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OUTSIDE THE BOX Forum: Project Managers are Morphing into Change Managers

As complex projects become more the norm than the exception scope changes become more frequent.

In fact, these projects expect change requests and cannot succeed without it. It is just part of the learning and discovery process and an essential ingredient of successful complex projects. Maybe project managers have always been change managers but we didn’t recognize them as such. Or perhaps this morphing may be more the result of our taking a more sophisticated approach to managing complex projects. The recognition of complex projects as the real project ushers in an approach tailored to the nuances presented by projects whose goal and or solutions cannot be completely known at the outset but can only be discovered through iteration.

So as a newly recognized change manager, what should the project manager have as tools and how should they be used.

The Role of the Project Manager as a Change Manager

The Change Manager’s objective is to take the organization from where it is to where it wants to be. Sounds simple, but is it? One of the biggest obstacles is to establish and sustain meaningful client involvement. Their representatives on the project team is the best thing the project manager must an expert. But that expertise will be lost if there isn’t meaningful participation. The tools described below are critical to establishing that meaningful involvement.

“To act as an agent of change, managers must have good communication and interpersonal skills so that they can explain the benefits and implications of change”, says Ian Linton of Chron. Strong communication and interpersonal skills of the project manager build a stronger relationship with the client that creates stronger meaningful participation. 

William Sheats agrees, “Effective communication throughout the lifecycle of the change initiative is required to enable and achieve a successful organizational change. Communication is the foundation for transferring the knowledge and creating the understanding associated with the specifics of the change.”

There are two tools that may be new to the Project Manager acting as a Change Manager.

1. Bundled Change Management Process

Every complex project should expect frequent change requests. These are the fuel of a successful project. Without these changes, the project is likely to fail. They are the result of the learning and discovery that drive each iteration. With that in mind the project manager and the team must do everything they can to facilitate change requests. That is the good news. The bad news is that someone on the project team must receive these changes, analyze them, decide if and how to implement them and finally adjust the schedule to accommodate them. The human resource requirements can be substantial. These are resources that are no longer available to do project work. 

The traditional one at a time process is very inefficient. With that in mind the project manager and the project team must do everything they can to make the change request process simple and efficient. 

Jane Suchan PMP from Microsoft agrees with simplicity in the change process, “One challenge for project managers is balancing the need to control project change while avoiding undue bureaucracy. The question is: Where is the tipping point? Because every project is unique, the point at which change control stops adding value and turns into red tape will vary from project to project.”

Simplicity in change management process points to a bundled change management process. Bundling means that the analysis and decisions are made at specific times during the project. That points to the time between iterations when review of the just completed iteration and planning for the next iteration is done. 

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The process we have designed is called the Bundled Change Management Process (Figure 1). It is a process that works particularly well in complex project situations where change is frequent.

wysocki 072417 1Figure 1: Bundled Change Management Process

The lifeblood of a successful complex project is change. The purpose of each iteration is to learn and discover the specifics of the goal and/or solution. Without change an incomplete solution will never evolve to an acceptable complete solution. The first principle to learn is that every change is a significant change.

What that means is that the change process must be open, simple, lean and as painless as possible to the client for that is where the bulk of the changes will originate. 

Note that when the Change Request is received that it is review and if accepted without change is added to the Scope Bank. Only when the stage is complete will the change request be analyzed and further action taken. If the change is approved it could be available for work as early as the next stage.

Change requests can arise at any time and can come from any one of several sources. Furthermore, the request can be well thought out or just a statement like: What would it be like if we could …? Both extremes must be accommodated by the request form that formally enters the idea into the project. The request process begins with a statement from the individual making the request. It is designed to allow the requestor to provide as much detail as is available. The last thing would be to have a requirement that creates an obstacle to suggesting a change. Rather, you would rather have a request form that encourages ideas.

2. Management Reserve

For high change projects, a contingency time budget is a good idea. It works just like a contingency budget of money. If you need it, you spend it. 

“Contingency reserve need not refer exclusively to monetary terms. It can also refer to a specific quantity of time in man hours that must be allocated above and beyond the previously determined quantity of hours required to assure that any overtime or other unexpected hours of work required can be properly compensated for”, says Project Management Knowledge.

When you spend from the Management Reserve, it moves the project completion date out by the amount of time expended. The first step is to get the sponsor and executive management to buy into the idea and agree to support it and follow its dictates. Typical reserves are from 5-15% of the total estimated duration of all the tasks in the project. In complex projects, much of that duration is not known up front. In fact, many of the tasks may not even be known. Even if tasks are not known and hence schedules not known the project usually has a time and cost budget. The time budget is enough to set up the Management

Reserve budget. More uncertainty results in the higher allocations and higher variance of the estimates however. 

The most difficult part of Management Reserve is what do you do when the contingency time budget runs out and another change request arises? The process is simple to describe but difficult to implement. Suppose the new change request requires X hours to implement. The sponsor must find some future requirement in the schedule not yet integrated that can be canceled or reduced and replaced with the new change. 

Getting the sponsor and senior management buy-in is the most challenging part of implementing Management Reserve.

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