Scope creep is a very well known cause of schedule and cost variances, hence most project managers are vigilant about managing change.
Fewer project managers are conscious of the accumulative costs of change analysis and yet significant effort gets consumed by team members before a change request is ever presented to a decision maker. Baselines are the output of detailed planning and, if performed correctly, change analysis should provide impact estimates at the same level of detail as the project’s original baselines – this takes a lot of effort.
Sometimes it might be the cumulative effort of analyzing a large number of requested changes over a project’s lifetime whereas other times it might be the complexity of a much smaller number of requests that adds up.
The issue with this is that there is usually no cost or schedule allocation made within approved baselines for performing such analysis.
You might consider utilizing contingency reserves to cover such analysis but that would be like using your rainy day fund to get an architectural estimate on a new sunroom for your house – when you need that money for critical roof repairs, it will not be available.
You might feel that projects run using agile methods are immune to this, but even with those, if work item changes are large or frequent, team velocity gets reduced and it takes more iterations than planned to deliver expected business value.
So what can be done?
- It’s a good idea to have an open discussion with your sponsor and other key stakeholders at project outset to help them understand that no matter how clear they feel scope is now, there will be change and they can proactively address how it will be handled.
- As budgets and timelines are being estimated, consider getting reserves approved for handling an expected level of change analysis.
- Finally, if changes are frequent or of high complexity, make sure you are asking your sponsor to approve getting a “quote for a quote” and regularly reinforcing the message that there is a cost to change analysis.
On projects, change may be inevitable, but impact from uncontrolled change analysis doesn’t have to be.