Deliver more successful projects by integrating project management with change management

Unlike in the above photo, Project Management and Change Management are complementary disciplines that need to be integrated and pulling in the same direction to support change and getting things done.  This applies to projects of any size and scale.  Whether the related activities are done by separate individuals or the same person, the two areas need to be treated as equals by leadership of a project.  For integration, consider the Merriam-Webster definition: “to form, coordinate, or blend into a functioning or unified whole/unite”.

My experience has been primarily with larger transformational projects, those that cause far reaching or dramatic change that make something more attractive, easier to use, faster, stronger, etc.  I have too often seen the Change Management activities ignored or minimized and not well coordinated / integrated with Project Management.  This has caused adverse effects from milestones missed due to people not understanding or supporting a project to delayed approvals of process designs related to fear of loss of control, capabilities and reputation.

In this article, I will share the importance of both disciplines and an approach that includes integrating Project Management with Change Management.  This approach can and should be sized according to the project’s scale, while still providing the full value of these methods.

The discipline of Project Management, with its many applied methodologies and techniques, has been around for many years and is a visible and generally well understood activity.  The discipline of Change Management, here referring to the “people side” of getting things done, is quite a bit younger, but is rapidly evolving, and growing in acceptance and use.

Definitions, with a little techno-speak

For readers new to Change or Project Management, or to hep align with my use of these terms, this section provides a few definitions.

A PROJECT is a temporary endeavor to create a unique product, service or result.  It has a definite start and end.  A project can end, naturally, when the objective(s) is/are achieved, or the project can be consciously stopped for various reasons.

The outcome of every project involves some kind of change.  Every project impacts one or more persons.  For example, change may affect how an employee does their job or how a customer interacts with an organization.  This change process includes a transition from how things are, or work today, the current state, to how they will be tomorrow, the future state, both for things and people.

PROJECT MANAGEMENT (PM) is the application of knowledge, skills tools and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements.  This applies to traditional, linear projects and iteratively delivered/agile projects.  Within one popular methodology there are over 40 processes logically grouped into Initiation, Planning, Execution, Monitoring and Controlling, and Closing.  In my opinion, the terms “Monitoring and Controlling” are rapidly falling out of favor, especially in a more collaborative world of self-managed team projects.  Even if you are not a deep project expert, these process groups should be relatively self-explanatory.

CHANGE MANAGEMENT (CM) is the discipline that guides how we prepare, equip and support individuals to successfully adopt change.  Change management provides a structured approach for supporting the individuals to move from their very personal current state to their future state.  Each transition is a unique journey with its own duration and challenges.  Change Management is significantly more than sending a few emails about the change and sending people to a training class, but that is a topic for a separate article.

Project and change management compared

The difference between these disciplines and their areas of focus are represented in the graphic that follows.  Project Management is typically referred to as the technical side and Change Management the people side of change.

Optimal project timeline

For the typical project, the optimal, high-level timeline is represented below.

This may be a very different view than you are used to seeing because it is intended to show what is needed AFTER the change(s) are in place. The project should not end as soon as the changes “go-live”.  In the first stage, the project/change is conceived, executed and put into place.  After the change is in place, however, we need to make sure it “sticks”.  This is the second stage.  For example, if employees were given a new technology to replace an older one, you want to ensure that people use the new system(s), don’t revert to the old one(s), and ensure that they become proficient in the new tools.  This is a huge oversimplification of the details of the second stage, but should communicate the basic concepts.

The second stage is where Change Management actions, from both stages, provide the critical foundation and ongoing guidance.

Change management and project management actions

Differentiated Change Management and Project Management actions, for the two stages, are shown on the enhanced timeline below.

The interesting thing about Change Management, in green, is that the actions do not end at the same time or in the same way as do typical Project Management actions. The CM role remains critical long after the change is in-place, with focus on adoption, through reinforcement techniques.

Change management and project management accountability

Below an enhanced graphic highlights the accountability differences for each, to coincide with the actions on the timeline.

Project management and change management are complementary

Almost all changes impact some group of people in some way.  Ways to influence getting project tasks done differ from helping people along their transitions.  This makes these two disciplines complementary and interdependent.  Without one or the other, project success will suffer and you will see diminished return on the investments in the change.

The basics of integrating CM and PM

Assuming the interrelationships and importance of each discipline are clear, here are a few key considerations and a little how-to of integrating Project Management with Change Management on your next project.  Giving each equal time and expertise is critical.  Of course, this list is just a tiny thumbnail view of the processes and activities. 

CLEARY UNDERSTAND AND COMMUNICATE THE WHY’S

I’m a vigorous advocate for clearly articulating the why’s of the project and how it fits into the big picture.  In a recent webinar by Rene Bomholt the following starter set of data points was shared.  This is a great template to build your messaging of why.

  • What is the value and who will deliver it?
  • Who wants the change?
  • Is it to provide more of something or a better something?
  • Is it to provide more of something or a better something?
  • Is there room for the change within all the other change going on? (can we clean-up something first?)
  • Is there room for the change within all the other change going on? (can we clean-up something first?)
  • How visible is the change?
  • When does it stop?

The why’s should be communicated before anyone sees the first shovel-full of dirt moved.

CHOOSE THE RIGHT TIME TO START AND RIGHT STARTING POINT

As shown in the project lifecycle, Project Management and Change Management actions generally run concurrently.  However, many of the CM actions should begin very early in the lifecycle, as soon as the change idea is conceived.  Activities in this early stage should also include a complete Readiness Assurance effort including Change Management plan. 

Readiness Assurance is a kind of due diligence for complex projects.  Its purpose is to ensure that the vision, objectives, people, tasks and schedule are all aligned at the organizational level.  Readiness Assurance includes a detailed assessment of preparations made thus far, identifies gaps, and helps you build the kind of readiness that ensures a more successful outcome.  Readiness Assurance takes a broader approach than standard Project Management.  It seeks to understand, and put into perspective, the web of interconnected activities that exists at your organization.  It also looks at integration with today’s continuous change mode.  Readiness Assurance serves both Project and Change Management activities with important inputs.

THOROUGHLY UNDERSTAND WHO AND WHAT IS IMPACTED

This can’t be stressed enough. I’ve experienced many projects adversely impacted by not having identified and planned for communications and support for all stakeholder groups.  This caused delays and conflicts.  I’ve also seen non-people impacts underestimated or missed entirely.

The below graphic shows a good cross-section of categories of potential impact.    People vs. things are also highlighted.  One or more of these areas may be impacted and may even be the core of the change.  Assessing the degree to which each is impacted should be done during the Readiness Assurance stage.

NO SHORTCUTS

Integrated PM and CM is not rocket science, but it is work that should be done thoroughly.

THE PEOPLE SIDE IS IMPORTANT

The “pie” above identifies areas that affect people directly, labeled “People”, and indirectly, labeled “Things”.  For example, a new organizational structure affects people directly and, while opening a new location significantly affects people who work there or visit, the location opening is the primary activity. For each of the areas labeled “Things”, you can quickly identify where and how these affect people as well.  Seeing the volume of people touchpoints should further help make the case for why the people side is important.

Doing the “people side” right gets into some of the psychology of how people transition through change. It also deals with a common change reaction called “resistance”.  If you replace that term with something less negative sounding, it encompasses reactions to a fear of loss.  Fear of loss includes control, confidence, status, skills, certainty, and comfort, among many others. 

If you remain skeptical about the people side, before you write it off as fluff and nonsense, ask yourself one question:

For the project, what percentage of overall results and outcomes depends on people adopting and using the change?

Then consider how much you should invest in driving and supporting the people side.

CHANGE MANAGEMENT ISN’T THIS

In some technical environments, Change Management means managing changes to project scope.

Additionally, Change Management doesn’t consist of simply sending people to training and sharing a few emails.  If that’s all that is done you are missing the importance and added value to assure project success.

FIND THE RIGHT RESOURCES TO LEAD THIS AND DO THE WORK

There are many experienced practitioners available to run with the technical side and do it well.  Success in the people side requires approaches and techniques that may be foreign to those who have only been dedicated to the technical side.  Career Project Managers may not have experience with integrating PM and CM activity. 

Larger companies may have trained and dedicated Change Management resources.  These people should work in tandem with the Project Manager(s).  If there are no in-house CM resources, the default often consists of dumping this work on HR/the People Team, assuming that’s their expertise.  It may be, but don’t assume this.  Find leaders inside or outside who understand and can straddle both sides of the work, blending activities and ensuring they all get done.

REMEMBER THE PROJECT DOESN’T REALLY END WHEN THE CHANGE “GOES LIVE”

Often the most visible, intense and stressful parts of a project get you to that “go live” milestone.  At that point, most resources roll-off the project to their next engagement.  People think it’s done.  Here’s where many projects get in trouble, if companies have not planned for and/or fail to follow-through on the activities I’ve identified for the second stage.  Reinforcing the changes through a multi-layered communication, coaching and rewards approach, with ongoing measurements and adjustments, will help ensure the achievement of results is sustained.

Three years from now, unless other environmental factors warrant replacing what was changed today, you want to see it in place and performing efficiently.

Final Thoughts

Like the coin in the photo having two sides, delivering the most successful project outcomes includes two sides and two complementary disciplines, described in this article.  Their integration helps ensure realization of the fullest potential of the investment in any change.

I’ve had many experiences in providing leadership roles for complex, transformational projects where the integration of these two disciplines was limited or not addressed, resulting in mediocre results.  I welcome you sharing comments about your experiences with change management and project management, like the two sides of the coin.

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