Thought for the day:Learn to manage change - before it manages you

Change in a project is good, so long as you keep control of it, advises IT consultant Sarah Saltzman. I was recently asked to...

Change in a project is good, so long as you keep control of it, advises IT consultant Sarah Saltzman. I was recently asked to carry out some consultancy work for a large, blue-chip organisation that had just gone through a merger. The business was seeking advice on how to merge the IT infrastructure and applications of the two companies.

Alarm bells started ringing as soon as I realised that the benefits being sought from this integration project were changing on a daily basis. Nobody was tracking these changing requirements. Nor was anyone analysing the impact the changes would have on the feasibility and success of the project, even though there was software readily available that could do this.

Project failure has plagued the industry for many years now. IT managers have to balance reducing the length of IT projects while delivering reliable IT solutions to business problems.

This is always challenging, especially with the demands and expectations placed on IT staff today. More and more projects have fewer staff resources, higher quality expectations and shorter timelines. These problems often result in people forgetting to communicate or document the changes being made to a project, which often leads to projects overrunning or failing.

The lack of a structured change management process for making change in IT projects is all too common and is a major contributory factor in IT project failure.

In the project I mentioned earlier, problems occurred because the project team were rushing to integrate two similar enterprise applications, but they weren't tracking the changing requirements from senior management. This was key, as the changing requirements actually meant that the size and scope of the project was vastly different at its conclusion to what it was at its inception. Such problems are common to many IT projects because of the changing nature of technology and the competitive business landscape.

This is a project management issue that needs to be addressed. One way to do this is to introduce traceability and change management policies into IT projects. Uncontrollable change is a common source of project chaos, delays and quality problems. Controlling change is key to improving project quality. It has to start with a process of documentation, where changes are tracked through the use of change request and impact analysis forms.

A defined change management workflow as well as tracking and notification system should be put in place. However, it's not only about communicating changes to all responsible functional groups within a project, but also about the need to evaluate the feasibility of change and its impact on schedules and costs.

A defined change control process provides everyone involved in a project - from business managers to testers - with a formal mechanism to keep control of dynamic IT projects. These processes ensure changes are made as a result of well-informed business decisions, with everyone involved in a project being able to see the customer and business value of proposed changes.

Businesses can no longer afford to have the different elements of their projects working in isolation. It is all too easy to lose sight of business objectives and get caught up in the goal of completing a project.

Change management policies and procedures can help project managers evaluate the impact of changes and ensure that business objectives are considered every time a change is made. These types of initiatives will ensure that projects are completed successfully, in terms of objectives, deadlines and budget.

What is your view?
What are your experiences of coping with changes within an IT project? Tell us in an e-mail >> reserves the right to edit and publish answers on the Web site. Please state if your answer is not for publication.

Sarah Saltzman is technology manager at Compuware UK

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