Project Management

Can You Say ‘No’ to Changes Anymore?

Andy Jordan is President of Roffensian Consulting S.A., a Roatan, Honduras-based management consulting firm with a comprehensive project management practice. Andy always appreciates feedback and discussion on the issues raised in his articles and can be reached at [email protected]. Andy's new book Risk Management for Project Driven Organizations is now available.

When I suggested to a colleague that I was going to write an article exploring whether it was still possible to say “no” to a change request, he laughed. His position is that project managers have never been able to say no to changes that sponsors, customers or other key stakeholders want—and that all they have ever been able to do is point out how disruptive the change is and hope that the requestor changes his or her mind. That may be a slightly cynical perspective, but I do kinda get what he means.

For as long as I have been managing projects, the perception has been that if a key stakeholder requests that a change be made to the project, the PM is expected to accommodate it if at all possible. I’m slightly less cynical than my colleague, and I have always believed that those stakeholders wouldn’t ask for the change if it wasn’t important. I have always sought to validate that, but there have only been a few occasions where a request was made that was completely unnecessary.

That’s not to say that all of the change requests have been worthy of acceptance without discussion or further enhancement, but a strong relationship with stakeholders should make that kind of collaboration automatic anyway.

What’s changed in my mind over the last few years has been the nature of those discussions. When I first started managing …

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