If you are a project manager, you can be sure that there will be change requests. What do you do about them? There is one short answer: It depends.
It depends on the complexity of the project, time-to-market urgency for the solution, volatility of the business climate, and level of understanding of the requirements. The project leadership team needs to diagnose these elements, especially complexity, and examine approaches to manage them.
One of the critical management approaches is change control. How is change control used for projects of varying complexity?
Low-to-Moderately Complex Projects
For short-duration projects with stable requirements and few dependencies, the waterfall model is highly effective. This linear ordering of activities presumes requirements are complete before design and construction begin. It assumes that events affecting the project are predictable, tools and activities are well-understood, and once a phase is complete, it will not be revisited.
The strengths of this approach are that it lays out the steps for development and stresses the importance of requirements. The limitations are that projects rarely follow the sequential flow, and it is difficult to state all requirements up front. Therefore, once design and execution begin, change management systems are needed to:
Identify the business need and value of a proposed change;
Analyze the feasibility of change within cost and time commitments;
Recommend to accept, defer or reject the change based on the business need;
Seek approval; and
Implement approved changes.
The project leadership team needs to develop a change management plan especially if no organizational change process exists or if the project will deviate from standard processes. Tools used to successfully control changes are typically low-tech tables and spreadsheets.
Highly Complex Projects
Since complex projects are by their very nature less predictable, the project team often uses rapid prototypinga fast build of a solution component to prove an idea is feasiblefor high-risk components, requirements understanding or proof of concept. The spiral model, an iterative waterfall approach, is often used.
Another is the evolutionary development model, which implements the solution incrementally based on experience and learnings from results of prior releases. Functions are prioritized based on business value and, once high-risk areas are resolved, the highest-value components are delivered first.
This keep-our-options-open approach requires a change management system that welcomes changes that add value, and strive to reduce the cost of change. Its only necessary to control changes on the current increment, since little time has been invested in defining the scope of increments to be developed in the future.
Iterative development requires a flexible approach to change management. The project team strives to welcome and manage change, not to prevent it. Tools used to track changes for complex projects are sophisticated configuration management systems.
And then there are the mega projects. The budget on the Boston Big Dig, featuring many never-before-done engineering and construction marvels, went from US$2.6 billion to US$14.8 billion. For these projects, a conspiracy of optimism takes hold, which drives project leaders to significantly underestimate what it will take to complete the project.
Implementing an effective change management system for mega projects is difficult. Teams of people, a political management plan, a highly complicated change control process, and sophisticated tools are needed to traverse the litany of changes that are inevitable.
What is the Question?
Should we manage change, prevent change or welcome it? It depends on many things, most of all complexity, uncertainty and criticality. When your project really counts, make decisions based on the complexity of the effort.
Kathleen B. (Kitty) Hass, PMP