Author: Andy Tate, PE, PMP, Process Plus Principal
June 16, 2014

Project Scope Never Changes! If you buy that, I have some oceanfront property in Arizona for sale.

The truth is that projects change for a variety of reasons such as: new user requirements, changes in codes, non-funded wishes (NFW’s), hidden conditions, and changes in business needs. The project scope will change, and how changes are managed, both from the owner and design professional’s perspective, is critical to the success of any project.

Identifying changes early in the project is easier and less costly to deal with. A change that is identified during the schematic design or detailed design processes results in changes to computer files. Should these same changes not be identified until the construction process, it can result in expensive rework and possible schedule delays.

Developing a change management process as part of the project plan makes dealing with change less traumatic for all project stakeholders. Six key aspects of any plan should include the following:

Make sure everyone understands that change happens on every project
Agree on a system for documenting change
Establish “freeze milestones” which documents a basis from which to manage change
Agree on a process to handle changes that impact cost, schedule, or
ability of the project to deliver the required results
Document the change approval process
Set up a “change management reserve fund”
Recognizing change is not just a Project Manager’s (owner or design professional) responsibility. All team members need to be cognizant of the scope that was agreed upon, as documented at the “Freeze Milestones” and bring changes to the Project Manager’s attention. Not all changes will result in changes in the design fee or project cost; however, all changes should be documented. This can be done with a “Change Log” that lists small changes and the resolution to each change.

The biggest issue regarding change management is to avoid “surprises.” The project team needs to know about potential changes as soon as possible to find the most cost-effective method of dealing with these changes. As design professionals, we need to make owners aware of potential changes before implementing them. In addition to avoiding “surprises,” requesting additional compensation for implementing changes after the fact is a much more difficult discussion with the owner.
Change management, when properly implemented makes everyone’s life easier. It makes overall team communications more effective and is critical to the success of a project.