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Change Management and Project Management

BY: Collin Quiring

I have been in training for a client recently about Project Management and we just briefly touched on Change Management.  According to the Project Management Institute (PMI) Project Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) version 5, a part of the Project Management plan process includes creating a Change Management.  The Change Management plan is then defined as the document that defines how changes will be monitored and controlled.  At first glance I was thinking “That’s it???” – one document to “control” change?  Well, technically, yes, that is if you look at it specifically as the change that is inherent WITHIN a specific project.

Change Management is a whole discipline unto itself.  You can use the skills from the discipline of Change Management for a single project, a program, a portfolio, and, in my mind, even more importantly – an organization.

To be fair, PMI does have this statement in their Practice Guide titled “Managing Change in Organizations”:

Change management is addressed in A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide); The Standard for Program Management; The Standard for Portfolio Management; and Organizational Project Management Maturity Model (OPM3®). From stakeholder management to communications to human resources management, elements of change management appear throughout PMI’s foundational standards but are not specifically identified as the phrase “change management.”

So, even though PMI says that Change Management is infused into Project Management, are these two separate disciplines or should this be viewed as one?  I agree with PMI and I think that proper Project Management always requires an element of Change Management.  I also think that too often Project Manager and other Stakeholders (including and especially Executives) limit themselves by thinking of Change Management as relating only to a specific project.  And, therefore, I think that many Project Managers consider change issues but not from a Change Management perspective but from more of an individual project mindset.

Too often, a specific project or program is considered in isolation and the required effort to implement the changes required to ensure success are not fully appreciated.  In fact, the consequences to the organization of a change due to one project are often not addressed because they are outside the scope of that project.  But, even more importantly in my mind is that the overall effect on PEOPLE and PROCESSES are not deeply measured.

I fully understand that there is no way a Project Manager can anticipate every single thing a project will affect within an organization or its people.  However, I think that a greater understanding of what a project will do to the organization is something that would benefit a Project Manager.  I believe that some projects fail not because of the implementation of the goals from the project, but, rather from the ability of the Project Manager to understand how to manage change for others.

For example, I worked with a client where the Executive Team discussed, debated, argued and otherwise thought about a business process change for about six months.  It was a fairly significant change and they knew it would affect a large number of people and have a ripple effect on other existing processes and systems.  They spent their due diligence amongst themselves as they should.  However, when it came to implementation they announced the change and expected it to happen within a relatively short time period.  The change project succeeded but the implementation failed miserably, company morale was hurt and trust in leadership was severely eroded.  When trying to figure out why this project had this kind of effect the main answer was obvious – the Executives had thought about the change and were prepared.  For the organization as a whole though, there was no mental preparation, no understanding of the reasoning for the change and no time to accept the change.  If organizational Change Management practices had been employed, the organizational effect would have been drastically lessened.  In the end, nobody was complaining about the change – it was HOW the change came about and the questions they had about it that were seemingly ignored.

In the end, my challenge for Project Managers and leaders of any kind is to understand that they should know about Change Management procedures and try to use them when they can and not just worry about a change document within just a specific project’s plan.

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