Five tips for managing project change requests

Change is an inevitable part of a project, so working out in advance how best to handle change requests will make the whole process much easier

To deliver a project successfully, project managers need to overcome the obstacle of changing objectives.

Working out how to handle changes in advance will make the process easier on IT teams and business users.

Change control or change management for IT projects is different to managing operational IT change. It’s the process of managing unplanned but desired influences on the project. It is important because any change will:

  • Need to be analysed for its impact on the project objectives and scope
  • Modify your existing plans
  • Need to be recorded properly for a complete audit trail

Since change is inevitable, it’s best to be prepared. Here are five steps to consider when that "change request" turns up on your desk.

1. A request to make a change to the project is received

You want the person suggesting the change to be as specific as possible and to put their request in writing. If they have any supporting materials, such as quotes for additional IT equipment or estimates from developers that might help the analysis, ask for those too.

2. Update the change log

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The change log in its simplest form is a document where changes and activities to assess changes are written down. Make a note of this latest request.

3. Assess the priority of the change request

Give the "change request" a priority. Is it critical, important or nice to have? This provides a sense of urgency for planning the impact analysis. Be guided by the person who raised the request but use your own common sense. Have clearly defined categories so one person’s "urgent" is not equivalent to someone else’s "nice to have".

4. Assess the change

As a team, look at the change request. It is helpful to assess all changes against the same criteria. The purpose of the assessment is to decide whether to approve or reject the change. You should also consider the impact of the change if it is not done. Sometimes not doing something, such as applying a software patch, can have more of an impact than doing something.

5. Decide the course of action: approve or reject the change request

Take the decision, and communicate the outcome to the relevant stakeholders and those affected by the change. Update the change log with the outcome and rationale behind it. If the change is approved, amend all the appropriate project documents.

Finally, once you have completed all the steps of a change management process, you will need to delegate the tasks to the right IT resource to get the change made. This could be to developers, testers, architects or anyone else who is impacted by the work. It’s best to explain the rationale for the change at the same time instead of just dishing out the tasks. People tend to work more effectively if they know why they are doing something, so take the time to set the new work in context and explain the benefits of the change on the IT solution overall.

Elizabeth Harrin is a member of BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, and the author of three project management books. She is a director of The Otobos Group, a project management communications consultancy that aims to help people tell the stories of their projects more effectively, and a project management blogger.

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