3 Ways to Manage Project Management Plan Changes
There’s a six letter word that instills fear into most Project Managers…CHANGE. We’re not talking about the minor day-to-day changes that come and go with each project, but rather the wholesale major changes that have the ability to derail a project management plan and sometimes even careers, if not properly managed!
Why do such changes occur and what can you do to make it through such changes intact? This article will focus on some reasons why changes happen to even the best project management plan and what you can do to make it through such changes gracefully.
Change is Everywhere so You’ll Have to Deal With It
Change is all around us. The seasons change, children change, and our relationships change. We change jobs, clothes and moods. Our friends as well as our likes and dislikes all change over time. We’re used to dealing with change every day of our lives. Why is it then, that when it comes to our project management plan, we may be surprised, even irritated when change creeps into our projects?
One reason is that Project Managers typically do not like change. We like putting things in nice, orderly boxes and categories (ever heard of a WBS?). We like to plan things from beginning to end and come in each day knowing what’s next on our list of things to get done. We like it when everything falls into place on our project management plan, and each step we take is a solid step moving forward, not sideways, or (gasp)…backwards.
Guess what? We need to accept and even embrace change to remain viable as a Project Manager. Below are some causes of change and what we can do to make the best of the situation when change occurs on our projects.
Some Reasons for Change
The reasons for change are endless. Most changes can fall into the following categories:
- There’s always a Better Way - Your project kicks off with the most recent understanding of the technologies and tools available to you and your team at that time. Months may pass before it’s realized that there’s a different tool or new technology that may, in the long run, make the deliverable of the project more sustainable or scalable. The downside is that in the short-term this introduces change to your project and will require a bit of an overhaul of your project management plan.
- Missed Requirements - Try as we might, it’s next to impossible to capture every single requirement that’s necessary for a successful implementation of a project. A team of business analysts may be assigned to take on this task. However, the expression “you don’t know what you don’t know” has a tendency to rear its ugly head at some point in the lifecycle of a project. It may be that a system the project integrates with may have been overlooked, or a smaller, yet important stakeholder’s requirements were missed. Either scenario introduces change into the equation.This is one area that you can focus on to capture as many requirements as possible by identifying every stakeholder that could have a say on the outcome of the project. It’s easy to overlook the end-user or the stakeholder that you may view as not having much to say about the final deliverable. While it’s not your job as a Project Manager to collect and document these requirements, you can work with the business analysts assigned to your team to make sure that everyone has had the opportunity to provide their input. This will prevent you from being blindsided by a change to your project management plan you would have otherwise never seen coming.
- Market Pressure - You may feel that you have plenty of time to properly complete the project you have been assigned. But then your Sales team comes back from the most recent Trade Show and informs everyone that ‘your competitors are on your heels and you need to get to market in half the time you had originally expected.’ The result? You guessed it…change to your project management plan.
How to Accept and Embrace Change
You may think that Change is something you may always have a hard time accepting, let alone embracing. You’ll find that by following the suggestions below you can separate yourself from other Project Managers and make a name for yourself as someone who can absorb and execute changes introduced to your project.
- Accept It - Go into every project with your eyes wide open and accept that change is going to occur. You know that the end of the project could be quite different to how it was originally planned. That’s OK. Think of your project in financial terms…
- The beginning of your project is like a Balance Sheet at the beginning of one period. The end of your project is like that same Balance Sheet at the end of the period. If there’s any activity at all during this period, these two Balance Sheets will be different. You’re able to bridge these changes by means of the Income Statement. Carefully documented Change Requests and Logs can serve as your Project Income Statement. It can bridge the gap between how the project was originally planned and how it ultimately ended up.
- Plan for It - You can’t say you know that change will occur to your project management plan and then do nothing to accommodate these changes. Have a contingency plan in place (time, resources, and cost) that can absorb part, if not all, of the changes that’ll occur. Have a Project Change Control Template ready to go, understand what would be considered billable vs. non-billable up-front and have procedures in place with relevant stakeholders to review and approve/reject changes that may arise.
- Roll with It - Did you know that high rise buildings are designed with enough flexibility to sway up to a couple of feet in each direction to prevent them from breaking apart and crumbling in high winds and bad weather? This flexibility allows them to sway in the breeze while maintaining their structural integrity and safeguarding the occupants within. You need to replicate the ways of a Project Manager. Maintaining a certain amount of flexibility will allow you and your team to sway with the changes that may come your way, while at the same time, keeping the entire project intact.
We all need to face the fact that change to our project management plans are inevitable. Change comes from diverse sources and is incessant. It’s the highly skilled Project Manager that accepts and even embraces this change by accepting the fact that change will occur, plans for it and ultimately has the flexibility to absorb this change and keep the project intact.
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