Change Control sometimes gets a bad rep. It’s a bit bureaucratic (Yep)… it is holding us back from just “getting on with things” (Yep)… it can sometimes that a bit of time (Yep). All of these things can be true, but what is also true is that Change Control is completely necessary.  

The point of Change Control is to protect the project from unwanted change to scope, budget and timelines. In doing so it is also protecting the organisation from having to unplanned spendings, not getting value from projects and loss of resource control. And (very importantly) it protects the project manager from having to take accountability for decisions that are over their pay grade.  

It is very important to point out that change control is not for every single little change on the project. Change control is for the big stuff; the stuff that impacts the critical success criteria for the project such as its timeline or deadline, overall budget or scope. Changes that do not impact those big boundaries do not need change control, they should be left up to the discretion of the project manager.  

So, what is change control?

APM tells us that: 

“Change control is the process through which all requests to change the approved baseline of a project, programme or portfolio are captured, evaluated and then approved, rejected or deferred.”

  • APMBOK 7th ed,  Association for Project Management 

So it is a process. Usually consisting of the following steps: 

  1. The change is identified (through issues, changes in the environment, customer changing their mind) 
  2. The change is analysed by the project team so that the impact is fully understood  
  3. The project manager uses the input from the team to draw up a Change Request (often this is a standard form that documents information about the change) 
  4. The project manager submits the change request to the relevant decision maker (typically the Sponsor + Project Board or Change Control Board if one exists) 
  5. The decision maker reviews the change requests and make the decision to approve or reject it 
  6. The project manager acts on the decision  

What do we need in order to implement good change control?

There are a few critical building blocks: 

Good project planning 

Good planning involves identifying all tasks, estimating costs and durations and mapping out inter-dependencies to create reliable schedules and budgets.  

If there is a breakdown in any of those steps the resulting plan will not be reliable and it is going to have to change frequently.  

Formal approval of plans 

Once a plan is finished it has to be scrutinised by the right people (typically the Sponsor + Project Board) to ensure it is appropriate and will deliver the project within the acceptable time, scope and budget boundaries. 

The plan then has to be formally signed off. This is usually referred to as baselining the plan.  

I the plan is not formally signed off there is a risk that different people have different ideas of what the plan entails, and that could make it more likely that changes are “snuck in” without proper control, and it will also make it more difficult to fully grasp the impact of a change. 

A process for reviewing and deciding upon change 

By standardising how changes are documented and escalated you make it more likely that decisions will be made by the right people at the right time.  

The process does not need to be cumbersome, keep it simple and support it with a simple change request document.  

Clear roles and responsibilities to tie everything together 

At the heart of change control is good decision making, and only people can make decisions. 

Identify: who is the right person to make decisions about the project scope? The timeline, the budget? How do you get those people to a place where they can make good decisions about your project? One idea can be to enlist them on the Project Board so that they are involved and informed throughout. 

Make sure you communicate the different responsibilities to all parties involved; including the project team and customers! 

In Summary 

The change control process can bring confidence to both the project manager and the project board, that any changes that really impact what the team is trying to achieve is being managed in a transparent way, and it is being reflected accurately in the regular reporting structures.  
Often the PMO help project managers to navigate changes and provide a sense check on some of the requests, as well as a sanity check so that we aren’t simply saying yes to everything! 

To learn more about change control and project delivery check out our APM accredited course: Change Management Practitioner Training Course

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Monthly Newsletter

By: Karin Maule

Karin Maule

Published: 16 February 2023

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