project management decisions

Change Request or Missing Requirement?

Every project that I have ever been involved in has had many, many discussions and meetings about changes. Any project manager with plenty of experience will know that change management is an important part of any project, irrespective of whether you are using PMP, PRINCE2, APM PMQ or any other project management methodology. Changes will always be required no matter how thorough you thought the business analysis and requirements gathering phases were.

So a request for a change, in itself, is not a problem. What is a problem is when there is disagreement on the type of change, especially when it impacts the scope of the project. I have lost count of the number of change requests submitted that are described as part of the original requirements but “just not documented”. Or where the client has assumed a certain feature or function would exist in the final product but failed to mention it so far. 

The problem, of course, simply boils down to assumptions that were… well, just that: assumptions that no one bothered to mention and the project manager’s efforts at uncovering all assumptions failed. A proper change management process was not implemented and changes that should have been in the original requirements were not budgeted for. Neither was time and other resources allocated but somehow it has to be included in the plan. This is where trade-offs need to be made if the resources are truly constrained or where increases in time and budget need to be negotiated if these are flexible or if contingency is still available.

The other type of requested change is the “nice-to-have” feature that nobody thought of until now. Typically the client will describe this as an important feature and the project manager’s negotiating skills will have to be used to persuade the client to either forego this change or make a trade-off with another “nice-to-have” feature that was included in the original specification.

As always, I always try to avoid allocating blame – changes in a project are natural and normal (anyone who thinks otherwise just hasn’t experienced a range of projects) and just need to be dealt with as painlessly as possible.

So whatever type of change request you are dealing with, whether it really should have been in the original requirements or whether the client just sees it as an opportunity to add some nice feature, learn some negotiating tactics – they are vital project management skills that will enable you to deal with every type of change request without it becoming a battle.