Taking the Panic Out of Project Change Management
By Jack Howard
As a Project Manager, one of the most intimidating moments of your career is when you have to present a change request with significant budget and schedule impacts. It’s naturally uncomfortable, because you could be asking your sponsor to spend more than they expected to get something later than they wanted. However these kinds of situations don’t have to be the panic-inducing frenzy that they often seem to be. Just focus on these steps to keep the situation under control:
- Firmly establish a baseline scope – most projects suffer from scope ambiguity, which emasculates your leverage when it comes to dealing with change. The lack of a baseline project scope puts any future change up for interpretation. Define the goals, objectives, characteristics and requirements for your project and you’ll have a foundation upon which to manage change. Continue to refine scope throughout the project and reinforce after each major deliverable that a change from the most recent deliverable will result in a change request. Keep asking the simple questions and leave as little as possible to be open to interpretation.
Don’t ever say “no” to change – one of the simplest reactions to the stress of project change is to blindly reject it. If a request is out of scope, it’s possible to think that the responsible thing to do as a project manager is to toe the line and stay true to the baseline scope. However, what if the change is justified and must be addressed to achieve the business objectives of the project? In that case, your rejection of the change is an encumbrance to progress… not responsible project management. Also, make sure you acknowledge and communicate that the request is a change to the baseline scope. Long lags between the identification of a scope change and the presentation of the change request never go over well.
Find the root cause of imminent change – In many cases, a change request comes in the form of a proposed solution to an undefined problem. A good project manager will assess the cost/schedule impact to that specific change. A great project manager will understand the root cause of that change and begin to establish alternative options to address the driver at hand. Not only does this position you as a project thought leader, but it also makes your imminent change request easier to manage because you will be providing your sponsor with options.
Propose alternatives to the stakeholder – Nobody wants to be faced with an ultimatum, so don’t put your stakeholders in that situation. By now you should have a mature definition of scope and you’ve gained an understanding of the reason for the requested change. Get your team together and brainstorm options on how to achieve the business objective behind the change. These options will probably include an increase in funding/schedule, cannibalizing existing lower value scope, or deferring the requested change until Phase II. All of your options will have pros and cons, and your sponsor will appreciate the effort the team put in to both solve their problem and keep them out of being backed into a corner.
As long as all of your change request options keep the project balanced, then you can’t lose.
Jack Howard is an experienced leader who thrives in a competitive environment and quickly emerges as a top performer. Jack Howard is currently the Engagement Director at Ciber North America. Ciber helps clients solve problems and grow by driving tangible business results from their technology investments.