Scope changes are so common in IT projects that many IT project managers have learned to expect them and simply take them in stride. But there’s no reason to let “project scope creep” slow your implementation down. Starting out with a good plan for managing scope changes can help you keep your project on track and your clients happy.
While you’re still in the early project analysis and planning phase, it’s a good time to outline a defined process for managing any requested project changes. The change-control process you develop can apply to all work products related to the project, including existing software, requirements specifications for new projects, project processes and procedures, or even your technical documentation.
There are many benefits to creating a methodology that keeps you one step ahead of scope creep. For example, a documented scope-change control plan helps to:
- Open the lines of communication among project stakeholders regarding requested changes
- Establish a common process for resolving requested changes
- Give team members a forum to report any problems they encounter
- Keep project contributors informed about the progress of their requested changes
For a detailed project change-control process, as well as a handy checklist to assist with the impact analysis of requested project changes, see the free downloads at the end of this article.
Create a Change-Control Board
According to project management expert Karl Wiegers, at the heart of the change-management process is a “change-control board” that’s responsible for approving or rejecting proposed changes for each project. Leading this board is a chairperson who has final decision-making authority. The chairperson is responsible for appointing:
- An “evaluator” to assess the potential impact of a proposed change
- A “modifier” to revise the work product according to an approved change request
- A “verifier” to ensure that the change was made appropriately
The change-management plan should include a process by which any stakeholder involved in a project can submit ideas or issues to the project’s change-control board. These requests might range from identified problems with existing or beta software, to ideas for enhancing current production systems, suggested requirement changes for in-progress software, or even entirely new development projects.
The Change-Management Process
A well-defined process for managing and tracking changes makes it easier for the project team to juggle multiple priorities at once. From the outset, the board should create and continually update a database or spreadsheet detailing each change request’s status, time and resource estimates, actual time spent, and other important notes.
In creating a change-management process, Wiegers suggests that the change-control board chairperson first assign an evaluator to consider whether the issue in question:
- Is feasible
- Is pertinent to the project
- Would positively or negatively affect quality
- Carries any risk
The evaluator should also assess the amount of time and resources required to implement the change. Once the evaluator has reported back to the board, the group can solicit input from other people who would be affected by the change. Then, as a group, the board can decide whether the requested change should be made immediately, later, or not at all.
If the board approves the change, the chairperson then appoints a modifier who will implement the changes, and schedules the work. It’s the IT project manager's role to negotiate any revisions to project commitments with all affected team members. The modifier then makes the requested changes to the products, keeping all team members aware of the changes so any related user documentation, help screens and tests can be updated.
It’s also the IT project manager’s job to update project plans and schedules, if necessary, to incorporate the effect of the change on the remaining project timeline. Once the change has been implemented, the verifier steps in to confirm that the task is complete and has accomplished the goals approved by the board.
Reducing Surprises, Reducing Risk
Establishing a clear methodology for handling “scope creep” requests – and a board to make informed decisions about them – reassures all stakeholders that their change requests are thoroughly evaluated and, if selected for implementation, seen through to completion. Because the change-management process provides a complete analysis of the impact of a change on the product’s functionality as well as related resources, it helps to reduce risk by reducing the possibility of unwanted surprises.
By staying on top of change requests and carefully managing and tracking their implementation, you and your project team can expect a smoother implementation, fewer delays, a better quality product, more effective teamwork, and a happier client.
Free downloads and other resources:
Impact Analysis Checklist for Requirements Changes
Click here for additional articles and templates on project management by Karl Wiegers.
Brenna Lemieux - check her out at Google+ or Twitter