Requests for changes aren’t unusual in project management. And that’s OK. If the environment around a project shifts—the budget or the capabilities needed, for example—change should happen. But change creates new expectations, and that means you should have a process in place that ensures everyone buys into the new set of expectations.

The change management process is put into place to protect the expectations between the project manager, project team, sponsor and key stakeholders regarding what the project will deliver, when it will deliver it and what resources will be required to produce it. This is otherwise known as the project time, cost and scope baseline.

Change control is designed to properly manage requests for formal changes. Formal changes include requests for things like more features or capabilities, removing resources from the project, or an earlier completion date.

On the other hand, change management shouldn’t be used for the proverbial “stuff happens” non-formal changes. Missing a deadline is not a formal change. Someone getting sick and pushing the schedule back, general ambiguity making the project take longer or requiring more work than originally anticipated… those are not formal changes either. Management of change is only concerned with formal changes to the project baseline.

Change Control Process: Identifying the Impact

Formal change always affects one side of the time, cost and scope triangle. The change management process identifies how the change would impact the other two sides.

For example, if someone requests additional features, there are several ways the change might be accommodated with each impacting different sides of the triangle. You might:

  • Extend the completion date but maintain the current number of resources, or
  • Keep the deadline as is but add more resources, or
  • Trade some of the already agreed-upon features for new ones.

By making the consequences of the change clear to all involved, the process of change control gives the change management board the vital information it needs to approve or deny the change and the ability to set appropriate expectations for going forward.

Change Management Process Steps

After someone submits a change request for a formal change to be considered, you must:

  • Identify which sides of the project triangle are affected.
  • Determine what impact the change, if implemented, will have on the other two sides of the project triangle.
  • Submit the finding to the control board (project manager, sponsor and key stakeholders).
  • The board determines if the change is worth the identified impacts.
  • Approve or deny the change.
  • If the change is approved, update the project baseline to notify everyone. If it’s not approved, document and move on.

In our experience with change control, we have never seen a situation in which someone requested a change to one side of a project triangle and the other two sides were not affected in some way. Bottom line: you don’t get something for nothing. The change management process helps you determine whether the impact is worth the potential gains and what everyone will need to buy into in order to make it happen. Organizations that handle change best are often very well are skilled at managing those expectations between project teams and stakeholders.

A final note about change control: never use the change control process to approve non-formal changes. Don’t dirty the process. The process should be sacred, reserved only for those formal changes to the project baseline. In other words, don’t send the Secret Service in to investigate a car crash.