Projects by their nature are delivering something new – that could be a major product such as a building, road or bridge, or a small product such as an advanced technology gadget; it could also be a new business service or a new business process. The point is that projects are not business as usual but something new and different from what has gone before.
So even though we plan the project well it is a natural consequence of the nature of projects that there will be changes during the course of the project, regardless of how small, large, simple or complex that project is.
The need for project changes can occur for many reasons, such as:
- Change in external strategies, laws and regulations.
- New or improved technology or processes coming to light after the project has started which could result in a better outcome in terms of time, cost or quality.
- Changes to customer requirements – it is common that as a project progresses inadequacies in the product/service are revealed or simply additional benefits are noticed that could be added more cost-effectively now than subsequently bolted on. Or even stakeholders just change their minds about what they want.
- New requirements as a result of changes in external markets such as a competitor producing something new with features not available in the proposed project deliverable.
So project changes are not unexpected events but they do need to be controlled and managed.
Changes will generally affect at least one key element of a project, such as:
However, just because we anticipate changes in a project doesn’t mean that every request for a change can go ahead without an analysis of the impact, a review of the options and an assessment of the feasibility of the change. If we let changes be implemented in an uncontrolled fashion then the project is likely to fail to deliver on time, or budget, or both – so we need to control changes.
All of the planning for the project that has been put in place remains valid even if changes are required so it would be counter-productive to allow uncontrolled changes that undermine the project plans. If changes are not controlled they will lead to scope creep – one of the biggest causes of projects failing to deliver on their promises.
It might, to the uninitiated, seem possible that if you implement all the changes requested by stakeholders that you could deliver exactly what they want and need. The reality, however, is more likely to be confusion, a lack of time and budget, and potentially a project disaster that delivers no coherent product or service at the end. Better something that delivers fundamentally what the client wants (albeit without bells and whistles) than one which has all the features the client wants but not at the quality levels expected and which costs too much and takes too long to deliver.
It’s clear that in order to maintain a project in which the scope is well understood by stakeholders and where the cost is well-defined, we need to control changes through a formal change control process.
However, it’s important to recognise that a change control process is not about preventing changes to the project once it is underway but rather ensuring that any changes are absolutely necessary and relevant to the business case, or that they provide additional benefits without introducing unnecessary risks or costs.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Change Control
|The project scope is well-controlled
|The process can cause delays in progress
|There is a formal process ensuring clarity on why certain decisions were made and ensuring proper record-keeping
|Users can feel the project manager is resisting making changes
|Schedule, budget and scope can be adjusted based on a detailed assessment of what is required
|A change control process takes time and money to implement properly
|Stakeholders are formally notified of changes to schedule, budget and scope
|It can be viewed as additional bureaucracy