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The unique nature of projects leads to an inherent level of uncertainty. Project managers should expect and plan for project change.
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When establishing a project baseline, the project manager should also establish an approach for how to change the project baseline. These changes may come from outside the project team or they may be initiated by team members who uncover threats or opportunities within the project activities. A regular part of each project review should be to identify when change is needed and to manage the implementation of those changes to the project baselines.
The more uncertainty there is on a project, the more likely that changes will need to be done to the project baseline at some point in time. Traditional projects, those with clear goals and little uncertainty in the planning and estimating of tasks will normally have few changes. However, if the goal is clear but the tasks are not - often because it is an area in which we have little or no experience - an adaptive style of project should plan for changes at each major phase gate or decision point. If the ultimate goal is not certain but a specific path or set of tasks has been established in the baseline the project is focused on discovery. This type of project will normally be rebaselined at the end of each phase or iteration using the results of the previous generation to plan the next. When both goals and actions are uncertain and changing, a project is in an extreme or crisis mode. Change will be continuous. If the organization's change management system can not react quickly, the project manager and core team will need to take change management upon themselves.
At every project review with stakeholders, the project team should determine if there are any changes to project boundaries or constraints. These can occur due to many reasons such as industry dynamics changing, technology changes, organizational changes, and the impact on available resources due to the success or failure of other projects.
Periodically within the project, the project team should assess the current baseline project plan and determine if it is still the best plan to achieve the project objectives. I normally do this as part of the preparation for phase-gate or toll-gate reviews and I will do this following the completion of a major risk event or milestone. At those times there is usually a significant amount of new information or the validity of assumptions can now be checked. With this information, improvements to the project plan can be developed.
A project change management process is created at the time of project baseline approval. If the company has a Project Management Office, a project change management procedure probably exists and that should be used. The elements of a change management procedure should include:
- The mechanism for requesting a change.
- The process for evaluating and approving or rejecting the change.
- The definition of roles and responsibilities concerning who can approve the change.
- The purpose of the change management plan and the limitations or boundaries on what it controls.
- Any templates, checklists, or logs, such as the Change Log, to be used throughout the process.
Large complex projects are often managed as a program made up of related smaller sub-projects. When this is the case, the change management system must also address how changes in one subproject will be communicated to other affected subprojects and the approval mechanism that is to be used for multi-project changes. This is one of the most difficult aspects of program management and will often require a full-time dedicated resource to manage this process.
Change Control System: “A set of procedures that describes how modifications to the project deliverables and documentation are managed and controlled.” PMBOK® Guide
Change Log: “A comprehensive list of changes submitted during the project and their current status.” PMBOK® Guide
These definitions are taken from the Glossary of the Project Management Institute, A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, (PMBOK® Guide) – Sixth Edition, Project Management Institute, Inc., 2017. PMBOK is a registered mark of the Project Management Institute, Inc.Login to download
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PMI, PMP, CAPM and PMBOK are registered marks of the Project Management Institute, Inc.