What Is a Change Order?

What Is a Change Order

If you are interested in project mediation and negotiations, you might ask, what is a change order?

A change order is an essential part of the project management process. It is a document that outlines a project’s original scope, providing a formal method for adjusting schedules, budgets, and other aspects of the original contract or project plan.

Change orders are commonly used in construction contracts, engineering projects, and other industries where projects often involve multiple stakeholders, complex requirements, and unforeseen challenges.

In this blog post, we will explore what change orders are, why they are necessary, and how they can be effectively managed to ensure project success.

By understanding the purpose and function of change orders, you can better navigate the complexities of project management and maintain control over your projects.

The Purpose of a Change Order

The primary purpose of a change order is to formally document any changes to a project’s original scope. This typically involves adjustments to the project’s timeline, budget, and specifications.

Change orders are necessary because projects are rarely static; they evolve as new information becomes available, unforeseen challenges arise, and stakeholder preferences change.

Some common reasons for change orders include:

  • Design modifications: Changes to the design or specifications of a project may be necessary to improve its functionality, aesthetics, or compliance with regulations.
  • Site conditions: Unforeseen site conditions, such as soil contamination or hidden utilities, can require adjustments to the project’s scope and budget.
  • Client requests: Clients may ask for additional features, modifications, or revisions to meet their needs or preferences.
  • Regulatory changes: Changes in laws, regulations, or codes can necessitate adjustments to a project’s scope and budget.
  • Errors and omissions: Mistakes or oversights in the original project plan may need to be corrected through change orders.

Change orders serve several important functions in project management:

  • They provide a clear and organized method for documenting and communicating changes to all stakeholders.
  • They help maintain control over the project by ensuring that changes are approved and tracked.
  • They allow for adjustments to the project’s budget and schedule, helping to prevent cost overruns and delays.

Components of a Change Order

A well-written change order should include the following components:

  • Project information: This includes the project name, location, and relevant contract or proposal numbers.
  • Change order number: A unique identifier for the change order, which can be used for tracking and reference purposes.
  • Description of the change: A detailed explanation of the change, including the reason for the change and any relevant background information.
  • Impact on the project: This section should outline how the change will affect the project’s scope, schedule, and budget. This may involve adjustments to the project’s completion date, estimated costs, or other key metrics.
  • Approval and signatures: Change orders typically require approval from multiple stakeholders, such as the project owner, contractor, and architect. This section should include space for these parties to sign and date the change order, indicating their agreement to the proposed changes.

Managing Change Orders Effectively

Effectively managing change orders is crucial to maintaining control over your projects and ensuring their success. Here are some best practices for handling change orders:

Establish a Clear Change Order Process

Having a well-defined and documented process for handling change orders can help ensure that all stakeholders understand their roles and responsibilities.

This should include guidelines for submitting change requests, reviewing and approving changes, and tracking change order progress.

Communicate Changes Clearly and Promptly

Timely and clear communication is essential when dealing with change orders. All stakeholders should be informed of any proposed changes, their potential impacts, and the steps being taken to address them.

This can help prevent misunderstandings and ensure that everyone remains on the same page.

Prioritize and Evaluate Change Requests

Not all change requests are created equal. It’s important to prioritize and evaluate each request based on factors such as its potential impact on the project, the feasibility of implementation, and the overall value it will add.

This can help ensure that resources are allocated effectively and that the most important changes are addressed first.

Maintain Accurate and Up-to-Date Documentation

Keeping thorough and accurate records of change orders is crucial for tracking project progress and maintaining control over the project.

This includes updating project plans, schedules, and budgets to reflect approved changes and ensuring that all stakeholders have access to the latest information.

Learn from Past Change Orders

Reviewing and analyzing past change orders can provide valuable insights into areas where your project management processes may need improvement.

By identifying patterns and trends in change order requests, you can take steps to address recurring issues and prevent similar problems from arising in future projects.

Change Orders in Construction Projects

In construction projects, change orders play a particularly critical role due to the inherent complexity and unpredictability of these types of projects.

When a construction project begins, the scope of work and contract price should be agreed upon by both the client and all other involved parties. However, in the construction industry, project changes occur regularly.

The following are some additional considerations specific to a construction change directive, which is the particular change order form used in construction:

Material and Labor Cost Fluctuations

Construction projects often span several months or even years, during which time material and labor costs can fluctuate significantly from the original contract.

Change orders to the existing construction contract may be necessary to account for these fluctuations and ensure that the project stays within budget.

Coordination with Subcontractors

The construction process involves multiple subcontractors, each responsible for a specific aspect of the project.

Change orders can help coordinate changes among these subcontractors, ensuring that they are all working in sync and that any adjustments to the project scope are accurately reflected in their work.

Weather-Related Delays

Weather can have a significant impact on construction projects, causing delays and necessitating changes to the project schedule.

Change orders can be used to document these delays and adjust the project timeline accordingly.

Site Access and Logistics

Construction projects often involve complex site logistics, such as coordinating deliveries, managing site access, and ensuring the safety of workers and the public.

Change orders can help address these logistical challenges by outlining changes to site access or delivery schedules, for example.

Quality Control and Inspections

Maintaining quality control and adhering to inspection requirements are essential in construction projects.

Change orders can be used to document any changes to quality control procedures or inspection schedules, ensuring that the project remains compliant with industry standards and regulations.

Final Thoughts

Change orders are a necessary and integral part of the project management process, allowing for adjustments and modifications to be made as projects evolve.

By understanding the purpose and function of change orders, establishing clear processes for managing them, and prioritizing effective communication, control can be maintained over projects and ensure their success.

This is particularly important in a construction project, where the complexity and unpredictability of the work can make change orders even more critical.

By considering factors such as material and labor cost fluctuations, coordination with subcontractors, weather-related delays, site access and logistics, quality control, and inspections, you can better manage change orders in your construction project.

Remember that change is inevitable in any project. If you want to learn more about change orders, mediation, negotiation, and alternative dispute resolution, especially as it relates to project management, contact ADR Times for educational resources and training courses.


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