The Missing Element in Change Management Complexity Change Assessment

By Bob McGannon, PMP

Successful project management involves the use of a fully utilized change management process. The vast majority of project managers know this, regardless if they work in an advanced or barely mature project management environment. Despite this understanding about change management, most change management processes are missing a critical element that is required to manage change in their project environments – assessing how a change will alter the complexity profile of the project and project deliverables.

Complexity is introduced to projects in many ways. Often, complexity is part of the original scope of the endeavor, and is considered as a component of the project and included in the risk evaluation process (hopefully!). In many instances however, scope and project direction changes will change the complexity profile of a project – and it is not appropriately foreseen, or managed. It is not as if these changes to the project weren’t introduced through a formal process – most are managed through a formal change management exercise – but complexity change was not amongst the review criteria considered in the change approval process. Therefore, the problem is the project team has to deal with a much “larger” scope from an effort standpoint, and that effort increase was not sufficiently evaluated and estimated in the change management exercise. This is primarily because there is no consideration for complexity change in most change management processes. The following are a few complexity items – and metrics for measuring it – that should be considered for your project change management process. At the end of this discussion, an overall complexity assessment “point scale” will be presented as an example of how to incorporate a “complexity factor” into your change assessment process.

Changes in technology

A project change that involves a change in technology adds elements of complexity – even in instances where the overall technology is “simpler.” When a change involves introducing technology that is new to the environment and the support staff a myriad of unanticipated problems can result. Add to this a support learning curve, the need for training and sufficient experiences to effectively support the platform in your particular technology environment and the project can become much more broad-reaching than expected.

Considering the costs for acquiring the new product and paying for training is not enough – the complexity risks presented by introducing a new technology to your environment should be added to your change management assessment process. Introducing new technology that involves only 1 platform (PC, Server or mainframe) adds two “complexity points” to the change; new technology that involves more than one platform (a combination of PC, server or mainframe) adds 4 complexity points; modifying the project by adding a new technology element that is already installed, is stable and is working in your environment adds one complexity point. A sample complexity point assessment process will be provided at the end of this article. Information Technology examples are used in the above scenario – this concept can be applied to any technology field such as engineering, construction, aerospace, etc.

Process steps change

Projects commonly involve more than just technology change; they typically add or modify business processes and procedures as well. The combination of a technology or tool change and a business process change that is introduced to the customer environment at the same time is inherently complex. End customers are faced with changes in HOW they perform the tasks they are held accountable to perform, along with the tools they use to perform them. Users must appropriately visualize a new process and the potential gaps and issues that it might produce. The project team must work diligently to provide appropriate requirements collection on the front end, and testing of those requirements throughout the project.

When additional process steps are altered or added to the scope of the project, this creates the need to adjust the core deliverables of the project, but also the requirements collection, testing and training deliverables as well. Errors and omissions are more likely in these areas and the verification of deliverables becomes more complex. Add one complexity point for every two process steps that are added or altered to project deliverables; add one point for each new department or organization that becomes involved in operating a process as a result of the change to the project.

New stakeholders

Stakeholders represent the lifeblood of a project; the perceptions of your stakeholders represent the nature of the status of your project. If the stakeholders are feeling confident in the project purpose and status and their expectations for the project’s impact on the business are uniform – the project is probably in good shape. Should any stakeholder have issues about the intent of the project, or the stakeholders are not “in synch” about the priorities for project deliverables, the overall status of the project is in jeopardy. With the perceptions of stakeholders having this affect on the day to day job of a project manager, stakeholder management is critical, essential, and time consuming. Changes that are introduced to the project that add stakeholders inherently add complexity; additional requirements prioritization, communication planning, expectations management and expands the verification that needs to be performed. In addition, the project manager is required to ensure that the new stakeholder(s) will not present conflicts with the stakeholders that are already a part of the project. This can be time consuming, frustrating and can have an impact on the project in many ways. Add one complexity point for the first one or two new stakeholders, and add another complexity point for every 2 stakeholders after that.

Number of “hand-offs” or interfaces

Whenever systems or processes pass information or responsibility between them, the opportunity for errors exists. The more interactions that take place to achieve a business objective, the more complex the process or system becomes. Often, changes that are presented to a project team involve incorporating data from additional systems, and incorporating the input of different departments into a corporate procedure. These interfaces or “hand-offs” of information and process create additional complexity due to the need for additional testing (initially) regression testing (to incorporate the changes into the system or process), additional integration testing (ongoing, whenever a change is made to the systems involved in the interface) additional training and, potentially requiring additional systems or business expertise to ensure the deliverable works as planned. Add one point for each new “hand-off” that is added to processes as a result of the change to the project.

Overall Complexity “points” scale

Elements of complexity, if accepted as part of the change, should be treated with additional resources, a careful assessment of risk, and potential action plans to address those risks. A conceptual example for incorporating and reacting to the “points” addressed for each complexity element discussed above is presented here. Project managers might want to consider this concept, adjusting the actual numeric components to be suitable for your environment.

1-3 complexity points……….add 10% to the risk contingency budget for the project

3-5 complexity points……….add 20% to the risk contingency budget for the project

6 or more complexity points….add 50% to the risk contingency budget for the project

Adding to the risk management budget can accommodate the unexpected issues that might surface now that complexity has been added to a project. At the very least – this concept surfaces the AWARENESS of complexity and might improve your judgment when assessing the true impact of a given change request.

Bob McGannon is a Founder and Principal of MINDAVATION, a company providing project management training and consulting, leadership workshops and keynoting programs throughout North America. Bob can be reached at MINDAVATION via the web at WWW.MINDAVATION.COM or by calling 866-888-MIND (6463).


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