How to keep projects on track when plans change
Change is certain, progress is not. As an inevitable part of any process, change directly influences a project’s life cycle and chances of success. This is why project managers need to consider this factor as early as possible, so they know what to do when plans change and, thus, keep the project on track in spite of it. In other words – following the adage ”prevention is better than cure”, building a change control system in advance is the best way to handle the actual occurring modifications.
However, there are times when unprecedented or unpredictable circumstances interfere and might take even the most prepared PMs by surprise. Hence, we created this blog post to provide guidance on how you can establish a change management process (if your company doesn’t already have one) and take the best action to ensure project delivery.
Effective change control – steps to take when plans change
Change control is a formal process that provides a set of specified measures which project teams can use to adapt the scope of the project when modifications occur. Anything that would impact the development and quality of a project counts as an element of change (time, budget, workforce etc.).
With parameters varying from one project to another, it is natural that change management would require different courses of action specific to each case. However, a straightforward and efficient change control process typically includes the following steps:
- Defining the change request
- Assessing the change request
- Proposing recommended ways to proceed
- Final decision – the approval or declination of the request
1. Defining the change request
A change request is the documentation used to solicit an alteration and can be as simple as an email or as complex as a formal document. The one who initiates the actual request needs to explain it so that all parties involved understand it well enough to define it. Here are the supporting elements of a change request:
- Actual request – a statement of the need that clearly outlines the change item for the project team to analyze;
- Reason for the request – the customer and business impact caused if the request is not accepted or completed;
- Conditions of success – the effects and results expected from the change request;
- Expected completion – an expected due date for the item, provided by the requester not as an ultimate deadline, but as a reference point for the project team to consider when defining options;
- Expected value – the explanation for why the request is necessary.
2. Assessing the change request
Once the request is documented, it is then submitted to the project team for review. The submittal can be done either informally (through email) or formally (memo or meeting). The former method is usually employed for simple requests, whereas the latter provides the proper context for complex requests to be reviewed, questions to be asked and decisions to be facilitated.
This step actually involves two phases:
- the clear presentation of the request with a focus on project budget regarding materials, any relevant permit requirements, man-hours, time lost/gained; during this meeting the expected turnaround time should also be discussed and set.
- the project team’s review followed by discussions and feedback on the request.
3. Proposing recommended ways to proceed
The next step requires project teams to define at least two viable options based on the reviewed change request and create a response document. The document goes to the client, along with the data points below:
- Option number and name
- Proposed solution – suggesting how to respond to the change request; it can vary from a technical direction to the justification why this approach is put forward
- Proposed timeline – the sequence of events and their estimated duration throughout the change process; it helps the customer leverage when deciding which of the options presented by the team is optimal.
- Impacts to the project – an essential part of the response document, it explains the costs, the impact on the timeline and resources, and potential quality results. Does the team have to get additional people? Do the existing resources need to add or remove time on the project? All of these aspects should be outlined clearly so that the customer can make an informed decision.
- Expiration date for proposed changes – setting a timeframe for the client to respond to the options presented. This helps create urgency in the process.
4. Final decision – the shareholders’ approval or declination of the request
The shareholders provide feedback on the submitted change control response document. Depending on whether the shareholders’ decision has been a timely or a delayed one, the following scenarios can result:
- Timely feedback (observing the timeframe specified in the Change Control Response document) – the shareholders communicate which of the suggested options is optimal and its implementation begins, with the right teams being delegated to carry out the corresponding tasks. If none of the recommendations are found viable, the whole process restarts.
- Delayed feedback (exceeding the specified timeframe) – the project team re-evaluates the initial plan to determine if too much development has occurred to support the recommendations, or if the delay has caused any other impacts. Based on the findings, the Change Control Response document is updated or even redone (all of the above steps are replicated with new proposals).
No matter which of the two cases above applies, the final decision needs to be unanimously approved so that an official change management process be instated and endorsed along the way.
Supporting tools and components for enabling change control processes
To ensure the consistent and effective management of change and expectations, a project manager often relies on supporting activities and tools. Given the variety of existing businesses and projects, it’s only natural that a diverse range of structures and frameworks be developed for this purpose.
However, some of the most suitable ones in this respect are:
- Product or business roadmaps
- Readiness assessments
- Continuous improvement plans
- Business cases
- Training tutorials
- Measurement and analytics reports
Choosing the right change management tool makes this process easier and more streamlined. So, when researching which of the available ones is best, you should make sure it will allow you to:
- Create a clear timeline of what needs to be done, when and by whom
- Update the existing workflow with new data in real time when necessary
- Show duration of tasks and track their progress
- Customize the plan to reflect the specifics of your project
- Easily share and communicate the established agenda
During times of change, swift adaptation to the evolving context and clear communication of the measures required to sustain re-adjustment and progress become key. An effective change control process in place and a tool that saves you time, allows you to document the steps along the way and quickly update changing plans will make this possible.
Natively built in PowerPoint, the Office Timeline add-in is a simple-to-use yet powerful project management tool which lets you automatically transform complex data into presentation-ready timelines and roadmaps. Use its varied gallery of templates and customizing functionalities to create clear yet content-rich visuals, and its intuitive interface to update them when plans change. Try out its free version to experience the easiness with which timelines come to life, or discover the Pro Edition, which unlocks extra features for more sophisticated results.