Change is the only constant in life, but....
Change is the only constant in life, but....

Change is the only constant in life, but....

Life is all about change, management schools run special courses on "Change", change is synonymous with progress, those who cannot adapt to the fast changing world are expected to perish, and this is true for individuals like us, for organisations, and for countries and nations as well. In fact, it has become an oft-repeated adage that "Change is the only Constant in Life"! Specially, in the last 20 years, with the advent of digital revolution in the world, change has accelerated in our lives, and also all around us, and we are having to accept and adapt continuously.

Personally, we do not like things to remain static, and love to have new and new things all the time in place of old, like new books, new movies, new clothes, new friends, new food, new places, everything new. But, at another plane, when it comes to internally changing ourselves to accept and learn new ways of doing things, for example new business processes, we resist change and tend to cling to traditions and established practices. In short, we want everything to renew and change, excepting ourselves. "Change" is a very interesting topic, it can be quite complex particularly when we transgress into behavioural aspects of change, and volumes have been, and will be written on it.

What about "change" in the context of project management? Good project managers dislike changes in the execution phase of projects. Truly, any amount of discussion and debate on changes in scope of a project is good in the planning phase, because it helps integrate the expectations of all stakeholders. But once the project execution commences, with tight accountability on time and cost of completion, we should avoid the propensity of making frequent changes in scope. In fact, in an ideal world, changes should be banned after the zero date has passed, but this cannot be implemented in actuality, because sometimes disruptive changes in technology, market, community, etc., taking place after the project has started, makes it an imperative to consider corresponding and commensurate changes in scope of the project. Therefore, we in project management parlance have designed rigorous processes for "change management", to deal with such eventualities.

Over the years, change management in projects has become a large subject, dealing with the process of initiating, recording, considering, analyzing, and approving all kinds of changes in the context of a project, small and big, be they in the areas of scope, financing, project team, implementation strategy, articulation of deliverables, contracts, et al. Professional project managers deploy very robust change management Processes to ensure that only the very deserving "changes" pass through the gate, and even if they do, these are well-documented for posterity. To refuse to even consider any change at all, can turn out to be wrong (in exceptional cases) when a great technological or market opportunity would be lost for such dogged refusal. Hence, the need for an elaborate process for change management is fully justified.

During my days in project management, we used to be very sensitive about changes. I always believed that the easiest way to filter changes proposed, was to evaluate financially (and otherwise) the benefits of the proposed change, and weigh that against its possible quantified impact on time and cost overruns, (both over the life-cycle of the project) and then take an objective decision in the interest of the stakeholders. This is nothing but simply the age old "cost-benefit analysis"! Believe me, all such numbers can be computed in all situations, with some assumptions/approximations needed on some occasions! But in all cases, we used to clearly record impact of such changes for all round awareness and to maintain a balanced perspective.

In one cement project we were doing, a very good suggestion came halfway through the project, that a few months can be saved if we were to switch to a slip-form concrete design of the pre-heater tower; as some of us will know, construction of the pre-heater is the critical path of a cement project, and three months saved there is equivalent to pruning three months form project time duration. We quickly went through the presentations by prospective contractors, and did our math on that basis, and found that these options will cost higher, but will save more in terms of time. But we felt that the difference, i.e., the net benefit to the project, was not significant enough to adopt a relatively untried methodology having some downside risks and uncertainties. However, we made it a point to capture our considerations in the form of a short report, such that in future the same technology may be reconsidered, with due preparations to manage the uncertainties. I cited this example here to communicate that it is important to consider changes proposed, but it is more important to consider the same objectively, keeping aside emotions and biases, relying on numbers.

All the examples that we broached in one of the earlier issues, on political interferences in projects, are actually major changes brought about into projects at a late stage, without adequate objective consideration, without application of any change management "gate" or processes. As we know by now, this has grievous consequences on viability of the project(s), and ultimately the stakeholders have to pay for such follies, knowingly or unknowingly. Our dismal history of public governance bears mute testimony to this painful reality.

When will this "change"? Who will "change" this malady? While we wait, as project managers, let us be sure to apply rigorous change management filters for our project. And, may be, extend this concept of evaluation also to"changes" that confront us in our lives, our jobs, our environments.

- SUMIT BANERJEE

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