If you have worked on projects, in a PMO or you are preparing for a project management exam like APM’s PMQ (Project Management Qualification) you have probably come across the terms Change Control and Change Management. They sound similar but are very different. What they have in common is that they are both crucial for project success. Here we will clarify what the differences are, what good looks like for both change control and change management and why they are key to project success.

Change control vs Change Management – what’s the difference?

They are in fact completely different things.

Change control is done to ensure that any changes to a project’s tolerances are done in a controlled way. I.e, if there are possible changes to a project’s scope, timeline or budget they are not done haphazardly by anyone but are reviewed by the right people, through the right process and the decision is made by the right people. In short: change control is about avoiding that the project changes in an uncontrolled manner.

Change management on the other hand is the overarching effort to make a change happen to business as usual. In the context of a project, it is usually the work done to prepare business as usual to adopt and use the project output.

Put very simply we could say that change control is something that is done to a project whereas change management is done to business as usual.

Change control is typically done during the delivery/implementation stage of the project. Change management should go alongside project activities and usually continues some time after the project has finished.

What does good change control look like?

Good change control – like any other control mechanism – has to align with the organisation’s governance requirements and be proportionate to the project.

For change control to work and have any meaning you need a few things in place:

1) Defined and agreed on project tolerances before a project implementation begins.

What are project tolerances? 

Scope, Quality & Budget Triangle in Project ManagementYou can think of project tolerances as the boundaries for time, scope & quality and budget that a project has to stick to in order to be successful. I.e the project scope has to be delivered on time and within budget.

Project tolerances define what is success for the project and they also help empower the project manager by clarifying their responsibility and power. Within the tolerances, the project manager is responsible for making decisions and can make decisions about any changes. I.e they can move around resources, tweak the schedule etc as long as they do not go outside the agreed tolerances.

If there is a potential change that would impact the tolerances, i.e we need more time, more budget or to change scope or quality then the project manager is no longer responsible and we have to apply change control.

Change Control in Project Management

2) Defined roles and responsibilities

There needs to be clarity about who can make what decisions about the project. This is usually described in the project’s governance arrangements. A typical arrangement consists looks like this:

Roles and Responsibilities in Project Management

3) Appropriate process and documentation

Good change control has a process and documentation that allows good decisions to be made by the right people. Typically it looks something like this:

Good Change Control

The process must be appropriate, i.e it cannot be so complicated or time-consuming that it hinders the project. But it must be robust enough that the organisation and its stakeholders have confidence that the project is managed and controlled well and that the project will be delivered according to the agreed expectations.

What does good change management look like?

Good change management is a coordinated and structured process that takes business as usual from the current state to the desired future state. The key to making change successful is to collaborate with stakeholders and bring them along on the change journey.

A big challenge for anyone trying to implement a change is that people often resist things that are new and different. Good change management must, therefore:

  • Identify people who are impacted by the change and who must take part in it
  • Understand exactly how they are impacted by the change
  • Take steps to prepare people for the change (this will include communicating with them and potentially doing the training)
  • Reinforce the change until it sticks

Why is change control important to project success?

Through change control, we ensure that the project that is delivered aligns with expectations in terms of what will be delivered, when and at what cost. Without change control, the project could change in any which way and the final result could be something that does not at all match expectations for scope, quality time or budget. In short, we could end up with an entirely different output at a higher cost and beyond our deadlines – i.e a failed project.

Why is change management important to project success

Let’s think about why an organisation would do a project. You might say “to create an output”… Ok, but why does an organisation want an output? It is not just to have a new shiny thing, it is to be able to do something that they were not able to do before they had the output.

It could be… a new product enables them to sell to a new market. Or a new process enables them to solve problems faster, cheaper or otherwise better. Looking beyond the output, the organisation wants to achieve a result (we usually call these benefits in project management).

So how does the organisation get a result from having an output? The Key is that people in business as usual have to adopt and use the output for its intended purpose.

Sometimes this is really straightforward, i.e business as usual adopts the new output with ease and without the need for a lot of support. But most often the fact that we are bringing in something new (new product, new process, new policy, new anything) means business as usual has to change some aspect of how things are done in order to be able to use the new output. This is where change management comes in!

Change management is therefore a bridge between the project and business as usual. Or, it is the glue that holds the project, the output and business as usual together and makes sure the organisation gets the expected results (benefits) from having done the project!

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Monthly Newsletter

By: Karin Maule

Karin Maule
Categories: PMO, Project Management

Published: 26 July 2022

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