Managing Changes Throughout an Archival Project

Margot Note

Margot Note

July 08, 2019

Changes in an archival project occur frequently and can affect its objectives. For some archival projects, changes are predictable—which allows you to formulate the next actions. If an unanticipated change is significant, seek the advice of the sponsor before taking any action that might alter the project’s direction.

Common archival project changes include or result from:

  • Over-optimistic time estimations
  • Omission of tasks
  • Lack or loss of resources
  • Adjustment of priorities
  • Loss of sponsor interest and support
  • Funding adjustments
  • New personnel
  • Usage variations
  • A realized risk
  • Added benefits
  • Poor planning
  • Modified objectives
  • Interference due to increases in other workloads
  • Delayed decisions
  • Indecision
  • Poor teamwork and coordination

Some project tasks are planned specifically to cause a change and may be challenging to manage. Planning and monitoring helps you to administrate these aspects effectively.

When Surprises Occur

Changes can occur suddenly. For example, some stakeholders cannot give your project the attention it deserves until it’s being executed. If you don’t receive requests for changes from key stakeholders, don’t assume it’s because no changes are required. Instead, your stakeholders may be too busy with competing priorities to focus on your project. It may take time for your project to capture their attention, but you should be accommodating their suggestions.

Two types of changes exist: those that have happened and those that must occur. The first response to changes is to understand them and evaluate their impact. Identify them as soon as you can to minimize their adverse effects and maximize their contribution. For example, a value-added change such as an additional feature increases the return on investment of a project. This change involves the determination of costs so you can make an informed decision.

Gold plating, conversely, is the addition of features that are outside the project’s scope, don’t add value, and aren’t requested. A well-meaning team member might think of an idea that becomes part of the project, without documentation or broader agreement. These unauthorized changes add unexpected costs and risks to a project. Monitor and control them, so they don’t add to the cost of the project.

Change Control

Change control protects the project from “scope creep.” If a project manager mismanages changes, the project becomes over budget and/or behind schedule. You should use a formal change request process. Several outcomes are possible after a request, such as identifying changes that:

  • Can be accommodated within the project’s resources and schedule
  • Can be adapted with an extension of the schedule
  • Can be adjusted with added resources
  • Can be furnished with more resources and time
  • Cannot be accommodated without considerable changes

The further along the project, the more damaging the effect of changes because more work must be undone or redone. Additionally, the more complex the project, the higher the number of changes in the original plan. Such changes cause cost and schedule overruns, low morale, and poor relationships between stakeholders and users.

Each change has a ripple effect. In response to a problem, the project must be modified, but like a chain reaction, these changes require modification to other elements—that in turn impact others. Rarely does a change occur in isolation.

Renegotiating, Re-baselining, and Just Saying No

To make changes, you may need to renegotiate the schedule, cost, or scope, or some combination. Any decrease in the time that keeps scope constant will increase your cost. Likewise, a reduction in cost with a consistent scope will increase the time. You and your sponsor will decide which factors are critical and adjust the others accordingly.

Re-baselining, or adopting a new project plan, may be necessary if work deviates from the schedule. Exhaust all strategies and approaches to get back on track before you change the plan itself.

If all else fails, decline the changes. Just because someone tasks for a change, it doesn’t mean that it’s desirable or justified. As a project manager, you’re working to ensure delivery of a successful project, not performing heroics against unassailable odds.

Margot Note

Margot Note

Margot Note, archivist and consultant, writes for Lucidea, provider of ArchivEra, archival collections management software for today’s challenges and tomorrow’s. Read more of Margot’s posts with advice on running successful archival projects and stay tuned for her upcoming book on archival project management, soon to be published by Lucidea Press.

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