When project managers handle project change control badly, it irritates stakeholders and cause overruns on budget and duration. Fighting all changes doesn’t work and neither does accepting all of them. We’ll discuss the mistakes project managers make on change orders. Then we’ll review a methodology for doing it the right way.
On many projects, the project manager faces a never-ending stream of additions and changes. These begin five minutes after the sponsor approves the project plan and continue until five minutes before they accept the last deliverable. Watch this video of a typical change control process.
A Project Change Control Story …
Walking out to the company parking lot, you ran into the executive who was the sponsor on your current project. The sponsor said, “The project is really coming along well but I do need to add a couple of things.” They handed you a page from a yellow notepad with 35 items on it. You knew it was time to exercise project change control. But the sponsor continued, “These items are really vital to what we’re trying to achieve on our project.” How to Manage Change Order Requests
You looked down at the paper and replied “We couldn’t possibly make any additions at this point. The due date and budget are in danger now. If we keep adding things we’ll be way over.”
The sponsor said, “But these are critical! Without these additions, this whole project will certainly fail.”
You responded, “I think the project will contribute a great deal even without these items.”
The sponsor disagreed, “These were really part of the original requirements. You must have missed them.”
You replied, “I’m sorry but these items were definitely not on the original list of requirements you signed.”
The sponsor grew re-faced and retorted, ”These were part of the business plan for customer service. I don’t care what was on that long list of technical mumbo jumbo you designed. It was just geek talk that none of us understood!” Scope Change Video
You looked back down at the list and tried to calm the sponsor by saying, “Anyway, these seem to have limited business value.”
The sponsor barked, “I’m the one running this operation and I know what’s necessary. And the items on the list are essential if we’re going to maintain competitive levels of customer satisfaction.”
You took a deep breath, “We will be late if we add anything.”
The sponsor took a breath, smiled and said, “These items really won’t take much work. So they should only hurt the schedule or the budget a little. I know you can squeeze them in.”
You frowned, “That is not the case. We will have overruns. They won’t be my fault because these items were never in the approved requirements.”
The sponsor snapped, “If you won’t add these items to the project schedule, I’m going to bump this problem up the line to the VP.”
Project Change Control with Several Endings…All Bad
At this point, the project change control story could have several endings. Why Is a Scope Change Process Needed?
1. In the first ending, you said, “OK your satisfaction is my goal. We will figure out a way to squeeze these in and not finish too late. But these must be the last changes we make or we’ll have a disaster! “
The sponsor gave his solemn promise, “Absolutely! These are the last changes.” (If you’re naive enough to believe that, you can forget about project change control.)
The next week the yellow sheet of paper had 47 additions, the project finished 3 months late and you took the blame.
2. In the second ending you refused to add the additional requirements. Five hours later your boss called and angrily said, “The senior VP just chewed me out about my project managers not being responsive to our management team. Why are you stirring up trouble with your sponsor? We need his support!”
You started to explain about the changes to scope and the boss interrupted saying, “Add the damn changes…just get these people off my back.” You started to agree just as the boss slammed the phone in your ear.
The next week the yellow sheet of paper had 47 additions, the project finished 3 months late and you were blamed.
3. In the third ending, the boss listened as you said, “I’m trying to be customer-oriented but those changes could set us back a couple of months and cost lots of money.”
The boss said, “Give me a memo on exactly how much later and how much more it will cost so I can show the vice president.”
You thought for a long moment and said, “Well, it’ll take quite a bit of time to put that together.”
The boss grunted in exasperation and said, “I need something to show the vice president today. So you’d better just add the changes they want and have everybody work harder. Use your leadership skills.”
The next week the yellow sheet of paper had 47 additions, the project finished 3 months late and you were blamed for not exercising project change control.
Why Does Bad Project Change Control Happen Over and Over Again?
It happens because project managers lack the tools to exercise project change control. One key to project change control success is project planning that develops quantifiable acceptance criteria for the project scope and each major deliverable. These are not technical specs but measured business outcomes in the customer/user ’s organization. Those acceptance criteria with metrics are the foundation of project change control. That kind of scope definition lets you win the argument about whether changes are necessary for project success. That type of scope metric makes the argument about what was and what was not included go away. Everybody knows what was originally included. Then you aren’t arguing the merits of a change or whether it’s a good or bad idea (you will always lose those). Instead, you are discussing whether or not you can achieve the scope without including the change.
The second key to successful scope and project change control is using a software tool that allows you to quickly quantify the impact of a change. You can use the software to quickly estimate, and then model, exactly what effect a change will have on the project’s cost and duration. With this modeling capability, the conversation with your customer/user is quite different. Let’s see how it goes using both these tools for project change control.
Project Change Control the Right Way
The customer stepped into the your cubicle and said, “The project is really coming along well but I need to add a couple of things.” They handed you a page from a yellow notepad with 35 items on it and then continued, “These items are really vital to what we’re trying to achieve on our project.”
You looked down at the paper and said, “These are great ideas. OK, let’s quantify the added work and the added time.” The customer’s first item was additional training for customer service reps so they could discuss three new products with customers. You said, “We would have to change the training achievement from “Customer reps can answer questions about 37 products accurately 90% of the time,” to ’40 products.’ I’ll ask the trainer to give me an estimate of the hours required for the change.” You called the trainer who gave you a rough estimate of 12 additional hours of prep time on the new products and 15 additional hours of class time.
While you were writing, the customer said, “It should only take a few more minutes. Anyway, I thought these new products were in the original specs.”
You pulled out the plan for the deliverables and said, “No, here is the trainer’s work package we used for the estimate. It has 37 products.”
The customer agreed the new product training was not covered in the original project scope and plan.
You commented, “If you want to eliminate three of the original products, it would be a wash.”
The customer responded, “No, we need all 40.”
You said, “The trainer says that will add 27 hours of their time and the class itself will be longer for the attendees. You opened the project schedule on your PC and entered the additional hours. Then you leaned back and said, “As you can see, these changes would add 7 days to the project duration and would increase our costs by more than $16,000.”
The customer was surprised at the cost and said, “But these are necessary. They are good and worthwhile additions.”
You smiled and said, “I’m sure they are very good ideas or you wouldn’t have brought them to me. But our question has to be; can we hit our project’s measured achievement of, “Customer reps can answer questions about 37 products accurately 90% of the time” without them? They clearly expand the project scope and I will need to add extra time and money to accomplish what you want. That’s how project change control works.”
The customer said, “Well, I want you to include these items in the project or I will escalate the problem to the senior VP.”
You smiled again and said, “That’s appropriate because in our project change control process, it is the senior VP’s role to approve changes of this size. We have the data now so let’s go speak to the VP. We’ll ask if she is willing to expand the scope and add the cost and duration of your change. But I’ll be honest with you. I don’t think we need any of these changes to hit the original scope we committed to for this project. It’s nothing personal. I’m just trying to exercise project change control.”
A Consistent Project Change Control Methodology
You need the right tools to do project change control correctly and that means a consistent methodology. The methodology begins with the initial planning of the project and gives the you tools and processes to identify the measured business achievements the customer/user wants the project to produce. This is not just the technical specifications. The project change control methodology guides you step-by-step through the development of a dynamic schedule and budget. Those tools allow you to quickly calculate the impact of a change order so you can exercise project change control. This methodology is also used in status reporting. You do the same modeling to calculate the impact of the corrective actions that are needed to solve variances.
You can learn a methodology to effectively manage project change control in our Project Management Basics course. It is private online training where you have as many video conferences and phone calls with your instructor as you need.