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Don’t Let Your Project Take a Hit, Control Change!

Fotolia_10510675_XSFor a project manager overseeing changes it’s like playing an old arcade game of asteroids.  You have the control; but rather than protecting the Earth from approaching extraterrestrial rocks you are protecting your project from changes that could result in delays, confusion, missed deliverables and inaccurate expectations.  While project changes will not be devastating to the planet, they can be to your project if not properly managed.

Changes to a project may be in the form of new or changed requirements, the result of an issue, new information which has unfolded, resource constraints, or shifting priorities of the organization or your project leaders.  As a project manager you must accept this and realize that controlling changes and protecting your project are a primary responsibly toward the monitoring and controlling of your project.

During the monitor and control process, the project manager is observing project execution to assure that potential problems are identified in a timely manner and corrective actions are taken to keep the project on track.  This includes the monitoring of ongoing activities to assure that changes are controlled and analyzed and appropriate measures are in place to implement changes.

CaptureSo you have your radar on and are monitoring your project. You can easily knock off the insignificant asteroids by balancing the small changes and handling the manageable issues – but now something big is approaching and it may impact the scope of work, dates, cost, etc. to the extent that the project will not be delivered as expected. 

What now?  Do you just incorporate this considerable change?  After all, you are in charge and you have access to the schedule. Your project staff is aware and accepting of this change.  Why waste any time analyzing and documenting it?  Perhaps it’s inevitable, so you are certain it has to be done.  After all, everyone knows about it and you have no choice. Maybe this change has come as a mandate directly from your sponsor. So just do it?  The answer is NO.  Regardless of the reasons behind the change, or who has initiated it and informally agreed to it, you must first complete an analysis so you can demonstrate formally the impact to the project.  This will lead to:

  • A full comprehension of all areas of impact
  • An assessment of the bearing this may have on other projects
  • An opportunity for team members and stakeholders to understand the change, the impact, and provide their input
  • An understanding if the change will affect other requirements
  • An awareness for your project staff, and their management, on new expectations
  • A re-planning period to incorporate the change and adjust dates appropriately
  • A formal agreement of the exact change, and resulting impact, by the project leadership

Your organization may have a method for tracking project change requests.  This may be via a form or in an automated collection tool.  If your organization does not have a project change request method that you are expected to utilize, consider creating a standard form or automated log for your projects.  The information you gather should comprise of the following:

  • General Information: Project Name, Date, Project Sponsor, Project Manager, Request Number (to allow you to sequentially track the requests), Requestor Name, Date Submitted.
  • Request Status: Change Request Status (Open, Approved, Rejected), Date Finalized
  • Approval Information: List of Required Approver Names, Signature or Tracking of Approval, Date of Approval.
  • Request Details: Description, Benefits and Impact to the Business
  • Impact Analysis:Assigned Resource (who is completing the analysis), Impact to:
    • Scope,
    • Cost,
    • Schedule,
    • Resources,
    • Documentation (that which is impacted by the change, or which will need to be modified because of the change)
  • Log: Stating discussions and activities related to the change

One important concept to understand from the formal change request is that it is documented and it is approved (even rejected in some cases).  Values of this include:

  • Changes can be requested and expected to be deployed without the requestor being aware of the consequences. It is not unheard that once a full analysis is complete, and the documented impact analysis is placed in front of decision makers, that the change is rejected in favor of keeping the project on its original track.
  • An approval of the documented impact assures that your project leadership is in agreement and on board with the request. 
  • This approval becomes the mechanism which authorizes you to set new baselines on project dates, work effort, and cost. 
  • Formalizing the change request is beneficial to you, the project manager.  If you go about allowing changes without a formal review you are doing a disservice to your organization and yourself.  Your job is to keep the project on track and if a deviation occurs, you will benefit by documenting the impact and receiving approval to incorporate the change. 
  • Providing documented evidence should questions arise as to why a deliverable or date was not met as originally expected. You will also find that fewer questions will arise due to the fact that a formal change request acts as a great communication tool and will result in changed expectations. Why wouldn’t you want that?

A final factor to consider is watching for any changes that are sneaking in under the radar.  Take a few minutes periodically to review the project scope and requirements to assure that what is occurring is in line with what is agreed upon. 

Let’s face it, if a project were to be perfectly planned, organized, and scheduled, with no issues or changes, the execution of the project would run smoothly without the need for any project management!  When have you ever been involved in such a project?

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.

Brenda Hallman has over 15 years of experience in project management, most recently in the Project Management Office at Main Line Health where she is responsible for standards, tools, mentoring, education, and program development for project management staff.  Ms. Hallman has a Bachelors of Science Degree in Computer Science and Mathematics from Edinboro University, a Masters Degree in Business from Penn State University, and a Masters Certification in Project Management from Villanova University.  She has worked in the information services arena initially in software development and later in project management.  She is PMP certified.

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