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Change – The only constant in your project

Change is all around us, and admittedly occurs all the time.  As project executives, it is imperative for us to be prepared for change, in whatever form it may come in.  Project management is basically the art of managing change and if this isn't understood clearly, the consequences for all involved in the project will be painful.

What is Change?

Let me define change as I understand it.

Change:

  • Is taking on different states, such as
    • Liquid water to solid ice
    • Point-A to point-B on a line
    • Being hungry to being satisfied
    • From score 0 to score 1000 in a game
    • Being poor to rich and vice versa
  • Is the future displacing the present
    • Upgrade stadium capacity from current 50K seats to 75K seats to handle growth
    • Allocate 10% more / less funds for this year as compared to the previous

 

Is there anything that is Constant?

Clearly, no!  Nothing in the entire Universe remains constant – from the smallest of the atoms to the beyond-our-imagination Universe.  Every thing changes and as per the rules of physics - all things are in perpetual motion. 

Now sit back and contemplate.  Most everything around you is in a state of flux or change.

  • Environment changes and hence seasons occur.
  • Day turns to night.
  • Plants grow.
  • People age.
  • Food turns stale.

Notice that your project contains these very same elements.  Projects come about due to the needs of an entity.  And since projects do operate within an environment, it willbe subject to all laws of change.

For example:

  • A business may no longer be selling a product for which your project is building a back-end inventory management system to track this very product.
  • Midway through the construction of your house, you fancy the new style kitchen and you want one now.
  • While on a vacation, you digress from the itinerary to go watch a beautiful island.

As you notice, all of the above are projects and each one of them was influenced by change.   The net effect of change most always manifests itself in the physical.  That means once the change has taken place, it most likely will show up in the physical form.
For example:  Your task for the day is to take your team to a theme park, but due to extraneous reasons you decide instead to go to an indoor bowling alley.  Therefore, even though the change first took place mentally, the effect of the change is that now you are in a bowling alley instead of the theme park.

 

Where does change come from?

Change can come about due to:

  • Personal needs
  • Environmental issues
  • Business needs
  • Legal issues
  • Maturing Technology
  • And many other reasons

So watch out for these factors that can bring about a change

 

Attitude to change

Newton’s law states that all things are in a state of inertia.  It takes a lot more force to displace a body from its current state.

It is instructive to know that this rule applies quite well here.  Change is (mostly) considered painful because it disrupts the flow or the state we are in (both mental and physical).  Hence the resistance (or inertia) to change is quite high.

The right attitude would be to embrace change in our projects as we already indicated that nothing is stationary in the universe. And the universe (around us) keeps changing for the better. So also, change is mostly for the better in the long run, even though it is painful in the short term.

As a project manager, it is

  • Destructive to deny change
  • Disruptive to not plan for change and you are forced onto it unexpectedly / inadvertently
  • Expensive, time consuming, heart rending, etc., when change you must to survive the project

 

How to plan for change?

You may question that if change is so often and frequent, how can you ever complete a project.  Fair questions I would say.  Let’s try some possible solutions:

  • Try incremental project completion, by using agile methods
  • Ensure your understanding of the project needs are as complete and comprehensive as possible (though this may take a long time), even before you begin work
  • Plan at a gross level and not at the minutest detail.  This gives you flexibility to change than be sucked into the details (high level versus low level detailing).
  • Keep an open mind when you plan your work.  A closed mind excludes possible solutions; an open approach helps you to find alternative solutions

 

Advantages and disadvantages of change

Advantages

Disadvantages

Accommodating for the future, now

Painful in the short term

Change is good in the long run

Change for the sake of change is not necessarily good

Tests system or product flexibility

May increase, cost, scope, schedule and / or risks

Ensures that only a robustly planned project survives

Natural process of elimination of projects that cannot handle change

Brings in one or more of the following –

  • Revenue
  • Recognition in the market place, motivation
  • Customer satisfaction, etc.

Brings in one or more of the following –

  • Stress
  • Heart burn
  • De-motivation
  • Impatience, etc.

 

Conclusion

Change is everywhere around us all the time.  Building systems with the expectation of change will ensure sufficient success on a project.  Change is good (for the customer), but in the short term it may cause potential issues for an unprepared project.  It is instructive for the project manager to always work with the idea that the only constant in their work is change!

 


Post Script:

Consider the fact that your life itself is a project and you are its project manager:

  • How often do you accept change in your life?
  • What attitude do you possess towards change?
  • Do you often find yourself feeling uncomfortable to step outside of your comfort zone?
  • Or do you embrace change with both hands?

Hope I have left you with enough questions than answers, since only you have the solution! I am sure you too have experienced change – both beneficial and painful. I have personally endured major changes in such things as family, career, geographic location, money, and losing loved ones.  In all of these, the change has eventually forced me to become better and better as a human being. And make no mistake, I am still working to make peace with change itself!

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