So you’ve agreed your scope, requirements are defined, timelines have all been worked through and costs have been endorsed. In short, you’ve agreed the baseline of your project. What a perfect start!
Given that very solid basis, you may be seduced into thinking failure is impossible and adaptation is unnecessary since it’s all been thought through and documented. A kind of unsinkable plan… almost Titanic-like in nature.
There’s nothing wrong with a good plan, but remember the old military adage: no plan survives first contact with the enemy. Very quicky, real life takes over and you appreciate that delivery is based on development that hasn’t completed, testing that hasn’t started and changing market conditions.
Suddenly, change has come knocking on the project manager’s door.
What is change control?
Managing requests for change is a proven success factor in project management. Change control is the process through which all requests to change the approved baseline are captured, evaluated and then approved or declined.
The process takes into account such things as changes in scope or deliverables, costs, timelines and quality or requirements. In short, it provides the process to control changes that occur during the life of a project.
The basic premise is that the change control process is there to make sure that the baseline of the project is only changed with the appropriate controls, checks, agreement and communication in place.
Requests for change can originate from any stakeholder in response to a realisation that circumstances have changed and an aspect of the project needs to be adapted. This can come any time after the baseline has been agreed. Technically, before then there is no base position to change.
In fact, the sooner you can do the change, the easier it is to accept, since the further along the project you are, the more there is to be reworked (with associated higher costs and impact on timelines).
A seven-step process for managing change
Key to managing change effectively is having a robust process that includes the following steps:
- Log the request in the change register (or log). This is a working document that allows the project manager to capture change and track it throughout the project until it has been resolved. It provides an audit history of how the change has been managed and shows the additional time/cost/scope that has been approved since the project scope was first agreed.
- Conduct an initial evaluation to determine if the change should be considered at all. The project may be so far advanced that a fundamental change at a late stage has far-reaching impacts.
- Run a detailed evaluation that considers the impact on baseline success criteria, benefits, scope, quality, time, resources, costs, risks, stakeholder engagement or any other criteria important to achieving the business case. Consider also what the outcome would be if the change were not implemented.
- Make a recommendation to the sponsor or wider governance board to approve, reject or defer the change. This body may be in the form of a ‘change board’ of key stakeholders or it may be the project steering committee who have the authority to sign off the impact of the change.
- Ensure that the owner or originator of the change signs off on the impact assessment.
- If accepted, update the project. Not only does the plan need to be updated, but changes must be communicated to all those involved and documentation updated to make sure everyone is aware of the decision to change.
- Once the change is implemented, the request can be closed and the client billed.
This might be the end of the process, but on larger projects, programmes and portfolios, more seasoned projects managers will be looking for patterns of change to identify trends that might suggest certain aspects of the project are more vulnerable to change. Specific interventions may need to be considered here.
So far, so good
All of this might seem logical, but a change control process is not without its difficulties, since it can be a slow process to run the evaluation and reach agreement to accept the impact. In fact, some change can be large enough that it might need the project to go on hold until the evaluation is complete.
However, having the ability to change helps integrate new opportunities and customer demands, and allows project managers to adapt based on new information. A good change process provides an invaluable audit trail and approval process to vary the delivery to what was initially approved.
Without formal control, unrestricted change could cause scope creep, communication conflicts, budget issues and unrealistic deadlines.