Project Team Members and Change Requests


Series on Project Management for Team Members

By Prof Marco Sampietro

SDA Bocconi School of Management

Milan, Italy


This is the sixth article of the series: Project Management for Team Members (aka Project Followership). We will deal with the role of project team members in change requests. The idea is that, while projects are an inherently turbulent environment, such turbulence can be controlled or exacerbated by team members. One of the typical ways to increase or decrease the instability of projects is through change requests.

Those who do not frequently participate in project activities or, due to the responsibilities assigned to them, do not require a global vision of the project very often feel that projects are a chaotic, disorganized environment where the company, more than providing support, almost seems to be rowing against the current.

It is rare during a project that what is planned is then carried out without undergoing changes: revisions to schedules, budgets, and the objective are very common and plagued by ubiquitous urgencies.

Let us clear up any misunderstandings: it is true, some projects are turbulent due to a real inability to manage them or even because those who should manage them actually make the environment even more turbulent and instead of “putting out the flames, throw fuel onto the fire”. However many other times the project manager and the company in general do a good job but, despite this, the projects are still unstable: the decisions made are called into question and work plans are frequently updated.

Why does this happen? How should a project team member interpret this continuous shuffling of the cards? And, finally, how can a project team member help to stabilize a project?

One characteristic that all projects have in common is the attribute of innovation, uniqueness. Similar projects exist, but there are no identical projects. This characteristic translates into another element: uncertainty.  Given that there are many variables at play in a project and given that these variables can change from project to project, by nature projects become uncertain and unstable environments.

The situation can be depicted by the diagram in Figure 1, which represents the so-called “cone of uncertainty”.


Figure 1. The Cone of Uncertainty

Source: adapted from Bohem 1981 and McConnel 1997

The diagram can be interpreted as follows: the horizontal axes represents time, while the vertical axes represents the estimate errors referred to the typical project variables (times, costs, use of resources), compared to the real values of the project (the horizontal line with the number 0). As we can see, the worst time to make forecasts is at the start of the project as that is when the uncertainty is greatest. Logically, uncertainty in the estimates is reset to zero at the end of the project, as by that stage the values have been calculated (in reality, in some situations even the final calculations are uncertain, but this is a discussion that touches on project control systems).


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About the Author

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Milan, Italy


Marco Sampietro
obtained a Ph.D. at the University of Bremen, Germany. Since 2000 he has been a professor at SDA Bocconi School of Management, Milan, Italy. SDA Bocconi School of Management is ranked among the top Business Schools in the world (Financial Times, Forbes, Bloomberg, and The Economist rankings). He is a Core Faculty Member at SDA Bocconi School of Management and teaches Project Management in the MBA – Master of Business Administration, and GEMBA – Global Executive Master of Business Administration programs. He is Faculty Member at MISB – Mumbai International School of Business, the Indian subsidiary of Bocconi University, and Visiting Professor at IHU – International Hellenic University, Greece. He is also a Contract Professor at Bocconi University and Milano Fashion Institute for the Project Management courses.

He was a speaker at the NASA Project Management Challenge 2007, 2008, and 2011, in the USA, and a speaker at the PMI Global European Congress, Italy, 2010.

He is Member of the Steering Committee of IPMA-Italy.

He is co-author and/or editor of 10 books on project management and 7 books on IT management. Among them: Empowering Project Teams. Using Project Followership to Improve Performance. CRC Press, 2014. Finally, he is the author of award-winning case studies and papers.

Dr. Sampietro can be contacted at: [email protected]

To see other works by Marco Sampietro, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at http://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/marco-sampietro/