Managing Change Orders from an Owner Perspective

Change orders in construction can be both a blessing and a curse. They represent adjustments to the original project scope, and can bring their fair share of challenges. For construction owners, effectively managing change orders is crucial to keeping a project on track, on budget, and within the specified timeline. In this blog post, we'll dive deep into the world of change orders and explore how construction owners can handle them successfully.

Understanding Change Orders

A change order is a written agreement between the construction owner and a contractor or 3rd party, detailing alterations to the original construction contract or plans. These changes can encompass a variety of modifications, such as design changes, material substitutions, or adjustments to the project's timeline. Change orders are a common occurrence in the construction industry, but they can lead to complications if not managed properly and clearly.

The Impact of Change Orders

Change orders have a significant impact on construction projects. From a construction owner's perspective, here are some of the key effects to consider:

  1. Cost Implications: Change orders often result in additional costs. These can stem from revised materials, extra labor, or delays. A construction owner must carefully evaluate these costs and negotiate with the contractor to ensure a fair price for the changes. More importantly, when a change order results in a change in cost, that must be tracked forward and factored into future forecasts or calculations.
  2. Project Delays: Change orders can disrupt the project schedule. Construction owners need to weigh the importance of the requested change against the potential delay it may cause. Minimizing disruptions is essential for staying on track.
  3. Legal Implications: The original contract and legal agreements must be considered when dealing with change orders. A well-drafted contract should outline the procedures for requesting, approving, and executing changes. This might include roles or individuals that have the ability to execute change orders. A clearly defined and efficient system for change order management will help to follow these specifics.

Best Practices for Change Order Management

Successfully managing change orders is a crucial area for project managers and most people involved on construction management teams. Here are some best practices to consider:

  1. Thorough Documentation: Maintain detailed records of all project documents, including the original contract, plans, and specifications. Documentation is crucial when evaluating the impact of proposed changes, as well as tracking those changes over time.
  2. Communication: Effective communication between a construction owner (through the project manager), contractor, and other stakeholders is essential. Open and transparent dialogue can help identify potential issues early and prevent misunderstandings. Having very clearly defined communication channels or platforms means everyone knows where to expect change orders.
  3. Budgeting and Contingencies: Allocate a portion of the project budget to cover potential change orders. Having a contingency fund can help mitigate the financial impact of unexpected changes.
  4. Prioritization: Not all change orders are of equal importance. Prioritize changes based on their impact on the project's overall goals. Assess how each change aligns with the project's scope, budget, and timeline.
  5. Negotiation: When discussing change orders with the contractor, be prepared to negotiate. Ensure that the proposed cost and timeline adjustments are fair and justifiable.
  6. Legal Review: If a change order involves significant alterations, it's wise to seek legal advice to ensure that all contractual obligations are met.
  7. Approval Process: Establish a clear and efficient process for approving change orders. Define who has the authority to approve changes, and set deadlines to prevent unnecessary delays.
  8. Change Order Management Software: Consider utilizing construction management software to manage all aspects of change orders. These tools streamline the change order process, making it more efficient, transparent, and automated. Specific functions you want to look for are the ability to create and track change orders (and their many variations), approval chains of change orders or requests, and historical tracking overtime for any retrospective or legal requirements.


Changes happen in every sort of construction project. For construction owners, effectively managing these changes is essential for project success. By following best practices, maintaining open communication, and utilizing the right tools, construction owners can navigate change orders with confidence. These practices will not only minimize disruptions but also contribute to successful project outcomes and satisfied stakeholders. Remember, change orders may present challenges, but with the right approach, they can be opportunities for improvement and innovation.

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