Leverage Change Management for Better Projects
If you’re in an organization and you want to do something new, strategic, exciting, challenging or difficult – it’s a project. A project is a way to transform an organization or a group. The essence of project management is change, something individuals will resist for many reasons. They prefer the status quo; they are fearful about job security; they may think they will be unable to learn something new.
Realizing the benefits of project deliverables is not as simple as completing assigned tasks and assuming users will embrace the end solution. You must manage the ‘people’ side of the change to ensure that the outcomes are implemented. In this piece, I will explain the role of change management, how it relates to project management, and practical approaches for managing change.
Project Management and Change Management
Before going much further, it’s important to understand the difference between project and change management, and how these strategies overlap.
Project Management refers to the use of people, processes and methodologies to plan, initiate, execute, monitor and close activities. A project is temporary in nature with a defined start and end date. Projects are once-off endeavors with a specific set of required deliverables.
Change management involves people, processes, and tools to ensure organizations manage all the changes that arise due to projects or other factors. Change management typically moves people from the current situation to an improved future state. The process does not use any formalized processes or guides and has no fixed dates or tasks. The aim of change management is to help organizations achieve their strategic vision quickly and successfully.
Change management should form part of the project plan, with the project manager and change manager working closely together to secure a positive outcome for everyone impacted by the project. The change manager will identify individuals and teams affected by the changes, develop a plan to secure buy-in, and help introduce the changes.
Now, you may be thinking, ‘I’m already too busy with project work. Do I really need to worry about the change management plan as well?’. Consider the following:
- Real change begins with stakeholders and leaders. If these individuals do not support the change, their behavior may encourage others to do the same. Do you have a plan for this scenario?
- Individuals will resist, and even disrupt change, leading to reduced productivity, disengaged workers, rework and delays. How will you address this disruption?
- The value of the project is only measured at the individual level. End-users need to understand the underlying rationale for the change before adopting the solution. Are you sure that everyone knows why the project is taking place?
Change management can make or break your project. To work effectively with the change manager, you should become familiar with change management models and key success factors. Depending on the scale of your project and available resources, you may even need to spearhead change management initiatives yourself, making this insight even more valuable!
Change Management Models
There are multiple change models to consider. These include:
- The Strategic Change model, which puts forward four classifications of organizational change. The classifications map the extent of the required change and the speed at which the change will occur. Change may be categorized as Evolution (implemented gradually), Adaption (occurs incrementally), Revolution (fundamental, forced changes to strategy and culture), and Reconstruction (rapid, simultaneous changes).
- Kotter’s 8-step process, focused on securing employee support. The below graphic outlines the steps and stages associated with this process.
- The Change Curve is used to predict the stages of personal transition and organizational change. This model helps determine how people will react to change and what support they will need. The model outlines four stages associated with change:
- Stage 1: People react to the required change with shock or denial, resisting challenges to the status quo.
- Stage 2: Once the change is accepted as inevitable, individuals may become negative, angry, disruptive, and even fearful for their future with the organization.
- Stage 3: Gradually, individuals begin to accept the changes, learning what the change means to them, and how they must adapt.
- Stage 4: The change is embraced as individuals develop new working habits and processes. The organization will benefit from the change.
- Lewin’s Change Management Model, which characterizes the process as ‘Unfreeze, Change, Freeze’. Firstly, the organization must accept that a change is needed and communicate this need effectively. This ‘unfreezes’ individuals, making them open to change. Naturally, this phase can lead to extensive uncertainty and anxiety for individuals and teams. Next, change occurs as individuals seek to resolve uncertainty and look to a new, improved future state. Time and communication are critical to this phase. Finally, ‘refreeze’ becomes possible as changes are solidified and accepted within the organization.
Spend some time assessing the required change, available resources, and company culture before selecting a model to guide the process.
Regardless of the chosen approach, there are some factors that should always be deployed to make change management successful.
Common Success Factors for Change Management
1. Identify Impacted Individuals
Before announcing any changes, ensure you have identified impacted individuals and teams. Spend some time with these individuals to really understand how the change will affect their day-to-day routine. This will also reveal potential conflicts and points of resistance, which will help you develop effective communications and assess any training materials or additional support needed. Try tools such as interviews, focus groups, brainstorm sessions, and facilitation to gather this information.
2. Clear Case for Change
It is important not to fall victim to the ‘curse of false knowledge’ by assuming that everyone will understand why the change is being made as much as you and your team do. Prior to announcing any changes, prepare a written statement outlining why the change is being made, the benefits of the change, and the roadmap to your new destination. Encourage feedback where possible, for example, through workshops or an online tool.
3. Strong Leadership
A 2014 survey conducted by Eagle Hill Consulting found that 89% of respondents who were happier post-change attributed this to strong, effective leadership. Organizations such as Shell, Santander, and Direct Line relied upon effective, unified leadership when rolling out wide-scale, significant changes. The case of change begins at the top! Leaders must understand and agree with the change, visibly support the case for change, and enforce the benefits at every opportunity.
Tap into the ‘ripple effect’ by appointing change ambassadors throughout the organization. McKinsey reports that many organizations are now turning to social networks and online communities to identify hidden influencers; people who are respected by their colleagues and therefore could play a role in the change program. Train and empower these individuals to promote the change to their teams.
The case for change should be communicated regularly, consistently, and across different channels. Where possible, use face-to-face communication such as meetings, individual sessions, online sessions, and workshops. Keep email to a minimum as this tends to impersonalize the message. Other communication channels to consider include internal social platforms, training sessions, video messages and voicemails from senior leaders, online polls, case studies, and town hall meetings.
Before embarking on your next project, consider how you will incorporate change management strategies.
- Check existing change management plans and processes.
- If these plans are not available, you will need to work with the change management team or relevant stakeholders to develop some processes and guidelines.
- Make change management part of all future project planning.