Managing project variants

project variants

Changes throughout a project are not unusual for project managers.

Managing these variants efficiently and effectively can be tricky, but it is essential if you want your project to be successful.

Having a clear and simple change management process and a steady view of the big picture therefore helps greatly to keep the project on the right track.

First step: accept the change

Changes can happen at virtually any point in the project lifecycle.

Acknowledging that change is inevitable and sometimes can be beneficial, project managers can adopt more agile approaches to planning and execution.

Having strategies in place to effectively address change as it occurs is the most effective way to move in the right direction, even though it may seem like a constant change of direction.

A well-defined and structured process will establish the best way to respond to suggestions and requests for change within the development process.

Management process of project variants

The management process for project variants is similar to the following:

  • The change request is received
  • The change request is assessed
  • The response strategy is drafted and presented to stakeholders.
  • The response strategy is approved or declined
    • If the strategy gets approved, it is implemented
    • If the strategy gets rejected, a new solution must be found

Let’s see these steps more specifically:

The change request is received

Ideally, you should have an official and formal way to make requests for change, but in the real life of the organization, this is often not the case.

A change request can be received in hundreds of different ways: during a meeting, by e-mail, on the phone, talking in the hallway, etc.

The project change request template should accurately and concisely capture all the details of the request so that every single aspect can be addressed when looking for a response strategy.

The change request is assessed

The impact of an amendment request will be assessed based on:

  • Project program
  • Work carried out up to date and work still to be accomplished
  • Budget
  • Quality
  • Project scope
  • Resources availability

Let’s consider, for example, a software modification that is estimated to require five days to complete.

This would not add just five days to the schedule because it would eliminate another task as it would postpone it until the key resource is on vacation.

This task would then also have to be rescheduled, resulting in a total of eight days added to the schedule.

This would represent an X cost and the extra eight days would represent an additional month of contract with the supplier, thus increasing the X cost to an XY cost.

The quality at the end remains the same, but the scope changes due to the integration of the new change for project variant management.

It should also not be forgotten that all relevant documentation should be updated.

Therefore, in the overall picture, a simple five-day change has tremendous effects and it is therefore important to consider all relevant factors before making an implementation decision.

The response strategy is drafted and presented to stakeholders

Once all elements have been assessed, the project manager presents a response strategy to be provided to stakeholders as management of project variants and its advice on feasibility.

In some cases, the changes will not be implemented because the perceived benefit will be inferior to the cost.

In other cases, it is possible to obtain enough benefits to compensate for the additional work costs.

Other cases, however, will demonstrate that the changes are inevitable and outside of any control, regardless of the negative effect they will bring.

the project variants

The response strategy is approved or declined

The decision whether to accept or reject changes within the permit limit is directly up to the project manager, but any other larger changes should be approved by the project stakeholders.

The boundaries for what is within what category are generally defined at the beginning of any project.

Regardless of the outcome, it is important to keep all stakeholders involved in the process updated.

Leading a project team through the variant management process

The project team is fundamental to the success of any project, so it is essential to actively involve them in the management of process changes.

Here are five ways to do so:

  1. Be open minded regarding changes: the project manager needs to let their team know if any changes are planned in the projects – and ideally which ones.
  2. Be open minded regarding the process: Most team members won’t know what’s expected from them until they’ve been informed. The project manager will then have to prepare a briefing and let everyone know what their role is.
  3. Simplify as much as possible: Changing design variants is often, at best, a controlled chaos. The team can be afraid of changes, especially the most complex ones or those that conflict with long thought decisions and obstacles that are long considered to have been eliminated. The project team turns to its leader for assistance and stabilization, so the project manager must make the process as simple as possible.
  4. Help and support: A new way of working takes time. The project manager needs to let their team know that they are ready to help and support each individual member if they need something.
  5. Don’t be afraid to say no: Not all changes are meaningful suggestions. The project manager must convey to the team their openness to them if an employee feels, for whatever reason, that change is not the right move for the project. They must always be open minded towards dialogue.


Failing to manage project variants effectively is one of the main reasons why a project can completely fall apart.

But if the project manager has the right information and the right processes, project changes can be managed in a controlled, intelligent, and win-win way for everyone involved.

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