Project Change Control – Video

Dick Billows, PMP
Dick Billows, PMP
Dick’s Books on Amazon

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.

Project Budget - How To Handle Budget Cuts

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.”

Project change controlYou 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.

Enterprise Project Management

Dick Billows, PMP
Dick Billows, PMP
Dick’s Books on Amazon

When we talk about enterprise project management, we’re talking about the processes organizations use to initiate, plan, monitor and control, track and close projects. We also include processes to prioritize projects and allocate resources to them. Quite simply, enterprise project management is an organization’s way of doing projects. At a minimum, these processes should include:

1.) How the organization initiates projects

2.) What criteria each project needs to meet to be approved

3.) Assignment of a priority for using organizational resources.

That priority allows the important strategic projects to get first claim on the organization’s resources. Projects with a lower priority have to wait until the high priority projects have the resources they need. The organization should also have processes that project managers and sponsors follow as they plan, schedule and track their projects. That gives the organization’s enterprise project management consistent language, plans and reports. It allows everyone to work together more effectively. Evolution of Project Management in Organizations

A consistent approach produces significant benefits across all projects in terms of people understanding the role of the team member, sponsor, stakeholder and project manager. The role each of them plays is standard in terms of the decisions they make and the accountabilities they have on the project. Those consistent roles and processes allow for executives to become accustomed to the format of a project plan and a proposed schedule. That allows them to be more efficient and exacting in their review of projects.  This doesn’t mean the organization does every project exactly the same way. Most organizations have an enterprise project management protocol that differentiates between projects based on their size, scale and strategic significance. So in most enterprise project management protocols, small projects do not need as much paperwork and documentation as larger projects.

Enterprise Project Management Protocol

The enterprise project management may have a basic protocol for small projects. The project plan may be a short document with fewer than six elements such as: scope, requirements, estimates, resources, schedule and optimization. They include little, if any, risk management and the project has no additional quality processes beyond what is standard in the organization. Status reporting is very straightforward, consisting of identifying variances and explaining the proposed corrective action.

As projects get larger, the project plan grows to cover more topics. Risk management becomes increasingly important so they implement a risk management process with risk identification, qualitative analysis, quantitative analysis, risk response planning, risk tracking and monitoring. There is a formal risk response for each identified risks along with contingency plans if the risk response does not prevent the risk from affecting the project. Is Your Project in Trouble?

Organizations without enterprise-wide processes for completing projects have lower project success rates. They also have trouble getting the most important projects completed on time and within budget. Even worse, the lack of consistent project processes creates chaos in the trenches. Project managers battle each other for team members and no one manages people’s priorities and workloads.

Organizations with project failure rates above 50% have trouble surviving, particularly in tough economic times. But their efforts to improve performance often fail because they aim at the wrong problems.Why Do So Many Projects Fail?

Based on our experience with over 300 organizations, there are four keys to improving an organization’s project results.

1. The organization must control the initiation of new projects. Managers and executives can’t start a new project whenever they wish.

2. The organization must prioritize the projects so the major strategic initiatives get the resources they need.

3. The organization has to allocate resources to projects based on the priorities they have established. Without this, hundreds of “puppy projects” that produce very little benefit will use up to 40% of the organization’s project resources.

4. The organization has to use a consistent methodology for all projects that is scalable for the size and importance of the project. If not, small projects will be buried in too much paperwork. Project Failure Warning Signs

Enterprise Project Management Protocol Implementation

Implementing the enterprise project management protocol is a major effort. Project menterprise project managementanagers, sponsors, stakeholders and team members need to receive some level of training on how to play their roles. Organizations also face the problem of “cleaning out the pipeline” of in-process projects that have not been managed according to the new protocol. Often times the best approach is to simply let these projects wash themselves through the pipeline. But all projects started after a certain date must comply with the enterprise project management protocol. How to Implement a Project Management Protocol

A major implementation issue is the sophistication of the project management processes. The temptation is to go too far and insist on more project management processes than necessary. The protocol then takes too much time and people don’t do it. When organizations and their project managers go overboard with exceedingly complex processes, they get less than 10% compliance. It is better to adopt a simple system that requires relatively little additional time from sponsors, project managers and team members. The organization should implement a bare-bones enterprise project management protocol and use it for one year. After that time their executives, project managers and everyone affected by it is better able to discuss what could be added to or deleted from the protocol. They decide what to add by comparing the value of the additions to the amount of time and money they would require. Project Management Office Types

You can learn more about implementing an enterprise project management protocol in our online project management courses. You work privately and individually with a expert project manager. You control the schedule and pace and have as many phone calls and live video conferences as you wish.  Take a look at a course in your specialty.

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Project Management Process

Dick Billows, PMP
Dick Billows, PMP
Dick’s Books on Amazon

Organizations realize many benefits when they have a project management process that is consistently used by all the project managers in the organization. The process does not require a big investment in software, although some components are best done with automation. Many companies do the whole project management process on a PC. But the technical aspects are the easy part. An effective project management process gives executives control of the entire portfolio of projects and guides decision-making at all levels. Crafting the right decision-making processes for your organization and then training the executives, project managers and team members to play their parts correctly is the hard part. Enterprise Project Management Main Page

Steps in the Project Management Process

As an overview, project management begins with initiation of new projects. That is the biggest weakness in most organizations. In an effective project management process, the initiation steps include a brief document of the project’s costs, benefits and its justification. This allows the organization to make decisions about which projects to do and avoid spending time and money on losers. The one page initiation document also allows the organization to set priorities and then allocate resources based on the benefits of a project. Project Planning

Next, the executives and project manager build a project plan using templates the organization provides to minimize the paperwork. The templates also provide consistent project plans and schedules.

The last part of the process is monitoring with weekly status reporting on all projects. This provides central identification of problems and variances so they can be corrected. It sounds simple and it should be to get people to comply. How to Write a Weekly Status Report

The objective is to ensure consistency in how project managers initiate, plan, execute, monitor, control and close their projects. This is not to say that every project will be identical. However, a reasonable degree of consistency allows executives to be more efficient in reviewing project plans. It allows project managers to archive data and that is a key element in improving the organization’s project management results.

Key Components of the Project Management Process

A project management process can include many components. First, the system may provide templates project managers use to develop their business cases, project charters, project management plans, estimates, risk analyses, cost estimates, duration estimates, human resources plans, etc. The idea behind using templates is that the organization of the information is consistent across all projects. Using templates also facilitates archiving the project data for later use.  Project Plan Template

Second, consistently successful organizations don’t reinvent the wheel on every project. They archive project data and use it on subsequent projects. This requires archiving data on the actual amount of work tasks took versus the estimated amount of work. That data can be in the form of a completed work package, “lessons learned” documentation or it can be automated. In either case, the information is available for project managers to use on new projects. It can also include the risk analysis, procurement statements of work and requests for proposals from vendors on previous projects.

project management process

Accessing Data From the Project Management Process

As a  project manager starting a new project, you must put together a great deal of information. You can save a great deal of time if the organization has a mature project management process. You can start by going through the archives of previously completed projects to identify ones that are similar as a whole or that have major deliverables similar to what you anticipate in the new project. Then you evaluate that data from the previous projects.
For example, let’s say one of the archived high-level deliverables was a modification to a financial system that is similar but a bit simpler than the modification required for your new project. That doesn’t mean you can’t use the data from that project. It simply means that you’ll have to adjust the work estimates upward to account for the additional complexity of the new project. You’ll also review the risk analysis from the previous project to see if any of the risks, analyses and responses can be used on your new project. Additionally, you’ll review any procurements, stakeholder analysis, human resources plans, etc. to determine if you can modify the work previously done and save a great deal of time. Lessons Learned Documentation

Implementing a Project Management Process

As organizations strive to improve their project performance and become consistently successful, one of the least expensive steps that produces significant benefits is implementing a project management process. This requires the project sponsors and project managers to agree on the steps and templates to be used as well as the data elements to be archived in the system.  The use of templates and archived data have the largest impact and start paying benefits in as little as three months. Other elements can be added to the project management system to achieve consistency in status reporting, scheduling, variance reporting and change control.

You can learn more about using an effective project management process in our online project management courses. You work privately and individually with a expert project manager. You control the schedule and pace and have as many phone calls and live video conferences as you wish.  Take a look at the course in your specialty.

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Project Lessons Learned

The project lessons learned process is ineffective in most organizations. One project after another suffers from the same mistakes.  What is even worse is that the bigger the project failure, the less likely they are to learn from it.  The same issues that cause a project to fail also prevent the people involved from learning from the failure. Organizations need processes to make sure they don’t relive project failures. Let’s take a look at a typical project lessons learned session and then talk about the right way to do it.

Dick Billows, PMP
Dick Billows, PMP
Dick’s Books on Amazon

Project Lessons Learned: Poking Through the Wreckage

You shuffled into your project lessons learned session, sick and tired of political games and finger-pointing. Twenty minutes later, you trudged out with the voices still echoing in your head:

  • “You’re responsible for us finishing late!”
  • “Me? You kept making changes. I’m surprised we ever finished!”
  • “You still aren’t finished; the garbage you gave us still doesn’t work!”
  • “What? We gave you what you asked for! But you didn’t train your people to use it”
  • “They need PhD’s to use what you built!”

You walked down the hall knowing this was your fault.  Sure, there were a few jerks involved and it would be easy to blame them. But a good project manager should be able to structure things to make even the jerks productive team members.

Even though scenes like this repeat themselves after every project, many organizations don’t improve their processes for doing projects. The same problems wreck one project after another.  But there is an alternative. What you need is a lessons learned process that gives the project managers an opportunity for continuous improvement.  The time you invest in your lessons learned process can positively affect projects that are underway. It can also reinforce the use of a consistent project management methodology.  You build the project lessons learned process in the following three stages. Lessons Learned Project Management

Project Lessons Learned: Stage 1 – Pre-Launch Peer Review

Our 4PM clients have increased their success by using peer reviews of projects that are nearing launch. That sounds fancier than it is. In this first stage of the project lessons learned process, project managers get feedback on a their plans from other PMs.  They have a meeting (in-person or online) to discuss a recent plan. That gives PMs the chance to share ideas and renew their understanding of the methodology.

The pre-launch stage is a busy time for project managers but it’s also the point at which correcting mistakes is least expensive.  The process is straightforward. The other project managers review the user’s or client’s business situation.  Then they Project Lessons Learnedindependently critique the project’s plan, scope, requirements, WBS, charter, accountability structure, team member assignments and the schedule.  Reviewing several project plans doesn’t take the other PM’s very long if the organization’s project management methodology emphasizes thinking , not creating paperwork.

In the project lessons learned session itself, the other PM’s ask questions and offer ideas. The project manager whose work is under review may or may not take them but they get the benefit of the ideas and opinions of other people engaged in the same type of work.  Every project manager suffers from tunnel vision as he or she works through the development of a detailed plan.  The thinking of other project managers who are not buried in all the detail is very helpful.  It’s easier for them to spot any disconnects between the user’s/client’s business problem and the project plan details.  It’s important to keep this conversation focused on “Are we doing the right project for this business problem?” and “Does the planned control process make sense for the desired business result and resources involved?”  The conversation should be at that high level and not sink into a technology debate.

Project lessons learned sessions  are effective in building consistency in the use of a project management methodology.  Compliance with project management standards tends to slip under the pressure of all the work to be done just prior to launch.  But when project managers know their peers will be reviewing their work, they comply at a point in the lifecycle where comments from the project office or standards people might otherwise be brushed aside. These pre-launch peer reviews are ideal for reinforcing the organization’s project management methodology.  You have the right people gathered and you’re dealing with real business situations and projects, not theoretical ideals.  So these sessions are good opportunities to renew people’s skills in using the organization’s project management methodology.

Project Lessons Learned: Stage 2 – Portfolio Management & Change Control 

The second stage in the project lessons learned process is regular (usually weekly) review of project variances. This can be at the end of the weekly status report or team meeting and after you have defined corrective acProject Meeting Rescuetion for the variances. You review the variances again and focus on how to avoid them in the future. You also identify other tasks or people who are likely to encounter the same issue so it can be avoided. The focus is on ways to avoid a repeat. It does not take long to identify the options.

To accomplish this project lessons learned review, the project methodology must give you a reliable method of identifying changes to the approved baseline schedule. You need a methodology that gives you objective measures of project progress plus the work and cost estimates to measure the variance.

Project Lessons Learned: Stage 3 – Project Team Culture and Leadership Style

The last stage of the project lessons learned is the periodic assessment of your leadership style and the culture of the project team. The work attitudes and effectiveness of the team members are strongly influenced by your leadership behavior. Even a professional team may suffer in silence about the project manager’s leadership and not take the risk of providing constructive feedback. Frank feedback is very useful so you have to make it safe for them to give it.

An effective technique is to ask the team to have lunch together once a quarter.  You don’t attend but you ask them to a write a summary of their consensus of your strengths and weaknesses. You should digest the information but not ask questions about it.  Most importantly you should not make them justify any of their negative findings. That makes you seem defensive. Good project managers act on negative feedback and make improvements. Bad PMs can’t handle the criticism so they dismiss it, learn nothing and never improve. Lessons Learned Questions

Project Lessons Learned: Summary

The three-stage project lessons learned process for project management improvement is an important element in moving the organization toward delivering consistently successful projects.  It also can contribute to developing consistently effective project managers.  We include this project lessons learned process in our project management methodology so organizations and their PMs get better over time and don’t repeatedly relive failures.

You can enhance your PM skills and master the project lessons learned process in our online project management courses. You work privately with a expert project manager. You control the schedule and pace and have as many phone calls and live video conferences as you wish.  Take a look at the courses in your specialty.

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