Change management is arguably one of the most important project management processes. Change is at the heart of every project. All projects seek to bring about positive, measurable changes. In order for these changes to be the most impactful and successful that they can be, it is important to control and manage them. This article will explore the basics of change management, why it is important and the appropriate process for controlling change.
What is change management?
The Association for Project Management defines change management as ‘The overarching approach taken in an organisation to move from the current to a future desirable state using a coordinated and structured approach in collaboration with stakeholders’.
Essentially, change management is the management and control of change within an organisation or project. The management of change will be controlled by a process and will consider the impact of a change on the organisation or project.
We can think about change management at two levels:
- The organisational level
- The project level
At the organisational level, change management considers the impact of the change on organisational processes and operations. It will also consider whether the change fits with the organisational strategy and values, beyond just the immediate impact of changes. Change management at the organisational level requires thinking about change beyond an individual project. A project manager will need to consider the impact of their project (the change) on the wider organisational processes and people.
At the project level, change management utilises the change control process. Changes to a project will require careful management due to their potential to impact on key project factors, such as schedules, budgets and project completion. Managing change at the project level is more focused on immediate impacts and will also account for the impact of the change on the ability to achieve the project aims and benefits.
At its most basic level, change management ensures that changes that are brought about as a result of the project, or changes that will impact on the project baseline, can be handled in a procedural way.
Our ultimate guide to project management provides a more in-depth study of change management.
Change management and change control
At the early stages of project management study, you may hear the term change control used alongside change management. It is important to understand the relationship and difference between change management and change control.
Change control is a process that is part of change management. As explained above, change management encompasses changes at an organisational level, thinking about the impact of change on each part of the organisation. Change control itself stands alone as a process and is focused on managing and controlling changes within a project.
Why is change management important?
Change must be carefully managed to ensure that it is feasible, reasonable and desirable. We can assess these criteria as follows:
- Feasible – It should be possible for the change to be made within the timeline of the project or the timeline of the project component. If a change cannot feasibly be made, its necessity to the project should be carefully evaluated.
- Reasonable – The change should be reasonable and fall within project scope or align with the strategic intent of the organisation. A reasonable change can also be linked to feasibility – an unreasonable amount of time, money or resources invested would make the change unfeasible.
- Desirable – The change should be wanted. Any changes to the project baseline should be adjusting the project processes to achieve further improvement. Further, any changes to organisational operations should improve or add to existing processes. It is important that the change will be worth the efforts invested.
If change is not managed appropriately, issues may arise that impact the project and the wider organisation, and we might see some detrimental outcomes.
Potential negative outcomes of poor change management
- The change falls outside of the scope of the project.
Project scope should be clearly defined at the project outset as part of the project management plan. If changes are approved without due consideration, this may result in the project exceeding its scope. This might mean that unnecessary resources, time and cost are invested in an uncontrolled and unnecessary change.
- Not everyone is aware of the change.
If you make a change without following a change management or control process, you might find that not everyone is aware of the change that has been introduced. This can have particularly negative impacts if you rely on external contractors for materials or other services. If they are not provided with updated plans, they will simply work to the plans they were given originally. Additional work, time and cost then needs to be invested to rectify any issues.
- The change has a knock-on effect.
Making one change may result in an impact on other parts of the project. If you make a change and do not evaluate the impact of it, you might find that there are issues at later stages of the project. This could even be as severe as project components being totally incompatible, with extensive rework required.
- The change doesn’t align with the overall strategy.
Individual projects will form part of an overall strategy. Whether this is as a standalone project or as part of a programme, there is going to be a reason for undertaking the project. Making a change that doesn’t align with the overall strategy – or impacts the project in such a way that the project no longer aligns with the overall strategy – may mean that the viability of the entire project is called into question.
- The change doesn’t fit with stakeholder expectations.
When a project is set out, stakeholders will have certain expectations about what it will entail. If we introduce a change that is not managed, it can result in a disruption to stakeholder expectations. This can be damaging, as it indicates that you are not responsibly informing your stakeholders about changes and suggests that the opinion of your stakeholders is not important to your project.
The importance of change management should not be understated. Change management ensures that you can avoid the issues above. A change management process provides a clear understanding of how changes can be requested and the process that will be followed in evaluating requested changes. Not only will this aid you as the project manager, but it will provide confidence to stakeholders of your oversight and involvement in managing change.
The change control process
Where change management is the overall process of managing change, change control is the process of controlling specific changes within a project. The steps provide a useful framework for controlling change.
In the early stages of your project management career, following a set process can aid your understanding and confidence whilst you build experience. The Association for Project Management has outlined a useful change control process which you might like to use on your own projects. As you gain experience, you may like to tailor the process to your organisation or project, but this is a good starting point.
Steps in a basic change control process
- Log change request
The first step in the process is to receive and record the change request. It is important to record every request, so that you have a clear paper trail if there are queries about a request.
- Initial evaluation
Once the change has been recorded, it should undergo an initial evaluation. The intent of the initial evaluation is to determine whether the change is worth pursuing. At the initial evaluation stage, stakeholder views and buy-in should be assessed and the general viability of the change considered. This stage exists to avoid investing significant time and energy in a change that was never going to be feasible for the project.
- Detailed evaluation
The detailed evaluation is the point at which the full impacts of the change are reviewed. This could include impacts on the schedule, budget, quality, interrelated products, resources and any other factors that are integral to the project. The detailed evaluation needs to consider whether the business case can still be achieved, and the benefits set out in it realised, if this change is introduced.
From the detailed evaluation, a recommendation can be made. This recommendation will be one of three options: approve, reject or defer. If the change is approved, you will need to update the plans and implement the change. If it is rejected or deferred, justification will need to be provided and the change may be reviewed by the proposer.
- Update plans
If the change has been approved, plans will need to be updated. The change should be incorporated into all aspects of the project, updating everything to include the change. This means providing new schedules and budgets, revising work and product breakdown structures if needed and planning resource requirements. It is then essential that the new plans are circulated to everyone that requires them to ensure that the change is integrated smoothly into the project.
- Implement change
Once the plans have been updated, the change can be implemented. The updated plans should be used to carry out the appropriate work.
We hope this article has given you a clearer understanding of the basics of change management and how to implement a change control process. As we have explored, change management is an essential project process and can be critical to project success. The change control process can be applied to changes within a project to ensure that the full impact of a change is considered and planned for. By using change management and incorporating it into every project that you run, you will find that changes to your project are much more focused and are far more likely to enhance project outcomes.