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Formal Change-Control Process Helps Keep Complex Projects on Track

Monday, March 24, 2014/Categories: computer-consultants

With almost any complex information technology project, there are bound to be scope changes along the way. Often, the difference between a successful project and one that gets bogged down by “project scope creep” is the way those scope changes are managed.

As part of the project analysis and planning phase before work begins, it’s important for system integrators and custom programmers to establish a process for requesting and managing project changes. This change-control process would apply to any work products related to the project, including existing software, requirements specifications for new projects, project procedures and processes, or even user or technical documentation.

Addressing the scope-creep process has many benefits. For example, a documented scope-change control plan helps to:

  • Facilitate communication among stakeholders about requested changes
  • Provide a common process for resolving requested changes
  • Give project stakeholders a mechanism for reporting any problems they encounter
  • Reduce team members’ uncertainty about what becomes of requested changes

For a detailed project change-control process, as well as a helpful checklist for impact analysis of a requested project change, see the free downloads at the end of this article.

The Change-Control Board

According to project management expert Karl Wiegers, one of the first steps in the change-management process is to create a “change-control board” for each project, with the power to approve or reject proposed changes. The board should have a chairperson who has final decision-making authority and who can appoint:

  • One person as an “evaluator” to assess the impact of a proposed change
  • Another person as a “modifier” to make changes to the work product in response to an approved change request
  • Another person as a “verifier” to ensure that the change was made correctly

Any stakeholder in the project can submit issues to the project’s change-control board. Such requests might address problems with existing or beta software, suggested enhancements for current production systems, proposed requirements changes for software under development, or new development projects.

The Process
How does the change-management process work?

According to Wiegers, the change-control board chairperson assigns an evaluator to assess each issue’s feasibility, quality impact, pertinence, time and resources required for implementation, risk impact, and so on.

Based on that information, the board solicits input from others affected by the change and decides whether the requested change or fix should be made now, in the future, or not at all.

If the board chooses to make the change, the chairperson assigns a modifier and schedules the work. The project manager then negotiates any necessary changes in project commitments with the affected stakeholders. The modifier makes the necessary changes in the affected work products and informs everyone involved so that they can update the related user documentation, help screens and tests.

The project manager can then update project plans, task lists and schedules to reflect the impact of the change on the remaining project work. Once the change has been made, it’s the verifier’s job to ensure that the work is complete and accomplishes the goals approved by the board.

Throughout the process, the board members maintain a database of information about each change request’s status, time estimates and actual time spent, and other important factors and notations.

Fewer Surprises, Fewer Delays

Having a clearly defined process for handling “scope creep” requests – and a designated team to make those decisions – helps to eliminate surprises by fully analyzing the impact of a change on a product’s functionality, human resources and the budget. Reducing surprises means reducing risk, and often also improves the quality of the end product.

A well-documented process also assures all team members that every change request is taken seriously; evaluated fairly; and if chosen for implementation, seen through to completion.

By streamlining change requests and tracking their progress from start to finish, an effective change management process smoothes project implementation, reduces delays, and ultimately makes for more satisfied team members and clients.

Free downloads and other resources:

Scope-change control process PDF template
Impact Analysis Checklist for Requirements Changes
Click here for additional articles and templates on project management by Karl Wiegers.

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