When in a project should I start controlling changes more formally?

I don't want to over-constrain the creative process early in the project while we are defining the scope and requirements, but I know that if we don't start tracking change sometime we might have a problem. When in a project should I start controlling changes more formally?
Change is inevitable and something we all need to accommodate in our projects. But how formal or informal should we be about it? When striking the right balance, the most important consideration is assuring that changes are communicated to those we interact with, with so everyone is aware of how the change will impact our interactions.

Everyone involved in the project is focused on helping achieve the objectives and producing the defined deliverables. Changes instituted very early in the project lifecycle can be accommodated with informal processes, but require that everyone involved or affected be aware of the change. Informal controls like this might be pen-and-ink markups of preliminary scope or requirements documents that a small team is working on together. These types of changes are discussed across the group and alignment is achieved in real time.

As the team grows and the project moves from Initiation to Planning, the impact of changes grows with it. Changes need to be captured and communicated to everyone involved in order to ensure alignment. Imagine if one development team used outdated specifications to estimate their development schedule and resource estimate. The further into project execution and deliverable development, the greater the impact of changes. Thus, changes need to be managed and communicated by some defined process that keeps the whole project team informed and aligned. This is when we shift to more formal change controls.

A formal change control process ensures that proposed changes are captured, evaluated based on need and impact to business objectives and the project, approved (or rejected), and the decision communicated to the project team. Approved changes must then be integrated into the ongoing activity, which might require revisions to elements of the project plan and schedule. Our Change Control Form and Requirements Change Management Guideline both offer different approaches to formal change control.

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