The value of change management

Steve Lett, Invennt

Managing changes and particularly and charging for them are major issues for design firms. Steve Lett of management consultant Invennt offers some tips on an essential skill for improving business performance.

It could be said that change management does not occur freely or naturally during the design stage of a project as an inherent part of design is to make the imprecise, precise. What follows is why change management is both valuable and essential to successful design.

  • Change management provides control, certainty and an improved project outcome for clients. For designers, it enables margin to be maintained, or improved, and demonstrates the ability to actively manage the design process.
  • Change management is a benefit to the design process not a hindrance.
  • Very often change control processes are not well established within organisations or projects and this leaves the design team without a clear point of reference of how to instigate change control.
  • The catalyst and backbone to successful change management is a clearly understood process and the identification of a person accountable for managing change.

Change control can be broadly broken down into the following headings:

Identification – to do this the whole design team have to fully understand the project brief and scope of services and identify any change, expansion or deviation from them.;Once identified changes are reviewed/filtered by a team leader and passed to the change manager.

Notification – once agreed that something is a change, notification is provided to the client outlining the change, how the contract entitles you to recovery of time and cost, the impacts the change and your proposed actions to implement the change. Clear advice to the client on what you are doing next – progressing or awaiting further instruction is given. Almost certainly the client will request further supporting information.

Supporting Information – a key constraint to effective change control of design is the articulation of the impact of change on the design process. Generally, people without a design background will not understand the design process, or the resources and timescales required to implement change. Aspects such as the development of the solution, re-engagement of specialists, its impact on other parts of the design, re-coordination of disciplines, CAD/model updates, validating, checking, version changes, uploading etc need to be fully and clearly documented and explained.

Negotiation– once you have submitted your clearly articulated and well-presented change submission you will have to negotiate the agreement of the time and cost impacts. The key to success here is the leverage of the technical expertise throughout your team to explain in detail what has changed and why the requested resources and time are required to implement the change. It is important to utilise factual technical knowledge and avoid subjective arguments to ensure you have a robust case.

Agreement – once negotiations are concluded a clear record of the agreement needs to be made. It is important to record any assumptions and clarifications of the change so that these can be monitored in the future, as changes may happen to the change.

Robust change control is required on all projects, regardless of the reimbursement mechanism.

Within a reimbursable contract, change control enables the client’s fee budget and programme to be monitored and keeps the design focused –  preventing multiple iterations of design stages and diversion or resources to “what ifs”.

On fixed fee commissions, as well as helping to achieve margin on the project, change control will enable you to plan resources accurately, maintain internal support for the project, prevent claims and ensure that the design is only directed by authorised personnel from the Client.

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I'd suggest that change management and change control are two distinct concepts.