It’s a cliché to say that nothing is constant except for change, but the adage certainly applies to anyone who has ever managed a project. Sometimes stakeholders want something different from what they had requested during initiation. Teams get sick. Weather gets in the way. Supply chains break. The possibilities are as dire as they are endless.
But not all change is equal in a project. Some changes happen to you, yet others are requested. Whatever the change, it must be managed and analyzed, then accepted or rejected. If the change is accepted, that is it must be responded to—which opens a whole new set of procedures to make sure you stay on track and within budget.
Change control is the process used to manage all these variables. If change happens (which it always does) then it’s crucial that you have a mechanism in place to control that process. But what is change control in project management, and what are the steps necessary to implement it?
What Is Change Control?
Change control is a methodology used to manage any change requests that impact the baseline of your project. It’s a way to capture that change from the point where it’s been identified through every step of the project cycle. That includes evaluating the request and then approving, rejected or deferring it.
The purpose of this process is to make sure that you’re not changing things in the project that don’t need to be changed. The last thing you want to do is disrupt the project for no good reason, wasting valuable time and resources. Any changed that is approved is then documented. The change control process is part of the larger change management plan.
A change request is usually the trigger that starts the process of change control. The change request can originate from stakeholders asking for new features, the need to repair something that proves faulty during the execution phase, upgrades or any number of other causes. Whatever or wherever the change comes from, change control determines its value and how to feasible implement it.
Change management procedures may vary across industries. For example, change order forms are used by construction companies to make changes to the scope of a construction project.
What Are the Benefits of a Well-Executed Change Control?
If you know that there will come a point (or many points) in your project that require a decision about some large or small change, then it’s safe to say that, as a project manager, you’ll want to have a process associated with this situation to ensure that the change is worth the effort. Then, you’ll want to have a way to manage the change to make sure it doesn’t negatively impact your project’s schedule and costs.
Managing change effectively is crucial to bringing in your project on time and within budget. But there are also unexpected benefits that come from change control. For one, it improves teamwork. Change is an opportunity for your team to work together to figure out how to respond to the change request. The teamwork involved in change control can be a boon to the productivity of the entire project.
Change control not only reinforces your team’s ability to work better together, but the positive effects bleed into overall efficiency. It works hand-in-glove with teamwork, of course. But the more you engage your team in change control, the more adept they become at solving problems quickly. This helps with the change, naturally, but will also make your team more effective in all their duties.
The team isn’t the only beneficiary of the positives related to good change control; managers are helped, too. Change control informs the project manager during the planning phase of the project. They will start thinking about change and how to better respond to it and learn from their experience with change control to put more safeguards upfront in their planning for future projects.
What Are the Downsides of Poorly Executed Change Control?
The obvious problem with not having an effective change control is that it will negatively impact your project. You’ll spend more money and waste valuable time. Having a good change control in place is really part of a larger cost avoidance process and mitigation of project risk.
Therefore, the first major pitfall of a poorly executed change control is not reaching your project goals. The project will go over budget and miss deadlines. The quality can suffer— and that’s just on the project level. The impact can also expand to an organizational level.
On the project level, outside of cost and risk, there can arise problems with the tools and technologies you use, processes getting disrupted, misleading reporting and so on. Not handling change can lead to delays, missed milestones, having to rework design and burning out your team.
The project might have to be put on hold or dismissed, which is a big hit to any organization. You can’t get resources to deal with the change, because you never planned for the inevitability of something changing. Obstacles can get in your way, and your plan was not thorough enough to anticipate them.
As for the larger organizational deficits, they can mirror what happens to the project, only on a larger scale. Productivity takes a big hit and you may start to lose team members. Those that remain are no longer working at the same level in terms of quality. This dip in morale then impacts customers, suppliers. This creates stress and fatigue, which leads to stagnation. Not a great scenario.
5 Steps to the Change Control Process
By knowing the five stages of change control and what they entail, you can make sure your project and organization can reap the benefits and avoids the pitfalls of a bad change control process. While going through this process, keep in mind these two key documents (which we provide templates for!) to help you with managing your change control: your change log and change request forms.
1. Propose Change
The first thing to do is to identify the change. This can come from anyone on the project team, a stakeholder or even a customer. There must be a channel open for these suggestions to flow. The change proposal would describe the change and how it would benefit the project or organization. If there are other reasons for the change, outline them on the change request form. That would then be added to the change log.
2. Impact Summary
Once the change has been proposed, it’s now up to the project manager to consider it in the larger context of the project. How will that change impact a number of variables? Some of the things to think about are the costs, and if there would be savings or a larger outlay of money required. What are the benefits of those cost issues? Are there any legal or regulatory constraints? How will the change impact your schedule? Will you need to employ more resources? What about other projects, and the overall business? Will the change bring new risk or issues to the project? Once the project manager has done the due diligence, they recommend the change is either approved or denied.
3. Making a Decision
The project manager makes the recommendation, but is not always the authority to make the final decision on the change. Whoever that person or those persons are, the project manager will present their findings to them. Then, the person or persons authorized to make the decision will either accept the change; accept the change, but with notes and conditions; reject the change; or defer, which means the change will not be carried forward at this time, but will be further deliberated on at a later date.
4. Make the Change
If the change is not approved, then that’s status quo as far as managing the project. However, a change that has been accepted moves on to the planning stage. You’ll develop a plan of action, including a schedule with start and end dates, all of which must meet with the approval of the project stakeholders. The plan should include a regression test in case the change proves too problematic to follow through to the end and the project must revert to its original intent. After the change plan is completed, it’s usually followed by a post-mortem to review any mishaps and successes.
Just as in any project, the final phase of your change control plan is closing it up. This includes having the person who requested the change to oversee the final deliverable and make sure they agree with it. Once they have signed off on the change, then any outstanding paperwork must be completed, such as the change log, and filed away for future use.
How Can ProjectManager.com Help Your Change Control?
ProjectManager.com is an award-winning tool that organizes teams and projects. Change control is really a sub-project of the larger project you’re managing. You need software with features to capture what might benefit from a change, plan for that change and then monitor and report on it. We can do all that and more, without you ever needing to leave our tool.
Change occurs for many reasons, but most of them are initiated by external forces. Keeping an eye on your project is one way to spot issues and respond to them before they become problems. Our real-time dashboard tracks several project metrics, calculates the data automatically and displays the results in colorful graphs and charts. Proper use of the dashboard could give you early signs about any issues your project.
Collaborate & Attach Documents
Once you’ve identified change, the next step is doing the work to determine if that change is worth pursuing or not. While the project manager will collect data and make a recommendation, the process can be facilitated by our collaborative platform. Everyone on the team has a space to comment and even attach documents and images related to the change. When the project manager has a recommendation, they can back it up to stakeholders.
If your change is approved, then comes the planning. We have an interactive Gantt chart that collects all your tasks and places them on a timeline once you’ve determined the duration of each. You can then link dependent tasks, set up milestones to break the project into phases and even assign from the Gantt. Teams can collaborate on their tasks and progress is indicated by the shading on the duration bar.
To make the change happen we have kanban boards, which visualize the workflow for the team and give managers transparency into the process. Your change control plan can be represented by cards that collect the tasks, which stack under columns that stand for each step in your production. Teams can collaborate to work more productively and managers can remove obstacles that might block them or bottleneck production.
ProjectManager.com is a cloud-based software that manages project changes with features that help you on every step of controlling your overall project. Identify what needs to change, plan the change and then track its progress all with the same tool that you’re already onboard to manage the larger project. Assume total control of project changes by taking this free 30-day trial.