Nearly all project teams begin a project with the best of intentions, hoping to capture all of the detail necessary to avoid change requests entirely. But let’s be real, projects rarely are completed without at least one additional discovery made. Change requests always seem to start out top of mind as a positive concept when a project kicks off. However, mid-way through they always seem to be the proverbial elephant “afterthought” in the room. If this is a common issue for your project team, take a look at the five tips below to help prevent this pitfall moving forward.
Educate Your Team on What Constitutes Change:
Change may be as simple as an increase in the amount of time necessary to complete a given task as compared to the original estimate. Change may also stem from a new request from the client team, a discovery made in the midst of configuration or development that requires course correction, or assuming the responsibilities of a task that originally was supposed to be completed by the client team. In any case, ensure that your team is aware of what is and is not considered change for your organization. This may differ from client to client, or project to project, depending upon the terms of the agreement.
Invest in Specifications Documentation:
The scope starts and ends with the client’s business requirements document… or does it? Many project teams are provided the business requirements from the client. However, the level of detail necessary to actually complete the work is likely not included in this document. Investing the time to further define requirements to produce functional and technical specifications not only benefits and protects your firm but also the client. The functional specification should provide the client the details of “what” is included in the deliverable. The technical specification provides the details of “how” the work will be completed to the project team.
Sign on the Dotted Line:
Once the Functional specification document has been developed, it should be shared with the client for review and approval. This document provides a vehicle for the client to ensure your team has thoroughly understood the requirements, and is going to be producing the expected deliverable. There may be some revisions that occur as the client digests the information and asks clarifying questions. This is exactly what should be happening, there will be less surprises later as a result. Finally, the client should be prepared to approve the document in its entirety via signature, indicating that they are in agreement with the deliverables that are in scope.
Stop. Talk. And Patrol.
If any member of the project team suspects that there may be a change that needs to be documented, there likely is. At that point, the work should stop until the situation is assessed and a decision is made. This is not ideal for the project timeline, but it is better than completing work without approval that may not be paid for, or worse yet, having the reverse the work completed, and causing rework expense. Frequent discussions with the project team and the client team can keep expectations in check. Patrolling the work in progress, and conducting frequent reviews of the deliverable, will aid in proactively identifying where change may be necessary. Allowing project team members to work in a vacuum just leads to surprises and mishaps down the line.
C.Y.A. – Change Your Approach
Many clients fear the term change request, because they equate it with additional expenditures. However, change requests do not always have to result in additional compensation. By documenting all associated changes over the course of the entire project, it becomes easier to show incremental value to the customer. Many times additional work is done in good faith, to better serve the client and ultimately build a stronger partnership. But if the client doesn’t know about these small investments, they do little to increase the perceived value of the relationship. Do not be afraid to document all of the pro bono work that your team may do above and beyond the original scope of work, and present it as zero dollar change requests for approval. By doing so, the project team has gained approval ahead of time to complete the work, and the client sees the vendor’s investment in the relationship.
In closing, the most valuable concept to the client is flexibility. Change requests are going to happen. Some may be large and unavoidable. However, you should be open to suggesting scope swaps between sprints or phases of a project. Or small pro bono tweaks to accommodate something that may be a big win to the customer, yet a small expense for your team. But be mindful to document the change, no matter how trivial and gain approval. The documentation and approvals are what will matter if there should be a future dispute.
Do you have tried and true methods to managing the change request madness? If so, please feel free to comment, share your methods, or challenge our thinking! We would love to hear from you!
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