5 Change Management Tips for Project Managers [Guest Post]

Daniel Lock
By | Updated February 19, 2019 | 7 min read
change management tips

Project managers often lean toward the mechanical processes of change, concentrating their efforts on project structure, strategy, and technical implementation. However, doing so underestimates the impact of the human-side: people who are impacted by change in turn impact change success.

By realigning his or her focus to give equal weight to the human side of change, the project manager’s true worth will become evident.


What Difference Can a Project Manager Really Make?

In the early 2000s, Procter & Gamble’s innovative culture was failing. Less than two in 10 of its innovative projects met targets for revenues and profits.

To combat this, the company shifted its internal thinking. It repositioned emphasis away from technical processes towards th and toward mindset and empowerment of individuals and small teams.

Within 12 months, the incorporation of change management strategies into its project management led to the first major redesign of Tide’s liquid laundry detergent in 10 years.

This experience – treating change management psychology as an equal partner to project management methodology – was also found to provide a significant uplift in success by Wharton researcher Professor Ethan Mollick. In his studies, he found that middle managers and project managers have an outsized impact on innovation and performance.

Professor Mollick asked IT project managers about the added value of middle managers. He discovered that:

“After controlling for many factors, such as the genre of the game and the size of the project, I found that individual producers account for 22.3% of the variation in company revenue. Designers, by contrast, account for just 7.4% of the variation — a relatively marginal impact. For comparison, everything else that’s part of the firm, whether it’s senior managers or strategy or marketing, accounts for just 21.3% of the variation in firm performance.”


The question for you is, how do you become one of these effective project managers? These five tips will help to explode your project management career.


5 Change Management Tips for Project Managers

1. Get Clear On The ‘Why’ to Create Urgency

The natural human condition is homeostasis – equilibrium of the body’s internal environment. This is replicated in the emotional condition. People dislike change and veer toward a stable condition.

The first job of a project manager is to disrupt this desire for stability. You must create an environment in which the project is given a sense of urgency.

To do this, encourage people to understand the negative consequences of making no change and the positive impacts of making a change. To create this case for action, ask and answer questions such as:

  • What is the default future of our department or organization?
  • If we don’t take action now, what is our future?
  • If we don’t act now, what risks will we be exposed to?
  • If we don’t act now, what opportunities will we miss?


This will become your key message, which you can share at every opportunity.


2. Get Clear On The ‘What’ to Create Purpose

In project management, you are usually trying to change something. Hence the need for change management process to be embedded into project management methodology. Often, organizations are vague about what is being changed. If people don’t know what it is they are shooting for, it is difficult to hit targets.

Numerous studies have shown that specificity is key when setting goals, whether those goals are personal or organizational. Ambiguous goals give no clearly defined target. For example, “I want to lose weight” is an ambiguous statement, not a goal. “I want to lose five kilograms in three months from today” is a clearly defined ambition, creating a sense of purpose.

To change mindsets and create purpose, be specific about your project and create discrete, measurable goals and frame them in the fundamental interests of all stakeholders.


3. Create a Collaborative Environment

Collaboration is key to successful change and project management. A large scale survey by McKinsey found that change management success exploded to 75% when employees felt that they were an integral part of the project. To create this ownership and collaboration, people must see that they have opportunities for:

  • Self-expression
  • Fulfillment of concerns
  • Contribution to success and realization of the project’s objectives.


The collaborative environment is created when you empower people to be involved in ideation and the discovery of solutions to problems and help them feel responsible for their own successes.


4. Align Leadership

We all know that leadership is vital to success. It is impossible to steer a rudderless ship. Thanks to Douglas Hubbard, the author of ‘How to Measure Anything’, we can put a figure on the impact of leadership on project success.

By analyzing large portfolio projects, he found that project sponsorship predicted between 5% and 30% probability of success – more than any other factor.

To align leadership with the sponsorship of the project, first, identify the key stakeholder leaders. Ensure that they understand their key position and that their input makes a difference, helping to avoid mistakes and drive change with their detailed knowledge.

Next, ensure that leaders are provided with clarity, so they can deliver the message fully and clearly. That message is the why and the what as described above.

Finally, have sponsor/leaders share messages and empower the team from the top-down, coaching front and middle managers to prepare their people for the change.


5. Communicate as Conversation

People don’t like being told what to do; they prefer to feel a part of the change process. So, make change and project management a two-way conversation in which you pull people into collaboration toward goals.

In the book ‘The Four Conversations: Daily Communication That Gets Results’, authors Jeffrey and Laurie Ford describe the four types of conversation that you’ll be involved in as a project/change manager:

  1. The initiative conversation, in which the possibility of the project is discussed.
  2. The understanding conversation, in which details and implementation is discussed.
  3. Performance conversations, with exchanges of requests and promises.
  4. Completion and acknowledgement conversations, creating milestones, quick wins, measurement of performance, and a route to ‘real’ completion.


Use these four conversations to plan agendas and meetings until they become automatic, and ensure that with every conversation you create something new or important.



By incorporating both structural and psychological aspects into the change management process, you will make a real difference to teams and businesses.

These five change management tips will help you drive project management success by:

  • Creating a sense of urgency and a sense of purpose
  • Onboarding stakeholders in the project
  • Ensuring leaders become sponsors
  • Improving collaboration and engagement with a grand conversation.


When the success of projects that you manage explodes, so, too, will your career.


Guest Author Bio

Daniel helps organizations unlock value and productivity through process improvement, project and change management. Find out more about him at Daniel Lock Consulting.



Image credit 

Collaborative Project Management: A Handbook


Daniel Lock
Daniel Lock

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