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Never Say No Managing Change In A Project

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Martin Burns

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User since: 26 Apr 1999

Articles written: 143

So, your project is up and running. You've defined


and had them signed off in blood by the sponsor. All you need to

do now is watch your

New Model Army get on and deliver.

Right? Ahhh no. Life is never that simple, and you can reasonably safely bet

hard currency that the requirements will change during delivery. Managing

those changes is a potential cause of massive disruption to your project

and your relationship with the client if you don't do it well.

Never Say No To a Client

Change is Bad

It's often said that Salespeople never say No. And it's often true -

whatever the customer asks for, they invariably say Yes, we can do that.

And Project Managers generally hate that as it paints us into a corner where

our projects are not under our control. Some

PMs therefore retreat into a

Yoda-like mantra:

  • Saying Yes leads to Change
  • Change leads to Lack of Control
  • Lack of control leads to Suffering (which is a PM technical term

    for missing deadlines, budgets or quality objectives)

But as a client-facing PM, you soon learn that to say No is just

unacceptable to most clients. It's seen as pure stonewalling; that you're

not prepared to be cooperative, or (worse) that your team just isn't

competent. Either can cause you serious problems in your sponsor relationship,

maintaining which is one of your top priorities.

Change is Good

On the other hand, saying

Yes to client requests tends to result in more work. In the other

Yoda mantra:

  • Saying Yes leads to Change
  • Change leads to More Work
  • More Work leads to Happiness (another PM technical term for

    Increased Project Revenue and Gross Profit, which you're often responsible


Balance - a Neat Trick

Balancing between stonewalling (pretending that nothing can be changed and

rejecting all proposed changes) and accepting all proposed changes and causing

major project control problems is a tough act. Trying to work it

out mid-project is even tougher. Trying to work it out on the hoof is nigh

on impossible. Here's the basic magic formula - if you take nothing else

away from this article, take the following sentence. Put it in your wallet,

stick it to your monitor, brand it on the back of your hand:

Your request makes sense, but it raises potential risks and issues that

might cost time and money.

Use The Sentence even if the client request doesn't make sense.

Some requests will, some won't, but The Sentence usually ends up with

one of 2 results:

  1. Client backs off
  2. Client agrees to more time, more money or lower quality

In either case, it's a useful holding action that then lets you wheel out

the Change Control Process that you thoughtfully included in your standard

statement of work.

Change Control Process

This is a process to consistently handle the inevitable Change Requests

that crop up mid-project, ensuring that the good ones get through, with

associated adjustments to the cost/time/quality Holy Trinity, but the

bad ones don't. You maintain control of your project, you're contractually

covered, the client gets what they want, but pays for it if necessary.

What is a Change Request?

This one's easy: A Change Request is any request that changes the

Project Requirements.

Do We Need a Change Control Process?

Again, easy. Yes. Every project must have a change

process. Every change request must use it.

Time and time again, I've heard inexperienced clients, developers and

sales people starting to say things like: This project is too small/rapid/

low-budget to have a change process.
or This change is too small to go through

change control.
To which I invariably respond: Only

if the project policy is to refuse all change requests
- which is of course

a change process, just a really simple one to operate - or find

yourselves another PM.

Strict? Yes. But here's why: because Project Requirements are a contractual

document, any change to Requirements

is also a contractual document. If the appropriate project authorities (the

Sponsor and you) haven't signed up to a Change to the Requirements, you

will fail UAT,

your project won't be accepted by the sponsor, and there's a good chance

you won't be paid.

Here's an example: a stakeholder has a wizard wheeze. It's a pretty simple

change to the requirements and won't take much

effort to implement. Realising this, the stakeholder takes it straight to one

of the developers, who codes it up and tests it in a couple of hours. Doesn't

break anything else, doesn't noticeably impact timescales or budgets. But

come UAT, the Sponsor notes that the delivered site doesn't match the

requirements, and rightly asks Where did I agree to this? You

cannot allow your project to get to that point, because the only

honest answer is You didn't with the enevitable followups of When

did you agree to it?
and Who died and gave you authority over

what I want.
That's A Bad Place to be.

You don't need to follow the same process for small CRs

as large ones, though. You can use a light weight process for small CRs, as

long as the 2 processes are documented and agreed, including - vitally -

the definition of a small CR.

Sample Change Control Process

Here's an example of a simple Change Control Process. It's not the only possible

process you could use, but it is in line with most PMI-

compliant methodologies, so would be generally accepted by most professionally

run projects.

  1. Someone submits a CR. You need to agree and document who

    is able to do this.
  2. Assess the CR to see if it's worth investigating. Here,

    you need to work out how long it's going to take to analyse the impact of

    the CR, and compare that with the projected benefits. This is a quick preflight

    check to weed out the obvious non-starters. If it's going to take

    a week just to work out how much change is involved, and the benefit is

    tiny, or there's not a hope in hell of it being accepted (for example, it

    changes the objective of the project) then this gets thrown in the bucket

    of CRs that are a waste of time from the outset.
  3. Document and Communicate. Essential for all outcomes

    of any process.
  4. Analyse the impact. Answers the questions: If we

    implement the change, how is it going to hit the Holy Trinity? What's the


    To do this,

    you will possibly need to replan a large chunk of the project - schedules,

    WBS, staffing, budgets and all. You may need time from developers for them

    to contribute - time they would otherwise spend delivering the project.

    You must have allowed for this in your original budget and schedule,

    and have it explicitly written into your contract. Avoiding doing this

    unnecessarily is why you had the pre-assessment in step 2.

  5. Document and Communicate
  6. Approve the CR? This is where you take your assessment

    and put it in front of your sponsor. It's then the sponsor who

    decides whether the CR should go ahead, accepting the changes in Schedule,

    Cost, Quality and Risk. If the sponsor decides against the CR, you've

    been co-operative and (I hope) objective in putting it forward, and you're

    not the one saying No.
  7. Document and Communicate
  8. Document and Communicate
  9. Implement Change

Which is where your developers think the real work starts.

Martin Burns has been doing this stuff since Netscape 1.0 days. Starting with the communication ends that online media support, he moved back through design, HTML and server-side code. Then he got into running the whole show. These days he's working for these people as a Project Manager, and still thinks (nearly 6 years on) it's a hell of a lot better than working for a dot-com. In his Copious Free Time™, he helps out running a Cloth Nappies online store.

Amongst his favourite things is ZopeDrupal, which he uses to run his personal site. He's starting to (re)gain a sneaking regard for ECMAscript since the arrival of unobtrusive scripting.

He's been a member of since the very early days, a board member, a president, a writer and even contributed a modest amount of template code for the current site. Above all, he likes to do things because it knowingly chooses to do so, rather than randomly stumbling into them. He's also one of the boys and girls who beervolts in the UK, although the arrival of small children in his life have knocked the frequency for 6.

Most likely to ask: Why would a client pay you to do that?

Least likely to ask: Why isn't that navigation frame in Flash?

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