When it comes to projects, change is just a fact of life. Team members take days off, technology breaks, stakeholders change their mind. The possibilities are as numerous and varied as the stars in the sky. But just because change signals a deviation from the set route, it doesn’t necessarily equal a problem, nor does it have to cause havoc. Start making the best of it with change control.
Good or bad, the key to thriving a change lies in analyzing, responding, and managing the process. This is what’s known as change control, and it’s a helpful skill to have in your back pocket. Let’s get started.
What is change control?
Change control is a methodology that helps project managers make sure change requests are properly defined, reviewed, and approved before they’re put in place. The goal is to help you make sure you’re not changing things that shouldn’t be changed, which could disrupt the project’s progress.
It starts with a request. Once that request has been approved and documented, it’s added to the larger change management plan. This kick-starts a process whereby the PM and other relevant people assess how that change will affect the project. That includes how feasible it is and how to implement it (or reject it).
Change control has five stages (which we’ll talk about in a little more detail later on):
- Change request (usually via a changelog or change request form)
- Impact analysis
What are the benefits of a change control process?
The change control process is a helpful bit of kit in the project manager’s toolbox. It’s safe to say there will always be change during a project — so it makes sense to have a process in place that makes the journey that little bit smoother. It also saves you thinking on the spot. With a proper process in place, you simply follow the approved change management process until you reach your outcome. Following a series of steps means you’re less likely to miss things you really should have considered, which could have a knock-on effect on the project’s schedule and budget.
The bottom line: Effectively managing change plays a key part in helping you finish your project on time and within budget. It also improves the efficiency with which change is handled. No flapping around here because you already have the steps laid out for you.
Another benefit to making change an integral part of your project management process is that the more you get used to processing changes, the better you become at it. And the better you are at managing change, the more open and flexible you become as a team. Change control also provides valuable learnings PMs can take forward into the next project. Having the whole process recorded means those lessons aren’t forgotten.
On the other side of the coin, not properly handling change can lead to delays, disruption, stress — or project failure. You might not be able to get ahold of the necessary resources because you’d not factored the possibility of change into your project plan. Quality might dip because workers are overstretched, customers might lose confidence… not an ideal situation.
How to implement a change control process
Change control is a simple five-step process. By having it mapped out before project kick-off, you’ll know just what to do when a team member asks for vacation or a stakeholder requests a new feature. Let’s get into it.
1. Change request (usually via a changelog or change request form)
Change requests can come from you, someone on the team, a stakeholder, or someone external — like customers or suppliers. There needs to be an official route for this change request to take, so if you don’t have one, set one up. A change request form is the most popular option here. Ideally, you will create, submit, and manage it digitally. That way the process is that little bit more streamlined (and you don’t have to worry about tracking bits of paper).
The change proposal should describe the change in as much detail as possible, including how it’ll affect the organization and the reasons for it needing to happen. Once the request has been submitted, you should add it to a change log. This is a document that records everything to do with the change — from the moment someone requests it through to resolution.
2. Impact analysis
After you propose a change, it’s up to the project manager to assess the feasibility. They’ll consider how it’ll affect the wider project and business, as well as constraints like cost and schedule impact. Here are some typical questions to ask:
- How will it impact the schedule?
- Will we need more resources?
- Is it in alignment with our business goals?
- Will it bring new risks to the project?
- Will there be quantifiable cost savings?
- Are there any legal requirements we need to think about?
- Will it impact other business activities?
Once the project manager has considered all of these questions as part of their risk assessment, they can choose to reject or accept the request.
While the project manager gets first say, there may be others involved in the decision-making process. It’s the PM’s job to relay their findings to whoever has authorization to make the final call. That person will then reject, defer, or accept the proposal, usually with caveats, instructions, or notes.
If they accept the change, it’s time to put the wheels in motion. You’ll need to develop a change implementation plan — including a schedule, which will need the approval of your seniors and stakeholders.
Interactive Gantt charts make it simple for you to collate tasks and put them all on one timeline. You can then link tasks together, add milestones and phases, and assign tasks — all from one easy-to-manage place.
Successfully closing a project is as important a part as any. It includes tying up any loose ends, getting sign-offs, running a project post-mortem, and finally finishing off the changelog and archiving it.
Change control doesn’t stand alone: Rather, it’s a part of the wider project lifecycle. For this reason, you should integrate it with the rest of your documentation as much as possible — including schedules, budget allocations, and task management.
Project management software is the gold standard when it comes to keeping an eye on your project. With Backlog, our real-time dashboard lets you track multiple metrics in real-time, all from one place. Not only that, but it collates the data into easy-to-understand diagrams and graphs, so you can see what’s going on at a glance without having to interpret reams of figures. When you’ve got multiple things going on at once, handing some of the heavy lifting to your software can make all the difference — especially when project curveballs come your way.