change orders for architects

Change orders for architects – the best practices list

What are change orders

A construction change order is a formal record of any alterations made after a contract has been agreed upon and signed. 

Change orders keep everyone updated and maintain an accurate record of how the project is progressing. 

It could detail changes in materials, adjustments in the scope of work, changes of subcontractors, or even a revised schedule. This could either add or subtract from the original scope or services, or result from a modification in the method of delivery.

However, before these changes are put into action, everyone involved usually wants to agree on the new terms, and that’s what makes change orders slightly uncomfortable.

Essentially, a change order is an update to the initial contract. As such, all relevant parties, which include the contractor who agrees to the changes and the owner and architect who propose the changes, need to sign it.

What triggers change orders

There are several major reasons for change orders to arise, and they come either from external factors, lack of communication, or deliberately misleading actions from either the client or the contractor.

External factors

First, the initial project estimates may be inaccurate, which leads to perceived deviations from the plan.

Any party can discover unexpected obstacles and project constraints. Or, perhaps, new resource-saving opportunities that were overlooked initially.

At times, unexpected site conditions (soil, environment, neighbouring developments) require a design change.


Sometimes a change order is prompted by the client who simply changed their mind or thought of an extra feature.


Contractors may “strategically” introduce additions to the original scope after having initially won the lowest base bid price.

They may then add things after the contract and try to inflate the costs – this is a shady practice and you should not be working with anyone using it.

Lack of communication

The most frequent cause of change orders, and also the most common source of disputes over them, is a lack of clear communication and expectations before the work commences.

That’s why we recommend using PlanMan’s client communication module and the architecture project document storage to keep everything recorded and updated in one place.

Also, rethink your visioning workshops – they should have a clear follow-up about things that are definitely going to be a part of the project so that the stakeholders don’t think everything discussed at a workshop will be implemented.

Remember, it’s crucial that change orders are recorded in writing. Oral agreements can lead to misunderstandings and quickly spiral into baseless arguments.

Proper written change orders safeguard both the architect and client’s interests. The last thing anyone wants to do is stop the project that’s already started.

Keep in mind that no one is immune to change requests – even the big & experienced architects deal with them sometimes! However, you need to do everything you can to minimize their occurrence. To do that, make sure your contracts are bulletproof, client communication is clear, all documents are updated, and the contractors you work with are transparent.

The contents of a change order

There are some vital things your change order should contain. The list is below –

The initial contract number 

All the contractors, owners, architects, and other stakeholders need to know which contract is being altered by the change order. Contractors might be managing multiple projects concurrently and property owners can be engaged in several improvements simultaneously.

Name and location of the project

In addition to the contract number, change orders should also feature the project’s name, location, and the overview of the work done there.

Owner’s information

This secures accurate filing of each change order (you may have several of them in complex projects).

Contractors’ and architect’s information

Much like the owner’s information, the contractor’s or designer’s contact details should be clearly listed early in the change order to facilitate easy contact by stakeholders.

Change order series number

In cases where a single contract sees multiple registered change orders, they should be recorded clearly and in the right order. This helps track the project progress properly and bill the client accurately.

Project and change order dates

A change order generally includes the date when the order was registered and the dates from the original contract.

Clear descriptions of contract alterations

This is the meat of the change order, and it has to be detailed, structured, and complete. After all, if miscommunication was the sole reason for the change order, you want to make sure everything becomes clear to all parties.

You should clearly list and explain any changes in materials, terms, and costs, leaving no room for questions or misunderstandings.

Change order best practices and mistakes to avoid

There are certain tactics you can use to minimize the amount of change orders you get. 

Here’s a quick recap of the most practical ones:

  • Never rely on unwritten change requests. Always put your change orders in writing.
  • Ensure that your contract is free of contradictions, especially in reference to change orders. If any section of your contract discusses change orders, double-check that there isn’t any subsequent language that may confuse or contradict that particular clause. If you don’t have the change order clause in your contract, have it added.
  • Have a template for change orders. Make sure every project participant or stakeholder has the same way to request a properly formatted change order. Ideally these need to be easily shared to all other parties. PlanMan lets you do that easily, sign up for free to see the document sharing capabilities.
  • If a change order is looming, let everyone know as soon as possible. Keeping it a secret will only increase the level of discomfort all the parties experience in the process.
  • Make sure to get all signatures on each change order and get them as fast as possible. Indicate who approves all the change orders – make sure they are responsive and knowledgeable!
  • Don’t argue over change orders, especially if the viability of the whole project is at stake. Embrace the agile approach – every change is an opportunity, many change orders give a chance to settle all potential issues in advance.

No one can predict the course of an architectural project, so change orders are inevitable as your firm grows

We’ve designed PlanMan platform to be the architecture project management partner that lets you tackle change orders effectively. Try it free or contact us if you have any questions!