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Change Orders are a Four Letter Word

~ By Brad Egeland

Close-up of a change request form with pen on it

Change request! Change order! Customers generally don't like to hear either of those terms used. Nearly every project needs them for some reason or another. Still, it can sometimes feel like you're a teenager asking your parents for money and you're trying to figure out the best way to get it out of them. The process can make even the most experienced project managers uncomfortable. Being presented with a change order may make your project sponsor unhappy, angry, or frustrated…or they may be completely agreeable and justified in the customer's eyes. But we all know that sometimes change orders are hard to bring before a customer.

When we come to that point in the project where we need to perform some out of scope work, it's critical that we do the best job we possibly can in documenting that need, the work required, and every bit of effort and materials that will go into it. Leave no stone unturned, leave no question in your customer's mind that you and your team definitely know what you're doing and that you're doing everything by the book. To that end, there are some steps that should be taken in order to make it a real piece of the project puzzle that you will now incorporate as new tasks in your schedule that you'll share with your team and customer.

These steps should include, but are not necessarily limited to…

An Analysis Cost and Benefit to the Project

You might want to start the whole process off with a cost-benefit analysis depending on the nature of the work in the change order. Having this detail to provide to the customer might make the numbers easier to swallow…especially if you can show them the overall value of the effort and it's benefit to the engagement in black and white.

Lots of Backing Documentation on Cost

If the customer is concerned about anything, it will be the cost. Think everything through and then think it through again. When I know a consulting engagement is likely going to come at a higher price than my customer is expecting, I take a deep breath and go back and rethink all the costs and efforts involved and make sure that I take the most clear documentation possible to that customer to back me up. The last thing I want is to be questioned on the need for such a high cost.

Lots of Backing Documentation on Need

Just as you document the cost in detail, you must also document the need in detail. You don't want your customer thinking that you're just lining yours or your organisation's pockets. You don't want them to feel extorted, or that you somehow created this need just to increase revenue on the engagement. Show why the work must be done and where it strays from the originally agreed upon requirements of the project. Because if there's a grey area there, it will be incredibly difficult to get the customer to sign-off.

An Accurate and Error-free Change Order

Finally, present your customer with an accurate and error-free change order. Make sure that all the hours and dollars add up and that the descriptions and justifications of the effort involved is spell checked and grammatically correct. Be as professional as possible. Check and re-check every number, every word, every calculation. If it contains errors, your customer will think that you've not put enough work into it or that you're not presenting accurate numbers and information. The easiest way to get a smooth sign-off on the change order is to be professional and make it look professional. They know you're the expert so show it.


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