What is a change control process and how do you use it?

Team Asana contributor imageTeam AsanaJune 9th, 20218 min read
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What is a change control process?

A change control process is a way for project managers to submit requests to stakeholders for review, that are then approved or denied. It’s an important process to help manage large projects with multiple moving parts.

When it comes to managing multiple projects, things can get complicated. From coordinating work timelines to tracking objectives and results, the last thing you want to deal with is a major project change. But with a change control process in place, submitting project change requests is a breeze.

The change control process is essential for large initiatives where many teammates work cross-departmentally. Let’s dive into the process and tangible examples to help you implement a change control procedure of your own.  

What does change control process mean?

Change control is a process used to manage change requests for projects and big initiatives. It’s part of a change management plan, which defines the roles for managing change within a team or company. While there are many parts to a change process, the easiest way to think about it is that it involves creating a change log where you’ll track project change requests. 

In most cases, any stakeholder will be able to request a change. A request could be as small as a slight edit to the project schedule or as large as a new deliverable. It’s important to keep in mind that not all requests will be approved, as it’s up to key stakeholders to approve or deny change requests. 

Since the change control process has many moving parts and differs from company to company, it’s useful to implement tools that can help the lifecycle process flow smoothly. Tools such as workflow management software can help you manage work and communication in one place. 

Change control vs. change management

Confused by the difference between change control and change management? We don't blame you. There are many differences between change control and a change management plan. Change control is just one of the many pieces of a change management strategy. 

  • Change control: A change control process is important for any organization to have, and can help the flow of information when it comes to project changes. A successful process should define success metrics, organize your workflow, enable teams to communicate, and set your team up for future success. 

  • Change management: A change management plan consists of coordinating budget, schedule, communication, and resources. So while a change control process consists of a formal document that outlines a request for change and the impact of the change, change management is the overarching plan.

As you can see, a change control process is just one small part of a larger change management plan. So while related, the two terms are different.

Read: What is change management? 6 steps to build a successful change management process

What are the benefits of a change control process?

Implementing a change control process can help organize your team with the support of organization software and efficiency around project deliverables and due dates. It’s also crucial when considering the consequences of change that isn’t managed effectively.  

A change management process can help you execute a resource management plan or other work management goals. Here are some additional benefits of implementing a change control process. 

Increased productivity  

A change control process will eliminate confusion around project deliverables and allow the focus to be on executing rather than collecting information. This results in increased productivity and efficiency, especially with the help of productivity software.

Without a process in place, productivity can suffer due to time spent on work about work. With limited bandwidth available for the most important work, over one-quarter (26%) of deadlines are missed each week.

Effective communication

Properly documenting change can help alleviate communication issues. When goals and objectives are clearly defined, team communication can flourish. Keep in mind, a change control process won’t fix all communication issues. It may be helpful to also incorporate work management software to keep communication about projects in one place.  

A change control process can then also be shared with executive stakeholders in order to easily provide context for change requests.  

Read: 12 tips to effective communication in the workplace

Better teamwork and collaboration

Not only is effective communication a benefit in its own right, but it can also help improve collaboration. With clear communication on project changes, it’s easier to collaborate and work together. 

For example, when changes are clearly communicated the first time around, stakeholders have more time to focus on creativity and teamwork. Without effective communication, stakeholders are forced to spend time piecing information together instead of working creatively with team members. 

Want to enhance collaboration even further? Pair your change control process with task management software to set your team up for success. 

The five steps of a change control process

Similar to the five project management phases, there are five key steps when it comes to creating a change control process. Though some processes differ slightly, they all contain a few key elements. From initiation to implementation, each one of these basic steps helps change requests move efficiently through the pipeline and prevent unnecessary changes. 

The five steps of a change control process

Some prefer to view the procedure in a change control process flow, which can be easier to visualize. No matter how you choose to look at it, the outcome will be a finalized decision on whether a change request is approved or denied.  

Let’s dive into the five steps that make an effective change control process and what’s included in each.

1. Change request initiation

In the initiation phase of the change control process, a change is requested. There are numerous reasons why you might request a change. For example, a creative deliverable is taking longer than anticipated. A request would then be made to adjust the deliverable due date. While a request may be more likely to come from a stakeholder or project lead, a proposed change can be requested by anyone. 

A team member who wishes to make a request should submit one via a change request form. As the project manager, you should store the change log in a place that’s easy to find and everyone has access to. 

Once the request form has been filled out, you will update the change log with a name, brief description, and any other details you see fit, such as the date and name of the requester. The log is a record of all project changes, which can be beneficial for managing multiple projects that span many months. 

Here’s an example of various fields you might include in a change request form.

  • Project name

  • Date

  • Request description

  • Requested by

  • Change owner

  • Priority

  • Impact of change

  • Deadline

  • Comments

The fields you include will depend on how thorough you want your change log to be and the type of changes you come across.

2. Change request assessment

Once the request has been filled out and the initial form has been submitted and approved, the request will then be assessed. This is different from the initial form submission since the assessment is when the actual change will be evaluated. 

The assessment phase isn’t necessarily where a decision is made, but rather, reviewed for basic information. The information will likely be assessed by a project or department lead, who will review details such as the resources needed, the impact of the request, and who the request should be passed on to. 

If the change request passes the initial assessment, it will then be passed on to the analysis phase where an actual decision will be made. 

3. Change request analysis

The change impact analysis phase is where there will be a final decision on whether the request is approved or denied by the appropriate project lead. While you may also give input on the decision, it’s a good idea to get official approval from a leader as well. In some cases, there may even be a change control board that is in control of any change approvals. 

An approved change request will require signoff, and from there, be communicated to the team and continue through the rest of the five-phase process. It should be documented on the change log and anywhere else project communication lives to ensure all project stakeholders understand the shifts needed. 

If the change request is denied, it should also be documented on the change log. While communicating a denied request to the team isn’t necessary, it could be helpful in order to prevent confusion. 

4. Change request implementation

If the change request is approved, the process will move on to the implementation phase. This is where you and the project stakeholders will work to make the project change.  

Implementing a change will look different depending on what stage the project is in, but it usually consists of updating project timelines and deliverables, as well as informing the project team. Then the actual work can begin. It’s a good idea to evaluate the project scope to ensure any changes to the timeline won’t have a huge impact on projected goals. 

It’s best to disseminate the request’s information in a shared workspace and the change log to ensure productivity isn’t lost by trying to look for new information. You may even want to send out a revised business case to cover all of your bases. 

5. Change request closure

Once the request has been documented, disseminated, and implemented, the request is ready to be closed. While some teams don’t have a formal closure plan in place, it’s helpful to have one in order to store information in a place that all team members can reference in the future. 

In the closing phase, any documentation, change logs, and communication should be stored in a shared space that can be accessed later on. You should also store the initial change form and any revised project plans you created along the way. 

Once documents are in the appropriate place, you can close out any open tasks and work on successfully completing your project. Some project leads also host a post-mortem meeting before officially closing the project. 

Change control process example

Now that you understand the five steps of a change control process, it’s time to put them into action. We’ve put together an example to give you a tangible place to start.   

Before putting your own plan together, it’s important to evaluate your current processes and tools to ensure they’re right for your team. You may even want to create a business case or project plan to present to company stakeholders. 

The entries you include in your change log may differ depending on the types of changes you frequently come across and how complicated the projects are. While complicated projects that span months may run into more change requests, smaller one-off projects may not need as detailed of a change log. 

Here’s an example change log to give you an idea of what to include and how to format your own. This change control example includes:

  • Project name

  • Task name

  • Assignee

  • Due date

  • Priority status

  • Progress status

  • Change type

This simple format is a great starting point for a change log, but you may choose to add additional fields depending on the complexity of your project. 

Change control process example

To create your own change log, you can create a custom template or view our project templates gallery

When to use a change control process

It’s a good idea to note when to use a change control management plan so you’re prepared when the time comes. There are many different kinds of change that you might come across, depending on any new initiatives and the tools in place.

Common changes might include requests to extend timelines, reorganization of information, or a change in the deliverables. Here are some additional instances where you may want to use a change control process. 

  • Over scope: You may want to consider using this process when a project is going over scope, also known as scope creep

  • Project inconsistencies: If you notice inconsistencies during a project, requesting a change can help you avoid having to rework deliverables later. 

  • Steep goals: In some cases, OKRs may be out of reach and it’s a good idea to flag those issues before the project is complete.

  • New tools: If there are new processes or tools in place, change may be inevitable while you work out new issues during your first few projects. 

Request your way to change

While changes are inevitable, the good news is a change doesn’t have to derail your next project. By implementing a change control process, you can ensure the project stays on track and communication is clear and effective. This will bolster productivity and lessen confusion about your project deliverables

In the event that you do run into change, it’s reassuring to know that you have the right processes in place to handle the situation. When you have a change management plan ready to go, you can mitigate the negative impacts associated with a shift in strategy and continue to focus on delivering impact.

Need additional resources to better manage your next project? Read more on how to create a project scope

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