Change management in agile projects


change-managementEvery now and again I get the question – How will you manage changes in the project, if it is agile? Most of the time I would like to be able to answer ”I don’t, agile means constant changes, and I’ll manage the changes by doing the project in an agile manner”. However life as a project manager isn’t always that easy.

In almost every project of a foreseeable size, you will eventually get to the point where the Steering Committee or your project owner want to know who decided to do a specific thing in the project you are managing. If you do things agile and don’t keep track of your changes, then you probably can’t answer that question – ”Who decided to use a top menu and not the left side menu that we planned to use right from the start”? Try and answer that question after 4 months of agile development with absolutely no change logs.

So how can you handle changes – Well, there are a couple of different ways, but they all involve using a log. If your project is done agile, then chances are that you are using user stories (if not, then you should try it out, it is awesome). If you are using user stories you can add a log to each user story, and simply keep track of what has been decide by whom, when it was decided and why. Then later on you can access that user story in order to answer why the menu was changed.
A word of caution, some SCRUM tools makes it had to access the items that has been completed and approved during your project. Always make sure that you can access old user stories and sprint logs in the SCRUM tool that you use.

A second way to handle this is by doing a good old fashion change log, however you should not do any long description in change management documents, or else you will drown in paperwork. In stead use a simple spreadsheet with at least the following columns:

  • ID number
  • Date for deciding to do the change
  • User story identification number
  • User story title
  • Description of what has been changed and why.
  • Who decided this.
  • What impact is expect to the project if any.

The third way, and that is for the spoiled project managers, is to have your product owner do the change management for you, but basically he or she will probably do it in the same fashion as described above, or else that person will be the one who will be drowning in paperwork.

Estimation and impact on the project
When doing changes to a project, even if it is agile, you should always make sure that the tasks are re-estimated and you need to know exactly what impact the change will have on your project – What seems like a simple twist in a steering committee meeting may have a big impact on the project when you present it to your developers. Therefor, you should never allow a change to be decided/approved/committed before you’ve got a complete overview of the impact AND are able to explain this to the rest of the project group.