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Project Managers are Change Managers

PTimes_Feature_Jan26Project managers, to be effective, must be competent change managers.  Often, projects to introduce new or changed products or processes or to put on an event are planned without appropriately considering the change that the project result will cause in its environment.  Let’s discuss change management (as opposed to the control of changes that occur in scope and other aspects of the project) and see where it fits in the context of project management.

Two Kinds of Change

There are two principle types of change – intentional and unintentional. 

Intentional change is change we make happen.  It is planned and actively managed.  Intentional change is brought about by projects.

Unintentional change is change that seemingly just happens. 

But, nothing just happens.  Everything has a cause under a set of conditions.  The causes may be initiated by others or occur randomly, as in a storm.

One person’s intentional change may, and often does, result in unintentional change for those who are subject to the change’s impact and in the form of unexpected ripple effects.  As an initiator of intentional change you must do your best to predict and be ready to manage the unintentional change that occurs when you change something in a complex organization or environment.  Accept the reality that you cannot completely control and predict the outcome because of the complex interplay among people, processes, organizations, cultures and other factors.  You could say that a big part of risk management is identifying and handling risks of disruption caused by the performance of projects and the delivery of their results.

Change Management

“Change management is a systematic approach to dealing with change, both from the perspective of an organization and on the individual level. A somewhat ambiguous term, change management has at least three different aspects, including: adapting to change, controlling change, and effecting change. A proactive approach to dealing with change is at the core of all three aspects. For an organization, change management means defining and implementing procedures and/or technologies to deal with changes in the business environment and to profit from changing opportunities.”[1]   

Managing change is a project in itself.  Sometimes it is treated as separate project, for example a project to change the attitudes of customers by instituting new customer service procedures or to implement a new process to improve performance.  When projects are seen in this light, it is most likely (though not guaranteed) that the human aspects of change management (avoiding and managing resistance, providing time for the acceptance and integration of the new into the existing environment, etc.) will be integrated into the project. 

However, we see many technology and product development projects and even process change projects that do not fully address change management issues.  For example, consider a project, initiated by a business or government agency organization to implement a technology innovation (a new and improved computer based system).  The project is viewed as an IT project and as such put under the management of an IT project manager with the charter to deliver the new system.  To her the new system is basically the software and maybe some user documentation.

In a healthy situation, this project would be a sub project within the broader project or program to improve the organization’s performance.  Ideally there would be a competent PM at the higher level to whom the IT PM reports or at least must coordinate with.  The higher level project or program plan would include the IT sub-project plan and would address the change management issues.  It would ensure that there was coordination between the IT project and the related business projects (developing business processes, communicating, training, etc.) and that there was a risk analysis regarding the change impact of the implementation on the environment and its people.

In an unhealthy situation, and I have seen and heard of many, there may be nothing more than lip service regarding the implementation and the change it implies.  Sometimes business leadership and IT leadership as well, act as if they believe that there is some magical process that will cause the new system to appear and be immediately integrated into the existing environment. 

As PM’s you have the responsibility to look at your project realistically in the broader context of the organization and to advise business leadership of the need to ensure that change is managed appropriately to ensure the delivery of the benefits that justified the project’s initiation.  If you do not, you run the risk of delivering a lovely product that is never used or never reaches its potential.  That means your project will be considered a failure.

Become a competent change manager.

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George Pitagorsky

George Pitagorsky, integrates core disciplines and applies people centric systems and process thinking to achieve sustainable optimal performance. He is a coach, teacher and consultant. George authored The Zen Approach to Project Management, Managing Conflict and Managing Expectations and IIL’s PM Fundamentals™. He taught meditation at NY Insight Meditation Center for twenty-plus years and created the Conscious Living/Conscious Working and Wisdom in Relationships courses. Until recently, he worked as a CIO at the NYC Department of Education.

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