Way back when I started managing projects, change management was a specific role in large organisations. Big projects – and lucky project managers – had their own Business Change Manager.
This person’s role was to integrate the change delivered by a project into the operations of the company. Change management was largely focused on communicating downwards and training.
In this article, we’ll look at what is different about change management now, how change management is defined, and why it is worth investing your time and effort into doing change management.
Then I’ll share some common tools and techniques for change management so you have some practical tips to make sure the changes you are working on are well-received and sustainable.
In this article:
- Change Management: the focus on readiness
- Defining change management
- Why is change management important in project management?
- Change management reduces resistance to change
- Differences between change management and project management
- 5 Tools for change management
- Other tools for managing change
- Further reading
Change Management: the focus on readiness
Change management today isn’t solely focused on training and comms any longer, at least not for most initiatives.
Larger organisations may have someone focused on change management, but often change management is (or should be) embedded in everything we do that shifts the way a company works.
Change management is the unwritten requirement in everyone’s job, especially those people involved in projects.
Training is still important, but there’s also this idea of ‘readiness’: how prepared the organisation is to do things differently.
And if the answer is ‘not very prepared’, change management is the way that we help them get better prepared.
When have you ever come across execs who decided not to change their business because the staff weren’t ready? They might have delayed their plans, or put extra support in place, but if your strategy and survival rely on being able to move with the times and stay competitive, change is coming to those workers whether they like it or not.
Communication remains critical in a changing environment, both in laying the groundwork for the change and for ensuring people know what is happening.
Defining change management
So what is change management?
The definition of change management I use in my book is this:
The way we facilitate the shift from current practice to new practice in order to achieve a benefit.
In other words, it’s a systematic and planned approach for helping individuals and teams be successful with new ways of working.
Change management is the unwritten requirement in everyone’s job, especially those people involved in projects.— Elizabeth Harrin (@girlsguidetopm) May 8, 2020
Why is change management important in project management?
Change management is important in project management because projects set out to change things. And you want the time and effort involved in doing that change to be beneficial to the company.
For example, if you spend $1m on designing and implementing a new computer system, and no one uses it, they all say it’s awful, and three months after go live the system is ditched, that’s a waste, right?
It’s a waste of $1m, and it’s a waste of your time putting the system together. People who worked on that project could have been better utilised by doing something else that would add real value to the company.
But if that system is switched on and people know how to use it, and they give it a chance, and then they find they are saving an hour a day because the new system is better than the old one… well, that’s a win.
If you manage projects, you need to incorporate change management into your work because it means the end result is better received and you’ve got more chance of adding value and seeing the benefits.
Trust me, project managers who deliver a solution that leads to benefits and happy customers — that’s career changing.
The main way change management achieves those things is that it reduces resistance to change.
Change management reduces resistance to change
Change management helps you deliver the benefits by:
- Building support for the change
- Identifying and addressing resistance to the change
- Helping individuals develop the knowledge and skills required to adopt the new practice successfully.
In doing all of this you are ensuring that your change has the best possible chance of long-term sustainability and success. Because that’s what we really want – and what project sponsors want.
For most projects that involve organisational change, the emphasis is on making a difference over the longer term, not just changing behaviour during the month following the launch, for example.
It’s quite easy to define change management in this way. However, when you start trying to shift the behaviour of people who have worked in a certain way for years and years… Suddenly getting them to do something different seems a lot harder.
That’s why we have to spend time on change management. And, no, it’s not the same as project management.
Differences between change management and project management
Shifting someone from doing a job one way to doing it another? Isn’t that project management? No, it’s not.
Project management and change management are allied but different disciplines, although as a project manager you will probably end up doing both at points during your project.
Think of it like this:
- Project management is about installation.
- Change management is about implementation.
Here’s a table from my book, Communicating Change: How To Talk About Project Change, that sets out the differences (and one similarity) between change management and project management.
|Project Management||Change Management|
|Primarily focuses on installation||Primarily focuses on |
|Creates a deliverable e.g. a new |
|Creates an environment where |
benefits can be realised e.g. new
software is used to improve
|Focuses on the plan||Focuses on the people|
|Has a clear timeline||May not have a clear timeline|
|Has a hard deadline and clear |
|Does not have a hard deadline; can be hard to determine when change management activity should end|
|Feels organisational or corporate||Feels personal|
|Led from the executive level||Led from the executive level|
5 Tools for change management
Fortunately, if change management work forms part of your project responsibilities, you aren’t starting from scratch. We have a raft of tools available to make it easier to ‘do’ change management, and you’ll be familiar with many of them.
Here are five tools that you will help you with change management.
1. Readiness assessments
These help you understand where the organisation and individuals are in their preparedness for the change. They act as the beginning of the journey and are key to helping you uncover the gap that you have to close in terms of helping people end the journey with their new behaviours.
2. Project sponsorship
Unsurprisingly, having senior leaders involved and championing the change is a way to create buy-in, generate interest and get things done.
3. Coaching and mentoring
Helping team members on a one-on-one basis to deal with and adapt to the change is time-consuming for large implementations, but you can offer team managers the skills to support their staff and devolve mentoring to subject matter experts or local champions.
Training is a structured way to embed and support the new behaviours, explain new processes and get people comfortable with new ways of working.
Timely and meaningful interactions with the people affected by and interested in the change will underpin and support the achievement of the benefit that you’re looking for.
In Communicating Change: How To Talk About Project Change I focus on the last point: communication. Each section highly practical and actionable – this is not a book about theory.
The book is designed to help you do change management and talk effectively about the changes that your project is going to deliver. You’ll learn how to use communications to minimise resistance to change, leading to higher project success rates and happier stakeholders.
The ebook is available now and is £8.99. Click here to get your copy.
Reviews of Communicating Change
A book that describes in a great manner one of the most sensitive subjects, not only for project managers, but for everybody. Understanding change and the possibility of anticipating the reaction of the people involved in the project is one of the greatest skills that a project manager can have and this book helps you prepare for this.
Complex and dynamic subject
This book provides an interesting overview of what is a complex and dynamic subject. The ‘Try This’ sections provide some useful starting points to help you develop and refine the change communications for your projects.
Other tools for managing change
It’s a huge topic, and one you’ll find more about by browsing this blog!
I have prepared a full reading list of my top 10 books about change management. That will give you something to get started with!