Project Change Management: Minimize Risks. Maximize Rewards.

Considering the effort that it takes to gather requirements, assemble a team, secure approvals, and create a working schedule, sudden and unexpected "changes to plan" are not always wise - and certainly not always welcome. There are times when change is a mistake, and times when change is essential.  No matter which side any given change may be on, change is a reality that must be faced and controlled.  Read on to learn how it's done.

Change is a fact of life for most every project.  To begin with, projects occur over a span of time, and with the passage of time, underlying circumstances and conditions can and do change. In addition, projects are completed by people, and people have new ideas, recognize mistakes and change their minds. Under these circumstances, it would be unwise, if not impossible, to proceed without recognizing, accepting and preparing for the possibility of change.  That's the purpose and goal of standardized "change management".

What is Project Change Management?

Project change management is defined by the body of concepts, steps and strategies used to manage, control and implement "change" within a project. Change management applies to all elements of the project and project management process, covering the project vision, scope and related procedural components. Change management procedures are sized and applied to a given project as part of the project governance phase and are executed as part of project oversight. The key to effective project change management is not to prevent change, but to control it. This is the whole point - to identify, evaluate and adopt changes so that project results are enhanced. To that end, project should be managed with a structured process designed to accept positive change and avoid negative change.  (Download our free Change Request Template)

Key to Success: Effective practices for project change management must incorporate and address the two (2) primary types of change:

  1. Reactive Change: When changes are necessary to respond to project problems (i.e. delays, technical failures, funding shortages, resources issues, etc.). In all likelihood, reactive changes are not optional as long as you wish to sustain or salvage the project.
  2. Requested Change: When changes to project requirements, scope, deliverables or related management plans are requested by end-users or other project participants. These changes can arise from new ideas, new information, or new perspectives, and usually are requested by project customers (i.e. your end-users). In any event, requested changes are usually discretionary, and therefore, are difficult to control. While certain changes can enhance and improve a project, if left uncontrolled, excessive change can lead to multiple, varied problems. Excessive project changes can overwhelm a project to the point where original benefits are lost, and the project can no longer be completed as expected. The trick to change control is to continually balance change requests against original project goals, ensuring enhanced value, without diminishing schedules and results. 

Manage Change: Be On Time, Be On Budget

In order to properly "control" changes for any given project, appropriate boundaries must be set that will both establish and limit the types of changes to be considered.  Obviously, if a change is required to keep a project going, that change must be accepted. But if change is discretionary, that change must be weighed against existing project conditions and established boundaries. Taking a standardized approach, it takes just five (5) analytical variables to set realistic, flexible boundaries for managing project change:

  • Value and Priority. If a project is very visible and important, you may need to set high limits for discretionary changes to avoid unwarranted risks.
  • Timing. If the change request arrives at an early stage in the project, that change can probably be absorbed, but if the project is more than 50% complete, that same change may actually interfere with timely completion.
  • Cost. Project changes can increase (or decrease) project costs. In order to properly manage changes, you should set limits on change related costs, so that your budget is appropriately maintained. In addition, for large projects, separate change budgets (also known as a contingency fund) should be established to set limits for change costs outside of the original budget. In effect, your initial budget establishes expected costs, and your change budget controls the costs of subsequent changes.
  • Impact. In order to maintain proper control of project change, you will need toevaluate and identify "change impact" - i.e. how will a given change affect the project as a whole or in part? Will the change impact scope, deliverables, schedules, resources, or some other project element? With this detailed understanding, you can set appropriate, yet flexible boundaries as a guideline for change review and approval.

Producing the "Change Impact Statement" (CIS)

Once change requests are processed, reviewed and approved, the corresponding changes must be incorporated into existing project plan, vision and scope. Depending on the specific type of change, one or more elements of the project may be affected, and this may necessitate changes to project plans, technical designs, resource assignments, budgets or other project documentation. No matter how many areas of the project are affected, changes should be properly recorded to ensure that original documents and plans are maintained as a baseline, with changes clearly identified. Most automated project planning tools will track changes to plan, and will produce reports of all variations. However, as time passes, and with multiple projects underway, these reports may not provide sufficient "lessons learned" information as to the "whys and wherefores" of change approval, and the related change results. That's the point of the "Change Impact Statement".

The "Change Impact Statement (CIS)" is a project oversight and review deliverable used to record change reasoning, execution and consequences. To serve it's intended purpose, the "statement" deliverable should accomplish all of the following:

  • The CIS should describe the defining characteristics of the proposed "change" considering the type, scope, characteristics and potential impact.  (Change decisions should be based on the "define, align and approve" paradigm).
  • The CIS should provide a detailed explanation of the reasoning behind change approval including a brief summary of the approval process, description of anticipated benefits and related consequences for a failure to act (if any).
  • The CIS should provide a detailed description of the steps and procedures followed in implementing the related change.
  • The CIS should include an evaluation of change planning compared to actual change results.
  • The CIS should include an evaluation of change management "lessons learned" for use in the project review process.

Continue reading more on this subject in our featured articles Fundamentals of Issues Management and Easy Ways to Control Project Risk.

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