change control

What is change control?

Change control is a systematic approach to managing all changes made to a product or system. The purpose is to ensure that no unnecessary changes are made, all changes are documented, services are not unnecessarily disrupted and resources are used efficiently. Within information technology (IT), change control is a component of change management.

The change control process is usually conducted as a sequence of steps proceeding from the submission of a change request. Typical IT change requests include the addition of features to software applications, the installation of patches and upgrades to network equipment or systems.

What is the process of change control?

Here's an example of a six-step process for a software change request:

  1. Documenting the change request. The client's change request or proposal is categorized and recorded along with informal assessments of the importance of that change and the difficulty of implementing it.
  2. Formal assessment. This step evaluates the justification for the change and the risks and benefits of making or not making the change. If the change request is accepted, a development team will be assigned. If the change request is rejected, that is documented and communicated to the client.
  3. Planning. The team responsible for the change creates a detailed plan for its design and implementation, as well as for rolling back the change should it be deemed unsuccessful.
  4. Designing and testing. The team designs the program for the software change and tests it. If the change is deemed successful, the team requests approval and an implementation date.
  5. Implementation and review. The team implements the program and stakeholders review the change.
  6. Final assessment. If the client is satisfied with the implementation of the change, the change request is closed. If the client is not satisfied, the project is reassessed and steps may be repeated.
chart of steps in the change request process
Effective change control processes are critical for incorporating necessary changes.

Change control in project management

Change control is an important part of project management in IT and non-IT areas -- including manufacturing and pharmaceuticals -- and can be a formal or informal process. Project managers examine change requests to determine their potential impact on the project or system as a whole. Effective change control processes are critical for incorporating necessary changes, while ensuring they do not disrupt other project activities or delay progress. Each potential change must be evaluated in relation to its potential effect on the following:

  • scope of the project;
  • schedule of progress and milestones;
  • costs of additional labor and other resource requirements;
  • quality of the completed project, as excessive quantities of work can lead to rushed work, resulting in a higher likelihood of defects;
  • human resources, as change requests may require additional labor or specialized skills;
  • risk, as even minor changes can have a domino effect on the project leading to potential logistical, financial or security risks;
  • procurement of materials, labor, skills and other necessary project resources; and
  • stakeholders -- including project managers, executives, company owners, team members or investors -- who may voice their support or push back on a project.

Benefits of change control

Effective change control can provide the following potential benefits for projects in any industry:

  • better cost and risk avoidance;
  • lower risk associated with each individual change;
  • reduced amount of time needed for changes;
  • changes can be factored in with less disruption to project schedule, as requests will be considered and managed around the project timeline; and
  • project managers will be informed about change needs in the planning phase and have time to consider possible courses of action.

For more information on project management, read our article on project management courses and certifications.

For a deep dive into Agile project management, read our feature.

This was last updated in May 2021

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