectives and Metrics

Ensure that engineering and sourcing teams have aligned objectives and metrics. Define clear goals for cost optimization, risk mitigation and time-to-market acceleration and track progress against these metrics.


Early collaboration between sourcing and engineering is no longer a luxury but a strategic imperative in that can transform product development and drive competitive advantage. By integrating these functions early in the product development cycle, organizations can achieve engineering excellence, optimize costs, mitigate risks, accelerate time to market and foster innovation through supplier expertise.

The rewards of early collaboration are tangible and substantial. By adopting a collaborative approach, companies can position themselves for success, driving growth and innovation in an ever-evolving market. To fully realize the benefits of early collaboration, it is crucial to establish cross-functional teams, implement collaborative tools and foster a culture of collaboration. Engaging suppliers early promotes stronger relationships and partnerships, smoother project execution, reduced lead times and improved supply chain resilience. By taking these steps, organizations can unlock the full potential of their engineering and sourcing teams, creating products that meet market demands and exceed customer expectations.

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