As part of any implementation project, whether it’s a COTS implementation or a custom build, there is bound to be a certain degree of configuration or customization based on the customer needs. There is a certain balancing act of trying to keep your customer happy and do right by them by giving them a great solution but also respecting your project parameters (budget, schedule and scope) to ensure that your project is successful by those measures. One of the constant struggles of project management is learning how to find the right balance of accepting client feedback for “small” changes to incorporate into your project versus going through a formal change request. Some bad news first – this post will not give you a black-and-white description of how to assess these, since every project, client and contract is different. But what this post will describe is how to go about assessing these and what to consider.
Assess the Impact
Every change requested by the client will have some level of impact. Whether it’s to budget, schedule, scope, quality, risk – there is bound to be a certain degree of impact. It’s your job as the project team to assess that impact through your lens and the lens of the project – ask the question “is this the right thing to do?” Determine what the cost and schedule impacts will be (if any). See if the change would paint the client into the proverbial corner with respect to scalability or maintainability of the solution you are providing for them – does the change make technical sense? These are all aspects that need to be considered when assessing any level of feedback or change from a client. This assessment should yield some level of certainty from the project team side on whether or not it makes sense and allow the project manager to determine a recommendation for moving forward.
Consider Project Tolerance for Change
Before committing to anything, consult your project change management plan and determine the proper steps for making a decision on how to address the proposed change, taking into consideration the factors you evaluated during your impact assessment. Does your project have a contingency that you have access to for such things? Often times, in order to minimize paperwork, project sponsors will authorize a small portion of the project budget to be used at the project manager’s discretion in order to accommodate minor changes that would technically be out of scope but are not worth the time needed for formal change management. Other times an executive-level contingency will be allocated that does require sponsorship approval and likely a CR. Perhaps this is a very strategic account or project and your own executives would like to keep the client happy at the cost of taking on a bit of extra non-billable work. All of these factors need to be considered when determining what path you want to take in terms of initiating change management.
There is no perfect black-and-white, one-size-fits-all answer to address feedback items vs. change requests, but by doing the proper assessment and organizational/project change tolerance you will be much better positioned to make the right decision not only for your project, but also for your organization and your customer.