Project Management: Change Control

One of my favorite quotes is: “Nobody likes change but a wet baby!” How true…We all have some area of our life that we just do not want to change. As a project manager, we can like change or hate it, but one thing is for sure — we better manage it well. Managing change requests is a commonly mishandled area in the project lifecycle. Let’s take a look at some considerations.

Sometimes a project team member will forge ahead with changes to the scope of a project, large or small, wanting to “super-please” the change requester or a stakeholder. This is great until the project comes in late and over budget, with no documented change requests. No one likes working hard for weeks or months only to be under-appreciated because changes were not documented. So the next time you manage a project, coach your team to engage you to handle change requests or teach them how to handle the requests and report them to you.

TIP #1: Initiate change control
In addition to the actual request, document the date of the request, the requestor, and the priority and business considerations. Explain that the team will look at the request and that the request will be approved, postponed, or rejected by the stakeholders. And that they will be informed of the result.

To properly discuss a change order with stakeholders, you must determine the impact on such things as the schedule, resources (i.e. dollars), quality, and risk. For instance, you might say that Joe in Accounts Payable wants to add a report, which will cost $800 and will not impact the go live of the project. You will want to convey to the stakeholders the priority and business considerations gathered at the time of the request.

TIP #2: Have stakeholders approve or reject change requests
Stakeholders should make the decision. As a project manager, it is your job to equip them with the additional cost, change in schedule, etc., and then let them decide how they want to proceed.

TIP #3: Make a list of small items
When asked for multiple small changes (together or over a period of time), write them down and batch them together. Multiple small changes can wreak just as much havoc on schedule and budget as a large item, and yet they often are the culprit of overages because it is just one small change, then another, then another. Let the requestor(s) know that you are building a list of small changes that will not be overlooked, but avoid the temptation to address them immediately.

TIP #4: Include a change order log in your status reporting
I am an advocate of weekly status reporting to stakeholders for most projects. I include things like progress vs. plan (schedule and estimate), key items, and a change order log. The change order log should list each change requested, the date and who requested it, the estimated effort, and whether it has been approved or rejected, so that all stakeholders see the changes. This greatly reduces missed expectations at the end of the project, as well as that lousy feeling of being under appreciated.

Dan Ehrhart
V.P., Application Solutions