Essential governance or unnecessary bureaucracy – when should we enact project change control?

Good project management doctrine indicates that the development of a change management plan during project planning can increase consistency in managing changes.  One of the most useful questions that such an artifact can answer is “When should I be enacting project change control?”

In theory, assuming baselines have been defined for key project constraints (e.g. time, cost, quality, scope), any change that is likely to impact one or more of those should be formalized.

A couple of situations that don’t align perfectly with this approach but are worth considering include:

  • A change that significantly increases the risk of a (negative) change to one of the project’s constraints or success criteria.  This is the reason why many change request forms have a section that covers the risks of proceeding with the change as well as the risks of not proceeding with the change.
  • A baseline variance that is unavoidable.  This is a common practice for internal projects – if a cost or schedule variance has occurred quite early in the life of the project, the benefits of tracking it as a variance till the end of the project might be outweighed by the team morale concerns that could further impact the project’s success.  At the end of the project it is still possible to assess the variance between actual performance and originally approved baselines, but this provides the project team with the opportunity to stay on track without feeling punished every time formal project status reports are produced.

Although these are legitimate reasons for using formal change practices, use of a change request to inform key stakeholders of other types of changes may not be worth the administrative effort and can further existing negative perceptions of project management bureaucracy.  Examples of this might be changes to the project’s cost curve (while still remaining within budget) or intermediary milestone changes with no resulting customer, cost or quality impacts.  In such cases it is better to use normal project status reporting mechanisms, or if there is a concern that the decision to make the change should be assessed, a decision request could be utilized.

While a change management plan may not seem as important as a work breakdown structure or financial forecast, effort invested in working through the appropriate level of governance up front can avoid unnecessary churn much later.

Categories: Process Peeves, Project Management | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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