Ideally, project development would be a straightforward process; all necessary features of the final product would be determined at the outset, and appropriate materials and personnel would be assigned to complete the project within the allotted time. While this is the goal at the outset of any project, in reality circumstances alter, last-minute ideas are introduced, and changes are made. As a project manager, one of your responsibilities is to evaluate and implement these changes such that the project isn’t thrown into chaos by an unending flood of shifting expectations. Here are some tips for incorporating changes into a project more smoothly.
- Be involved – early and often. If possible, get involved during the earliest stages of the project development process, when the requirements and expectations of the project are first laid down. You will have the best opportunity to understand the original intent and scope of the project, which should guide the vision of everyone working on it. In addition, seeing the earliest planning stages will show you how thoroughly the details of the project were planned, which might offer hints about how many changes and additions you can expect as the project progresses. If you weren’t present from the word “go,” include a project scope analysis as part of your regular project meetings.
- Implement a change approval process. Changes, even seemingly minor ones, shouldn’t be incorporated into the project automatically. Inform project stakeholders that they must submit a change request, and that these requests should include the following:
- Who is making the request,
- the details of the requested change, and
- the priority level of the proposed change.
Once a change request has been submitted, evaluate it in terms of the impact it will have on the project as a whole. Be as thorough in this analysis as possible, paying particular attention to whether the proposed change will require more time and/or resources to implement without deterioration of the final product quality.
- Keep a change log. Note down every change request, its submitter, the date, the details of the request, its effects on the project scope, resources, and deadline, and whether it was approved or denied.
- Use online communication and collaboration tools. These tools give you access to the work your team has already completed, which is useful to review during change impact analyses to see how proposed changes will affect the work being done. Online communication tools enable important information and feedback to be conveyed quickly between you and the project team without wasting work hours in meetings. Using these tools helps you keep open your lines of communication with stakeholders, project sponsors, and the project team, minimizing incorrect assumptions about changes.
- Engage with stakeholders. When a client, sponsor, or other stakeholder feels that their concerns and ideas are going unheard, they may attempt to take those suggestions straight to your project team, circumventing the change review process. If you reject a change request, explain to the requester why this decision was made, as this helps them understand the issues at work and reduces the possibility of resentment. If you approve a change, make clear any increased resource or time requirements the new change demands.
- Keep the project’s scope in view. A proposed change might seem like a brilliant idea, but if it falls outside the scope of the project, approving it could send your project team down a rabbit hole of distraction and pile on a great deal more work to complete the suddenly-much-larger project by the deadline. Proposed feature changes that alter the scope of a project should receive much greater scrutiny than those that don’t.