Lindsay Chaffee’s One Simple Thing: Change Control

Photo: Lindsay Chaffee, PMP... aka @Project_Mom

Lindsay Chaffee, PMP... aka @Project_Mom

(The following article is part of our One Simple Thing…to Improve Projects series. It was contributed by Lindsay Chaffee, PMP. Lindsay is a certified Project Management Professional and lives in the beautiful mountains of Colorado. She is an avid skier and reader, as well as a loving wife and mother.  Lindsay works as an Implementations Project Manager for Innovest Systems, LLC, a financial technology firm that provides technology-driven solutions to trust and wealth management companies.

You can follow Lindsay on Twitter at @Project_Mom and learn more about Innovest Systems, LLC (@InnovestSystems) at )


Change is inevitable in projects. The word “change” can lead to misunderstandings, since it has so many meanings. However, the most common usage in projects refers to change as a change in scope. In this sense, scope change means a modification to the project’s original, agreed-upon scope and objectives in order to accommodate a need that was not originally defined.

I believe that one simple thing that a Project Manager and Project Team can do to improve their project is to fully define and buy into a change control strategy right from the start of the project – before any changes have been identified.

Change Control (or Change Management) refers to the management process of requesting, reviewing, approving (or declining/deferring), then carrying out and controlling changes to the project’s deliverables. By defining and implementing a change control plan before it’s actually needed, the project team is more likely to handle changes smoothly and successfully.

Typically, a change control plan will outline exactly how to proceed (what actions to take) when a change in scope is encountered. This plan should be captured somewhere, such as in the Project Management Document, so that it is easily accessible to all team members. This same reference should also include a clear statement of the initially agreed-upon project scope. Both must be understood in order to effectively utilize change control. After all, if you don’t have a baseline for comparison, how can you know if something is in or out of scope and if change control is necessary?

Once a change to scope is identified, the change control plan should outline what to do next. In most instances this would involve reviewing the item and comparing it to the rest of the project work to determine what impact accepting the new scope item will have on the project as a whole. The change control plan should also include criteria for accepting or declining a new scope request. For example, consider asking this question: “If this request is accepted will it change the critical path?”

Allowing a change in scope usually means added cost, greater risk and longer duration. In order for a project to succeed, rigorous change control must be practiced. As a part of the change control process the change should be reviewed to determine all positive and negative impacts of the change, ensuring that all parties are able to assess the overall impacts of the change.

Scope change is not necessarily bad. For example, some changes may ultimately optimize the benefits generated by the project. In addition, change requests may capture lessons learned so they can be applied to future projects.

The change management process must be seen as a partnership in order to succeed. Success is more likely when everyone understands and values the tracking of changes and supports a formal Change Control process. Change control is a tenant of good customer service and good project management because it provides a customer with an accurate accounting of what was really provided for the time and money invested in the project.

Posted: December 4th, 2011 under One Simple Thing, Project Management.
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