Risk management framework: Change Control Management

A major element of the risk control process is change management. Every detail of a project plan will not materialize as expected. Coping with and controlling project changes present a formidable challenge for most project managers.

A major element of the risk control process is change control management. Every detail of a project plan will not materialize as expected. Coping with and controlling project changes present a formidable challenge for most project managers. Changes come from many sources such as the project customer, owner, project manager, team members, and occurrence of risk events.

Most changes easily fall into three categories:

  1. Scope changes in the form of design or additions represent big changes; for example, customer requests for a new feature or a redesign that will improve the product.
  2. Implementation of contingency plans, when risk events occur, represent changes in baseline costs and schedules.
  3. Improvement changes suggested by project team members represent another category.

Because change is inevitable, a well-defined change control and review process should be set up early in the project planning cycle.

Change Control Structure

Change management systems involve reporting, controlling, and recording changes to the project baseline.(Note: Some organizations consider change control systems part of configuration management.) In practice most change management systems are designed to accomplish the following:

  1. Identify proposed changes.
  2. List expected effects of proposed change(s) on schedule and budget.
  3. Review, evaluate, and approve or disapprove changes formally.
  4. Negotiate and resolve conflicts of change, conditions, and cost.
  5. Communicate changes to parties affected.
  6. Assign for implementing change.
  7. Adjust master schedule and budget.
  8. Track all changes that are to be implemented.

As part of the project communication plan, stakeholders define up front the communication and decision-making process that will be used to evaluate and accept changes.

The process can be captured in a flow diagram like the one presented in the figure below.

change control
Change Control

On small projects this process may simply entail approval of a small group of stakeholders. On larger projects more elaborate decision-making processes are established, with different processes being used for different kinds of change.

For example, changes in performance requirements may require multiple sign-offs, including the project sponsor and client, while switching suppliers may be authorized by the project manager.

Regardless of the nature of the project, the goal is to establish the process for introducing necessary changes in the project in a timely and effective manner.

Of particular importance is assessing the impact of the change on the project. Often solutions to immediate problems have adverse consequences on other aspects of a project.

For example, in overcoming a problem with the exhaust system for a hybrid automobile, the design engineers contributed to the prototype exceeding weight parameters.

It is important that the implications of changes are assessed by people with appropriate expertise and perspective.

On construction projects this is often the responsibility of the architecture firm, while “software architects” perform a similar function on software development efforts.

Organizations use change request forms and logs to track proposed changes. Typically change request forms include a description of the change, the impact of not approving the change, the impact of the change on project scope/schedule/cost, and defined signature paths for review as well as a tracking log number.

An abridged version of a change request template can be found following the link. These logs are used to monitor change requests. They typically summarize the status of all outstanding change requests and include such
useful information as source and date of the change, document codes for related information, cost estimates, and the current status of the request.

Every approved change must be identified and integrated into the plan of record through changes in the project WBS and baseline schedule. The plan of record is the current official plan for the project in terms of scope, budget, and schedule. The plan of record serves as a change management benchmark for future change requests as well as the baseline for evaluating project progress.

Key to a Successful Change Control System

If the change control system is not integrated with the WBS and baseline, project plans and control will soon self-destruct. Thus, one of the keys to a successful change control process is document, document, document! The benefits derived from change control systems are the following:

  1. Inconsequential changes are discouraged by the formal process.
  2. Costs of changes are maintained in a log.
  3. Integrity of the WBS and performance measures is maintained.
  4. Allocation and use of budget and management reserve funds ale tracked.
  5. Responsibility for implementation is clarified.
  6. Effect of changes is visible to all parties involved.
  7. Implementation of change is monitored.
  8. Scope changes will be quickly reflected in baseline and performance measures.

Clearly, change control is important and requires that someone or some group be responsible for approving changes, keeping the process updated, and communicating changes to the project team and relevant stakeholders.

Project control depends heavily on keeping the change control process current. This historical record can be used for satisfying customer inquiries, identifying problems in post-project audits, and estimating future project costs.

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