Change Happens - Project Management

There's an old saying that says nothing is certain but change. This certainly applies to your projects. I've never had the experience of working on a project that went from Initiation to Closing according to the original project plan with making any changes. You need to be flexible when dealing with change, communicate the change properly, and know when to say no.

The Controlling life-cycle process is about managing change. As you progress through this process, team members, stakeholders, and customers will request changes. You'll measure and inspect project performance, which may also turn up the need for change or require some action to get the project back on track. Let's take a closer look at how changes come about on projects. If you understand how or why changes come about, it will help you to come up with good change control procedures to manage the process, which we'll cover in the next section.

How Changes Come About

Changes occur for many reasons. Some changes are requested by stakeholders and team members, and others come about as a result of measurements and inspections performed during the course of the project. Here are some of the ways changes may occur on the project. This isn't an exhaustive list, but it should get you thinking about the ways changes occur so that you can then figure out how to deal with them when they do.

Stakeholder and customer requests:Stakeholders and customers may request changes to the requirements of the project, they may ask for the project schedule to be shortened, they may add new deliverables, or they may have other requests that impact the project. Stakeholders and customers never seem to be short of ideas for project change.

Project team member requests: As the project progresses, team members may recommend changes as they discover more efficient ways of doing the tasks. They may recommend ways to change the process to shorten the schedule or ways to combine tasks for better efficiency.

Key members leaving the project:Team members who leave the project can cause changes to the project. Their expertise may be such that their departure will hold up the progress of the project until another expert can be hired or found. This requires a change to the project schedule.

Budget cuts:Budget cuts mean the scope, schedule, resource allocation, or quality aspects of the project have to change.

Organizational changes: Reorganizations and realignments of business units can bring about changes to the project. These types of change usually delay the project schedule. New senior management personnel can also change the direction of the project. This one's even a potential project killer.

Measurement and inspection:Errors discovered during inspection processes in the Controlling cycle will necessitate changes to correct the process and will impact the project. Variances in measurements, processes, or controls will likely force changes as well.

Indirect changes:Changes may occur to the project indirectly as a result of implementing contingency plans or risk response plans. Also be on the lookout for changes that team members make without telling you. They may be doing a favor for a stakeholder or end user and decide to make a change without telling anyone else. While you don't want to discourage good working relationships between the team and stakeholders, you do want to make sure that everyone knows and follows the established change control process. Undocumented changes can add up and eventually will impact the schedule or the budget.

Responding to Change

Many people do not like change. We all have different tolerances for change, and some adapt better than others. As a general rule, folks like the status quo. Keep this in mind when working with your project team regarding changes. Change, whether its impacts are positive or negative, can have a demoralizing effect on the team. The last thing you want to have happen at this stage of the project is to kill the team's motivation.

Let your team members know that there is a process in place to document and approve changes and that only valid changes will be approved, because they want to be assured that you're not going to jump every time someone suggests a change and derail their hard work. Be certain to document the justification for the change and share that with the team. Team members should clearly understand the need for the change and how it's going to be implemented and incorporated into the project. But if changes keep coming their way without any communication from you, they may throw up their hands and say, "What are we doing this for?" If they begin to feel that their efforts are in vain, they'll lose their motivation and will no longer maintain their commitment to the goals of the project. Remember those bad attitudes that we talked about? Here's where they'll really catch on and spread if you're not careful to communicate well with the team and support them.

Note:Honesty is the best policy when explaining changes to the team. Don't make the changes out to be worse than they really are, but don't keep bad news from the team either. They'll find out some other way, and then you'll have to deal with a loss of credibility as well as with the impact of the changes.

Explain the changes to the team in full detail and don't cover up unpleasant news. Help them understand the impact on the project and let them know you're in this with them to make it work. Include the team in the brainstorming sessions to work through alternatives to deal with the changes. Let them know that you support the changes and that you support their ideas as well. Then rally their support for the changes.

As the project manager, you'll want to keep change to a minimum whenever possible. We'll talk about how to assess the impacts of change later in this chapter. First, let's look at the mechanics of the change control process and how change requests are generated.

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