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Keep projects on track with a change control board

The scope of almost any software development project is bound to change over the course of implementation. How you manage this inevitable "project scope creep" can mean the difference between success and failure.

Establish a change control process for your project

To protect your relationship with clients and prevent lawsuits over cost overrun and other contract disputes, it’s best to address project scope creep before it actually happens.

Before your business dives into a new project for a client, introduce a process for requesting and managing project changes. Managing changes to things like product specifications, software, procedures and processes, or even documentation can keep a project on track.

There are plenty of benefits to establishing a standard practice for scope changes before they occur.

An effective change control process:

  • Increases transparency around project changes
  • Introduces a mechanism for reporting bugs and other issues
  • Creates a common process for resolving requested changes
  • Reassures team members that their requests are taken seriously

See an example of a potential standard change control process [PDF] from the Berkeley Operational Excellence Program Office. Your business can adopt this checklist – or change control software – to manage project scope creep.

Assign a change control board

Project management expert Karl Wiegers encourages businesses to set up a change control board for your project as part of the change control process.

A change control board includes stakeholders from your business or your client’s business who have the power to approve or reject proposed changes.

The board might consist of:

  • A chairperson to appoint other members and make final decisions
  • An evaluator to assess the impact of a proposed change
  • A modifier to make changes to the work product in response to an approved change request
  • A verifier to ensure that the change was made correctly

Anyone from your business or your client’s business who’s involved in the project can submit issues to the change control board at any time.

Requests might address problems with existing or beta software, offer suggested enhancements to current production systems, or propose requirements changes to software under development.

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How to run a change control board

The change control board responds to proposed changes by following a standard process, like this one:

1. The chairperson assigns an evaluator to assess the issue’s pertinence, feasibility, quality impact, time and resources commitment, and risk impact. (View a sample impact analysis checklist.)

2. If the proposed change seems reasonable to the board, it presents the assessment to other project stakeholders for input. Then it decides whether the change should be made now, in the future, or not at all. The chairperson has the final say on this issue.

3. If the proposed change moves forward, the chairperson assigns a modifier. The project manager negotiates any necessary modifications with any affected stakeholders. The modifier then makes the necessary modifications to the proposed change, and informs the change board and project manager so they can update the proposal.

4. The project manager updates all 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 achieves the goals approved by the board.

Throughout the scope change process, board members can keep a database of information about each change request’s status, time estimates, and actual time spent – along with other important factors and notes.

Advantages of a standard practice for scope changes

A standard practice for scope changes can decrease your professional liability risk. It improves your communication with clients, and makes it easier for team members to suggest improvements to your project.

A change control process ensures that the client understands the impact of the change on the project’s functionality, human resources, and budget. That eliminates the element of surprise that contributes to many cost overrun disputes.

A standard change control policy also assures team members that your business takes every change request seriously, evaluates it fairly, and will see it through to completion when possible.

By streamlining change requests and tracking them from start to finish, a standard practice for scope changes yields numerous benefits.

You might see it improve the result of your projects, reduce delays due to bugs and other issues, and ultimately lead to more satisfied team members and clients.

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