What does Change Control mean? Project Management Dictionary of Terms

Change Control

(1) Identifying, documenting, approving, or rejecting, and controlling changes to the project baselines.

(2) The process of accepting or rejecting changes to the project's baselines. Lack of change control is a common cause of scope creep.
Change Control - meaning and definition

Download a free Change Management Checklist

Change Management Plan Template

Change Request Template

A bit more detail on the meaning and definition of Change Control

Change Control is a fundamental process within project management that focuses on the identification, documentation, approval or rejection, and subsequent control of changes made to the established baselines of a project. Its primary objective is to ensure that any alterations to the project's baselines are carefully evaluated and aligned with the project's goals, while minimizing the risks associated with scope creep.

In essence, Change Control acts as a systematic framework for managing modifications in a controlled and structured manner. It involves a series of activities, including the analysis of proposed changes, the assessment of their potential impact on resources, timelines, and risks, and the decision-making process to either accept or reject the proposed changes. This process is crucial for maintaining the stability and integrity of the project, as it prevents unauthorized or uncontrolled variations that can lead to project delays, budget overruns, and compromised objectives.

In Project Management the Change Control processes and procedures are defined in the Change Management Plan. Get a model Change Management Process. Download a FREE Change Request Template.

What will happen to my project if I don't control changes?

When a project lacks proper change control, several negative consequences can arise, affecting the project's progress, stability, and ultimate success. Here are some outcomes that may occur when there is poor change control in a project:

Scope Creep

Without change control, the project's scope is susceptible to constant expansion, known as scope creep. Changes are introduced without proper evaluation, resulting in an accumulation of uncontrolled variations that deviate from the original project objectives.

Increased Project Risks

Uncontrolled changes introduce uncertainties and risks that can impact project timelines, resources, and budgets. Without change control, these risks go unaddressed and may lead to delays, cost overruns, and compromised project quality.

Resource Misallocation

Changes implemented without proper evaluation and prioritization can disrupt resource allocation. This can lead to inefficiencies, overburdened teams, and conflicts over resource availability, ultimately impacting the project's ability to meet its goals.

Lack of Accountability

Without a change control process, it becomes challenging to attribute responsibility for changes and their consequences. The absence of accountability can lead to finger-pointing, a lack of transparency, and hindered problem-solving when issues arise.

Communication Breakdowns

A lack of change control can result in poor communication among project stakeholders. Changes may go unreported or be communicated inconsistently, leading to misunderstandings, conflicts, and a loss of trust among team members and project participants.

Uncontrolled Project Delays

Changes introduced without proper evaluation and control can disrupt project timelines. Without change control, there is a higher likelihood of delays caused by unanticipated modifications, resource reallocation, and rework.

Budget Overruns

Uncontrolled changes can lead to unplanned expenses and budget overruns. Without proper change control, the project may incur additional costs due to increased resources, rework, or the need to rectify issues caused by uncontrolled changes.

Compromised Project Quality

Changes that are implemented without proper evaluation and control can have unintended consequences on the project's quality. The lack of change control increases the risk of introducing errors, rework, and compromised deliverables.

Stakeholder Dissatisfaction

When changes are not managed effectively, stakeholders may feel their concerns are not addressed, resulting in dissatisfaction and a lack of confidence in the project's ability to deliver on expectations.

Project Failure

Ultimately, the absence of change control can significantly increase the likelihood of project failure. Uncontrolled changes can accumulate, leading to an unstable project environment, compromised objectives, and an inability to deliver the desired outcomes.

Implementing effective change control practices is crucial to mitigate these risks and ensure that changes are managed in a structured and controlled manner. By establishing a clear process for evaluating, approving, and documenting changes, a project can maintain its stability, minimize risks, and increase the chances of successful delivery.

What messes with good change control?

Several factors disrupt good change control practices in a project:
  1. Poor Stakeholder Communication: Inadequate communication with project stakeholders can create misunderstandings and hinder the flow of information regarding proposed changes. Lack of clarity and ineffective communication channels can impede the timely and accurate dissemination of change-related information.

  2. Insufficient Change Documentation: Incomplete or inconsistent documentation of change requests, approvals, and decisions can lead to confusion and a lack of traceability. Without proper documentation, it becomes challenging to track and analyze changes, their impact, and their implementation status.

  3. Resistance to Change: Stakeholders who resist change can impede the change control process. Pushback from team members, clients, or other stakeholders can slow down or even halt the evaluation and approval of necessary changes, resulting in project delays or missed opportunities for improvement.

  4. Inadequate Change Control Process: The absence of a well-defined and documented change control process can undermine the effectiveness of change management efforts. Without clear guidelines and procedures, decision-making may become ad hoc, inconsistent, or prone to bias, leading to ambiguity and misalignment in managing changes.

  5. Lack of Change Control Governance: When there is no designated change control board or committee responsible for overseeing and governing the change control process, decision-making can lack structure and accountability. The absence of a governing body can result in delays, unresolved conflicts, and challenges in prioritizing and managing changes.

  6. Insufficient Change Impact Assessment: Failing to thoroughly assess the impact of proposed changes can disrupt project timelines, budgets, and resources. Without proper evaluation of potential risks, dependencies, and implications, changes may be implemented without fully understanding their consequences.

  7. Ineffective Change Prioritization: Without a systematic approach to prioritize changes based on their impact and alignment with project goals, important changes may be overlooked, while minor or unnecessary changes receive undue attention. This can lead to resource allocation challenges and a misallocation of efforts.

  8. Inadequate Change Control Training: Insufficient training and awareness regarding change control processes and principles can hinder effective change management. Team members and stakeholders may lack the necessary knowledge and skills to navigate the change control process, resulting in confusion, errors, and inconsistent practices.

  9. Project Time Constraints: Projects with tight deadlines and a fast-paced environment may prioritize speed over thorough change control. The pressure to deliver quickly can result in shortcuts, bypassing essential change control steps, and compromising the quality of decision-making and documentation.

  10. Lack of Change Control Integration: Failure to integrate change control into the overall project management framework can lead to siloed processes and fragmented information. Change control should be seamlessly incorporated into project planning, monitoring, and execution to ensure consistent alignment with project objectives.
Addressing these factors and implementing measures to mitigate their impact is crucial for maintaining effective change control. Clear communication, robust documentation, stakeholder engagement, and adherence to established change control processes are essential to overcoming the challenges.

5 Common excuses for skipping change control and why they are a problem!

  1. "It is a zero cost change":

    • Just because a change won't cost anything doesn't it should bypass change control. Even seemingly small changes can have unintended consequences or create a ripple effect within the project.
  2. "It is not a material change":

    • While the change may not be considered material in terms of its direct impact on project objectives, it is still important to evaluate and control all changes. Even seemingly small changes can accumulate, leading to scope creep or other unintended consequences.
  3. "It will take 2 mins":

    • But that doesn't mean it won't cause a problem elsewhere. The duration of implementing the change should not be the sole determinant of whether it goes through change control. Proper evaluation, documentation, and stakeholder involvement are essential for effective change management.
  4. "We need to be more agile":

    • Being agile does not mean bypassing change control altogether. Agile methodologies still emphasize the importance of effective change management. Embracing change control processes ensures that changes are evaluated, communicated, and incorporated in a controlled manner, enabling adaptability while maintaining project stability and alignment with project goals.
  5. "It shows good will":

    • While demonstrating good will is commendable, it should not be a reason to bypass change control. Consistency and adherence to established processes are essential for project governance and accountability. By following the change control process for all changes, regardless of intent, transparency is maintained, and project stakeholders can trust that decisions are made based on a comprehensive evaluation of impacts and risks.

Related terms

See all project management words

Methodology specific dictionaries / glossaries