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Project management and change management: Establishing a strong partnership

In this tip, long-time project manager Susan Oasheim describes the relationship between project management and change management. In order for the change introduced by a new project to be accepted, change management techniques should be followed. Oasheim answers the when, who, how, what and why questions surrounding change management.

Project managers are aware that implementing a new project also means implementing change.  However, many times, team members and executives do not understand how project and change management need to be integrated for a successful execution of the project.  This tip discusses the “When, Who, How, What, and Why” to establishing a stronger partnership with project and change management; a partnership that will guarantee a more robust and customer-pleasing result. 

Project management vs. change management

Project management is the initiation, planning, execution, controlling, monitoring, and management of the tasks defined by the project team in order to bring about a specific desired change.

Change management is also a process or methodology that assists teams to transition from the current state to a future state, similar to project management.  However, the underlying purpose of change management is really to identify the impact to the end-users or customers on how they will perform their jobs.

When: Introduce change management in the initiation phase of the project 

When you begin planning a project it will include various plans within your project plan such as risk, resource, communication, training plans, etc. and these plans are all part of the project integration. When projects are being initiated a change management plan may not be included because the thought is that the project communications addresses the change. By including a change management plan in the very beginning of your project planning, you are essentially insuring a much more successful outcome of user adoption and usability of the project goals and objectives. Change management that is managed well, will provide a much higher ROI for the project.

Who: Identify and deliver messaging for the change 

The project manager is responsible for the communications on the logistics of the project overall. The project manager is not responsible for the communication for change management. The project manager can act as a catalyst for the change; however the owners of leading the change are the executive leadership team and functional managers. As part of change management clear ownership on who communicates what messages to employees needs to be owned at the appropriate management level. Executive sponsors and functional managers need to deliver different messages. Executives deliver the vision and importance of the change, while functional managers provide the coaching, and model the change for their business area. Employees need to know why the change is occurring, what the business driver is behind the change, why it is important for the organization to engage in the change at this time, and what the expected results will achieve. Employees want and need to know how they will be impacted by the change, and what will specifically change for them. It is important get buy-in early in the project.

How: Use a variety of communication channels

Executives and managers have to be visible, active, accessible and supportive of the change.  They need to have open and frequent communications with employees. Project meetings, company and staff meetings, emails, webcasts and blogs are just a few ways to get in front of the employees. It isn’t enough to communicate the change at the beginning of the project and leave it at that. The management team needs to stay engaged throughout the project. Employees will realize the importance, and be more likely to embrace the change. Executives and managers need to walk the walk and talk the talk, and be available for questions and concerns the employees have in regards to the change.

What: Identify new skills needed for the change 

With any type of change it provides an opportunity to learn new skills to build upon current skill sets within the organization. Learning is growing, and employees need to have the opportunity to learn in a structured training session, rather than being thrown into a sink or swim situation. Employees can be successful in that situation however; it will take much longer to achieve that level of success without proper training. You cannot implement a change without some type of assessment of what new skills will be needed to support the change that will be introduced to the organization. One of the first things is to determine what the training needs are, and be certain to provide training at various points throughout the project life cycle. Once the training needs are identified, determine the different training delivery methods that can be used to train the employees impacted by the change. Everyone learns differently so having more than one training delivery method is very important.

Why: Continue promoting the change after the project deployment

You just invested a lot of time and money in implementing this project, why would you risk not continuing to monitor acceptance? If everyone goes back to the way things were done because there wasn’t reinforcement of the change the project really isn’t successful. The expected gains are not realized. Communication and expectations need to continue after the project has been completed. Follow up by communicating the results, continue to motivate the employees informing them of the successes they were part of with the change. When employees realize the level of return on the work efforts that were put into make the change, the more likely they will continue to move forward, and adapt to the changes that were implemented. Appreciation and communication can make all of the difference in driving success into the organization.

By making change management a part of your project, you will ensure the project is well-understood and accepted by all those affected.

Note:  These ideas work with any project and assume there is not a professional change management manager/team as an assigned resource(s).

Susan Oasheim, PMP, has worked in high tech for over 20 years, in various management roles within Accounting and Information Technology. She has been PMP certified for seven years, managing various projects, mostly ERP implementations.  She is a champion for implementing project management and change management processes.


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