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Change management practices in a project environment, why are they often forgotten?

01 Jul 2020

Change management practices in a project environment, why are they often forgotten?


Hilogic change management courses

Some concerning responses from users of project deliverables:

  • “New system? The first I’ve heard of it”
  • “How do we maximize its use?”
  • “What’s our support after project delivery?”

Questions of this nature often result from an absence of some simple change management practices.

Every project delivers change. The ‘change impact’ will vary based on a number of factors such as the required step change in behavioural and competency levels, system and process changes important to sustain project deliverables and most importantly stakeholder interest and acceptance levels, the latter a vital ingredient to sustain change.

There is a long list of surveys that have concluded, organizations with change management capabilities are more likely to realize and even exceed the expected value from their change initiatives. One example, a 2002 study by Laclair and Rao:

“For the 11 most successful companies in our study, effective change management clicked at every level: senior and middle managers and frontline employees were all involved, responsibilities were clear, and the reasons for the change were understood throughout the organization. These 11 companies gained an average of 143 percent of the returns they expected. By contrast, in companies that fell short of expectations, we found a lack of commitment from or follow-through by senior executives, defective project-management skills among middle managers, and a lack of training for and confusion among frontline employees. Meanwhile, the 11 companies that had problems at all three levels captured, on average, only 35 percent of the value they expected”. For more information visit Laclair and Rao

So whom does this responsibility of change management fall to? 

Everyone has a responsibility with managing change, but it may help to have a dedicated person(s) to ensure change impact and planning are being considered and appropriate practices applied.

Firstly, everyone has a responsibility with managing change, be it someone to create a change management plan, someone or a network to advocate the change need and maintaining awareness, to leaders ‘walking the talk’. From a project delivery aspect, the integration of change responsibilities (be it plan, create, support or awareness), there is often a real risk these responsibilities are not applied beyond the original excitement of the project initiation. Mostly due to the inevitable increasing pressure to deliver on time and budget. Dependent on the complexity of the project and degree of change impact, having a dedicated person(s) to bring the ‘change management’ elements back into the conversation and front of mind of project team members and sponsors can be one way to counter this risk, before its too late!

There are many ways of integrating change management responsibilities within a project team. In some situations it may be suitable to assign as a responsibility of the project manager, as perhaps the change impact is easily manageable and the project manager has available time and suitable experience.  In other situations, where the project is of higher complexity and the change impact is substantial, it may be suitable to appoint an appropriately qualified and experienced change manager, and perhaps on a full, part-time or casual basis dependent on the needs of the project and the business environment.  Where in other situations, change management responsibilities may be allocated across the project team with delegated responsibilities.  We’ve also seen situations where the change manager, supported by a change team working alongside the project team, not directly a member of the project team.  Some of these variations are discussed in our APMG Change Management Foundation and Practitioner courses.  Variants are elaborated in our APMG change management training program. What is most important, as discussed in the Laclair and Rao 2002 study, change management responsibilities and roles must be clear to all, and accepted.  For those of you who have attended PRINCE2 project management training with us, you may recall this as one of PRINCE2’s 7 principles of good practice project management: Defined roles and responsibilities. 

Below is only one (simple) example on what this could look like in some situations.

Steering Committee, project manager, delivery teams and lines of advice change manager

Another, important factor to consider, is that change management is a discipline requiring practice, experience and subject knowledge, such as that defined by the Change Management Institute’s Change Management Body of Knowledge.  Change Management can be described as a discipline requiring a broad range of skills and knowledge enabling people to move from ‘old ways of working’ to ‘new ways of working’ and supporting the change until ‘new ways’ are embedded and outcomes are self-sustaining, the latter likely to occur post project. It can be described as involving two elements: change and transition.  William Bridges (2009) makes a distinction between change and transition. Change – the actual events, activities and steps that can be put into a diary or project plan and transition – the human psychological process of letting go of one pattern and engaging with a new one.

Other reasons why change management is still not applied in many projects can include: underestimating the degree of change, leaving it far too late to consider change impacts.  These issues can be mitigated by engaging an appropriately skilled and knowledgeable person(s) to manage the change process across the life of the project and to support tiers of management with their role in the change.

Some tips:

  • Start the change process early, by ensuring change impact and planning is integrated at the project planning stage
  • Consider how change management is to be allocated and resourced. Does the project need a separate person(s): to ensure the appropriate change management approach and practices are being applied; that the right people are involved in the change and understand what is expected of them; to consider whether the project’s complexity and change impact require a team to support the change manager. Just some of the considerations a change manager will take into account early in the project
  • Can the change management activities be integrated within the project plan and respective project stage plans or this may not be possible due to the complexity of the situation? Therefore, should a separate document, ‘change management plan’ be developed as part of project initiation documentation.  Are detailed transition or delivery plans required or will these activities be integrated as part of the delivery team level plans?
  • Always keep in mind, and we stress, the importance of stakeholders.  Take one wrong step and you may never be forgotten.  One of the key principles of stakeholder engagement as covered in our change management training: “You can forget important stakeholders, but they won’t forget you”.

The modern project manager – integrating change management

Popular project management methodologies like the PRINCE2 project management method and associated courses: PRINCE2 Foundation training and PRINCE2 Practitioner training courses as well as the Project Management Body of Knowledge (Project Management Professional – PMP training and certification) do not specifically focus on change management as a process or knowledge area.  They do mention the importance of change management as an important discipline in achieving successful outcomes and recognize change management as an important discipline. However, we are slowly seeing the pendulum move from projects being output focus to an outcome focus model, even if the latter may not be achievable within the project’s timeframe. Training organizations like ourselves will ensure there is regular reference to the importance of change management in our PRINCE2 courses, as all our trainers are also qualified APMG Change Management Practitioners and remind us that the full realization of the value of change is likely to be realized post-project hence why often the change process continues beyond the life of a project.

The modern project manager and team need a robust project management method to support delivery of a project, though where human transition is required, an understanding of the change process or calling in persons with change management knowledge and experience may be needed. The ‘mindset’ of the project team may need to be challenged to find the balance between delivering the project on time, to budget and to quality requirements and ensuring expected outcomes and benefits can be achieved. As an output itself is of little value without change and people. The modern project manager needs to consider and integrate change management within plans, roles, product design, transition and support activities.

The modern project manager – integrating agile practices

It must also be mentioned another key knowledge area for the modern project manager is having a sound knowledge of agile principles, practices and thinking. Today’s expectation: can we realize value earlier? Our AMPG Change Management Practitioner courses are ahead of the game. For many years we’ve been training and advising how agile practices can also be utilised to support the change and human transition process.

This we will be discussed in a future HiLogic blog article. In the meantime visit our agile training & agile certification and services pages or contact us for information on our agile coaching and advisory services.

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