Friday, January 6, 2012

Take Proactive Steps to Manage Project Change

Project change is unavoidable. Over the course of a project, new circumstances and conditions emerge, better ideas are conceived, mistakes are made, and people simply change their minds. All this can wreak havoc on project success if your firm is not properly prepared to deal with it.

PSMJ found that the number one cause of project failure is inadequate planning. And one critical element that is often ignored in the planning process is project change. This leaves many a project manager ill equipped to deal with change when it inevitably occurs. It can result in budget overruns, missed schedules, poor quality, increased liabilities, damaged reputation, and unhappy clients.

Let's start by considering some common sources of project change:
  • Scope creep. Small incremental changes in work scope that eventually result in significant change, whether internally or client driven.
  • Errors or omissions. Mistakes or oversights that can occur both in defining the project scope and in executing the work.
  • Increased level of effort. Time and labor substantially exceed the project management plan for various reasons, including continual refinement of alternatives (overdesign) and poorly defined work processes.
  • Personnel changes. Key project team member or client representative leaves or is reassigned during the project.
  • Unanticipated external event. This could include any number of occurrences from regulatory enforcement actions to accidents to mergers to software glitches to loss of funding.
  • Lack of community or regulatory acceptance. Strong technical solutions may fail the test of community acceptance or regulatory approval resulting in delays, scope changes, etc.
  • Client discretion. Client wants to initiate changes not anticipated in project scoping, perhaps due to nothing more than preference.

Effective change management begins before project changes happen. Through careful planning and well-defined strategies and work processes, many unwelcome changes can be averted, or at least their impact minimized. Recommend steps include the following:

Benchmark client expectations. Be diligent in clarifying expectations that go beyond the formal scope or work, but can dramatically alter the course of the project (e.g., what the client expects of the working relationship).

Carefully plan the work. As noted earlier, a strong project management plan can forestall a number of project problems. For best results, seek participation or buy-in from the client and other key stakeholders on your plan before proceeding.

Assess project risks. Every project has inherent risks and uncertainties that may adversely affect the project and your firm. The suggestion is to identify any risk or change that is reasonably possible, define a probability, and outline steps to avoid or minimize it.

Adhere to the contract and project management plan. These documents specify the agreed-upon terms of a successful project and should be continually reviewed and carefully followed throughout. Any deviations, even seemingly minor ones, should be negotiated in advance with the client.

Define the response to change in advance with the client. Don't wait until changes occur before agreeing upon a change management process. This should be described and documented in the project management plan before problems arise.

Be constantly on your guard for potential changes. Everyone on the project team should be alert for activities and circumstances that could result in significant project changes. The sooner changes are identified, the better able you will be to head them off or to manage them effectively.

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