Here’s a trick question – would you apply formal project change control before you have approved scope, schedule and cost baselines? Your gut feel might be to say “no” – after all, change impacts need to be assessed against a basis for comparison.
However, contemplate this situation.
You are managing a large, complex project which is following a traditional, waterfall approach.
Detailed planning activities have been underway for quite a while and based on your forecast of work remaining, it appears certain that you will miss the originally stated timeframes for having established baselines. The level of effort being expended by core team members is also greater than was expected for planning. Requirements refinement and the resulting impacts of this on scope decomposition and solution design are the primary cause of this variance.
At this point, you have few options but to bring the variance to the attention of your sponsor and, with the assistance of your project team, develop and present recommendations which will either bring the project back on track (usually at the cost of scope), or request an extension to the expected timelines and budget for planning. Neither is likely to result in an elated sponsor…
A different approach to consider in those cases where project complexity suggests that detailed planning may be prolonged is to define approved limits up front on the cost and timelines for the development of approved baselines. Those limits should be based on a preliminary high-level understanding of the project’s scope. As detailed planning progresses, if the team forecasts that the work required is going to exceed those limits due to a significant change in expected scope, a decision request should be brought to the appropriate governance team’s attention to formalize the additional work before it commences.
Effectively you are applying the principles of project change control in advance of the existence of an approved change management plan and approved baselines.
If this feel like a bureaucratic inevitability given the conceptual nature of your project’s scope, consider whether applying agile principles might lead to a better outcome. While not a panacea, if the appropriate prerequisites and behavioral mindset are in place, they might provide a good alternative to “death by change control”.