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Change Management; the Missing Link for PM Success

Whenever I make a presentation on project management best practices, I always point out that if project managers are oblivious of the impact of change management variables on their projects, these projects will be challenged or even fail. Here I am not speaking of the management of change requests from project stakeholders that could result in scope creep or project deliverables that bear little resemblance to original project objectives or scope. This conversation often results in an ah’ha moment for many in the target group because it allows us to recognize one of the key reasons why projects fail – our inability to address or lack of acknowledgement of the symptoms of change that permeate our projects. Even if the project team produces the ‘Rolls Royce’ of deliverables, guess what? The project may still fail because of such issues as lack of buy-in or resistance to change. So, should we be considering these management disciplines as two disparate areas? What are the consequences for our projects if we do?

Change management is a systematic approach aimed at facilitating the movement of individuals, groups, and organizations from a current state to a desired future state. Project management involves the planning, scheduling and controlling of project activities to meet project requirements. It is the application of skills, tools and techniques to project activities in order to meet stakeholders’ needs and expectations[1] So should the two be married?

Projects have specific goals and objectives, and therefore must deliver specific results. The implementation of a project management methodology provides some key benefits to any organization. Project management was developed to introduce a structured, consistent approach to managing projects, thus fostering time and cost efficiencies by proactively planning and considering all relevant variables that could impact a successful outcome. Additionally, project management provides coordinated and ‘trackable’ processes to monitor and control performance. Some people limit these variables to the “hard’ factors, such as schedule, budget or scope management, overlooking ‘soft’ variables such as, the impact of an effective change management execution strategy to successful project outcome – this usually to their peril. Success not only depends on the extent to which the project deliverables meet specifications or requirements but also on the willingness of stakeholders or end users to change the status quo. But these objectives cannot be achieved without the project manager recognizing and embracing their role as a transformational leader and change agent.

Whether this is a small ‘c’ or a big ‘c’ change initiative, all project management initiatives are intended to bring about change. While the extent of the change management effort adopted should reflect and be commensurate with the magnitude of the initiative and its organization, the effective management of change should be of primary concern to all project managers. Projects have been widely accepted by management gurus and strategists as key vehicles for achieving transformational change and for executing strategic priorities.

Project managers must ensure their skills extend beyond the technical/application areas, to such competences as general management and interpersonal skills including leading, motivating, inspiring, negotiating, communicating, and conflict resolution. All of these change management skills are critical to project success and influencing stakeholders’ acceptance.

The project manager plays a key role as change agent or transformational leader. Change agents ‘make things happen.’ It is this individual (or team) that drives and supports change efforts, creating buy-in and gaining commitment of stakeholders. Successful and sustainable change initiatives begin and end with an effective leader who can respond to and lead the transformation effort by developing and implementing new systems to drive the renewal process.

Change represents uncertainty, wariness, adjusting the status quo and a frightening prospect to many. In today’s world it has become the new norm. It is constant and unavoidable, evidenced by the volatility in global and competitive markets, the tsunami of the information age and social networking, just to name a few. Change management strategy execution has undoubtedly become a critical competency in the enterprise of today. It is therefore essential for us to eliminate the following myths from the project management environment.

Myth 1 – “I’m responsible for the ‘hard’ side of the project, not the ‘soft’ stuff.”

Project teams are ultimately responsible for delivering value to the organization through their project. If your project requires people to change the way they do their jobs, then the ‘soft’ side is also your responsibility”

A perfectly designed solution that no one uses is ultimately of little value to the organization.

Myth 2 – “I have a communication plan, isn’t that enough?”

While communication is important, change management does not equal effective communication.

Change management also includes sponsorship, coaching, proactive resistance management, training and reinforcement.

Myth 3 – “We are introducing change and managing the project, so aren’t we managing change?”

Just because you are introducing a change does not mean that you are managing the people side of that change. Change management is a systematic approach to accelerate adoption and mitigate resistance.

Change management is the process, tools and techniques for managing the people side of change. In the same way that you have tools to manage the project side of the change – issue tracking, documentation, work breakdown structures, design processes – there are specific tools you can use to encourage adoption, to mitigate resistance and to manage change.

Myth 4 – “We don’t need change management.”

Change management helps to increase the speed of adoption of change, the ultimate utilization of the tools and the proficiency of employees in the future state. Many studies have shown a direct correlation between how well you manage change and whether or not you meet project objectives.This underscores the fact that to deliver the potential value of your project to the organization; you need to manage the people side of change.

Project managers and other stakeholders need to become more educated about change management and the approaches necessary to ensure it is incorporated in all initiatives. Many change initiatives/projects fall short of their objectives because project managers often do not see themselves as changes agents. Even when they do have some appreciation of this concept, there is a disconnect between accepting the project as a mechanism for change and reconciling the necessary steps to implement the change.

There are numerous change models that exist today. Whether you adopt a top down approach, as suggested by Kotter,[2] or a bottom up approach advocated in models like ADKAR[3], it is fundamentally important to project sponsors, managers and teams to proactively plan for and address these variables. The Kotter model, for example, has been widely adopted and proposes an 8-step approach. It ranges from the need to communicate a sense of urgency with realistic and relevant objectives; to making the change stick through reinforcement based on promotion, recruitment, identification of new change leaders. Then the change must be woven into organizational culture. Whether the project is functional/departmentally focused, cross-functional, enterprise-wide or includes external impact, a well articulated change strategy will be required for success.

Projects are often meant to move the organization from a current state to a future preferred state. Uniting the project and change management disciplines allows organizations to adopt a structured consistent process, balanced with active stakeholder engagement, learning, and reinforcement aimed at achieving strategic objectives and organization excellence. Key success factors for project managers – the transformational leaders/change agents in today’s organization should include:

  • Beginning with the end in mind[4] – have a vision or understand the vision!
  • Ability to communicate and influence others (both upwards and downwards) in the organizational hierarchy – exert political power
  • Strong executive/leadership support and sponsorship
  • Active involvement and an ability to build a shared learning environment
  • Gaining consensus and alignment of project stakeholders – communicating the message and benefits, the ‘what’s in it for me’ factor
  • Integrating process driven systems with people driven processes to counter fear of change, reduce risk, build momentum and create buy-in and ownership of project deliverables.

The time is now! Organizations, and their CEOs, are hungry for change. It is no surprise that there is now a movement to make change management methodology like Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) standard, recognizing the need for a formalized, integrated process. Change initiatives are no longer viewed as an extraordinary event but as standard components of the business environment. Indeed they may be a necessity to survive the demands our new economy. Agility and vision are key, but they also requires a method amidst the uncertainty. Marrying formal project and change management standards, practices and approaches into an accepted way of executing strategic initiatives will be the way to not only survive but thrive in a changing business world.

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Cheryl Francis-Nurse, PMP, MBA is a consultant at SPM Group Limited with over 15 years experience in the fields of project management, education, international development, trade and investment. She is an accomplished Instructor/Facilitator currently responsible for the development and delivery of a range of customized project management training programs in the public sector and private industry. Cheryl gained recognition for her exemplary contribution to the management business skills and process improvement projects in 2002 when she was awarded the USAID’s First Merit Award for Exceptional Efficiency in the Management of a Business Skills Training Project. Cheryl holds an MBA with Distinction from Manchester Business School, a Post-MBA Diploma in Advanced Management from York University and the Project Management Professional (PMP) Designation from the Project Management Institute.

1 Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK®)
2 Kotter, John P: Leading Change, Harvard Business School, 1996
3 Hiatt Jeffrey: ADKAR: A model for Change in business, Government and Our Community, Prosci 2006
4 Steven R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, 1989

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