Change Control Process: An Overview and Three Concrete Steps

Dec 7, 2020

Nothing ever goes as planned. A statement most project managers hate to hear, yet sometimes it's true even for projects that seem too easy to fail. Yet there's a way to enjoy the idea of change: by taking total control of the inevitable changes in your projects. A good change control process will make this a reality. 

This article will discuss three concrete steps you'll find when coming up with a change control process. We'll tell you about a tool that can manage (gain control of) change and release in the context of software products. 

Unlike other predictable lectures-put-to-pen posts, we'll not define the change control process in a sentence or two. Instead, the entire read should culminate in a holistic understanding of the thinking required when managing changes. Fact is, you won't know what aspect of a project is set to change before it does. As such, a smart overall approach to changes (and the management thereof) will prepare you better than a paraphrased dictionary definition. 

The three steps suggested below should improve your chances of holding onto the reins of any software project even when you feel it slipping from your grip. 

Step 1: Mastering Change Anticipation

If you've managed even a single DevOps project, scope changes will likely be hard-coded into your process. A few milestones into a project, and the memo swooshes in: "Maybe this [insert feature] would serve users better if it acted this way." 

You have to be geared to absorb changes as they come and to translate them to the people making code edits in the background. 

So the first step in the change control process encourages you to start each project with the knowledge that changes are inevitable. In the midst of chasing perfection, more perfect ends keep emerging. Don't resist change (perfection ideas). At the end of the day, few project owners get to use the product placed in their care. 

Sources of change include the users of the final product and the investors paying for your effort. Both are important, and you should expect more than just opinions from them. Having feedback processing tools is a good way of easing changes into the progress of an ongoing project. Some project management tools will let you hint at changes and schedule new tasks within a project. However, the most pressing issue is how your work aligns with the client's expectations. 

Mastering change processes entails having at least one tool that traces changes to live projects and tasks without creating new tasks. 

Step 2: Aligning for Change

You can only get so far looking at or talking about changes when they are announced. You must actually change as required. Depending on the changes ordered, you may find yourself adding resources to a project or even retreating a few steps to the design stage. This step in change management is preparing for change after acknowledging it. 

So in step 2, the change alignment phase, the feedback obtained in step 1 is processed into actionable tasks. This is also the phase during which communication starts with all stakeholders. To avoid additional changes down the road, let everyone know the plans for change, and listen to any suggestions they may have. 

Here are some more reasons why communication is a major part of the second step: 

  • Investors and actors need to be included to ensure ownership of efforts and outcomes.

  • Documentation of changes is vital for project management.

  • Changes in scope can sometimes be a reason to terminate. (You don't want people still working on a project after you have terminated it.)

Change comes with risks. So you need to set rules of engagement to avoid the collapse of morale and the project itself. It's recommended to have a central system to govern both the engineers' and investors' efforts and expectations. An application clearly showing project progress and how it aligns with the scope would be perfect. Plutora allows users to run audits in order to maintain continuous compliance as a project grows. 

Step 3: Change Sponsorship and Support

We're now assuming you have stirred up a sense of urgency for the changes that are due. The next steps entail finding sponsorship and support to actually affect the change. Top management can give a nod to suggested changes after the communication stage. This is where change actually begins to occur. 

With a good governance system in place, sponsorship from the top includes participation in the changes and the process itself. The change sponsorship phase is also the execution stage for any plans you may have crafted in the second phase. Keeping track of the plan as it comes alive is made possible by treating change as though it is a project in and of itself. 

The three steps we've discussed above touch on the many dials you'll be expected to turn when change rears its head in any project. While we are discussing software, these stages work for projects of any type. 

Training project managers to handle change as and when it comes is a good way for a company to remain compliant. Regardless of the depth and experience of your managers, good change management software usually makes more of an impact. 

Many change control models are available as templates for the successful execution of changes. What you'll notice as you test them is how communication and documentation are common themes, as is the execution phase itself. 

Getting Started With Changes

Keep listening for changes. This is the best starting point for any change management process. The next obvious thing after following the steps above is analyzing the change itself. You can avoid having too many suggested changes being shot down during the communication stage by running a thorough analysis of changes first. 

A good change management system helps you avoid the all-talk-no-action trap. Everyone from management to engineers can log in and check the status of changes. All the work that is done from anticipation to execution is available for all to see. As a capable project manager, learning from these logs is advised to improve your skills. 

Announcing changes in a timely manner is necessary to avoid further deviation from the direction possibly suggested in the change. The good news is that software rollbacks are possible. Let engineers know in real-time and show top management how the required changes will fit into the broader picture to seal the deal. All you'll need then is a capable team to carry out and continuously monitor changes. 

Changes always happen. They are in fact necessary to keep products fresh and desirable to customers. As the final step ends, expect some feedback. This in turn signals the start of the change analysis step that started the process. The never-ending cycle of change management will only get better with time. Especially when you take the smallest details of each stage seriously and with the intent to incrementally improve how you handle change. 

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