Project Management Institute

Is there a new definition for "change control" in project management?


The 3rd edition of A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) suggests that integrated change control be practiced throughout the life of a project, from initiation phase to closure. Change control in a project is a process that justifies or rejects a change request to the product, service, or result that is being worked upon. This control is being applied to the project to limit spurious changes, add value-added changes, stop cost overruns or missed milestones. It is intended to keep the work on track, on time and at cost.

However, the “change control” this paper is referring to is the change in environmental working conditions that employees experience when they join or are assigned to a project team and its impact on the success or failure of the project. What I’m suggesting is, if there a need to understand the impact of this worker environmental change in order to mitigate various challenges the project manager may encounter during the life of the project.

The Hawthorne Experiments

The idea for this paper grew out of an early experiment at the Hawthorne Plant of the Western Electric Company and the author recently being subjected to a poorly focused project orientation. One of the many studies performed in the plant involved manipulating environmental variables. In this case it was the amount of lighting in a work room. The theory was that if the workroom light were increased, productivity would improve. In one Sociology textbook, it explains the phenomenon like this:

“One experiment tested the hypothesis that increasing the available lighting would raise worker output. First, researchers measured worker productivity (the dependent variable). Then they increased the lighting (the independent variable) and measured output a second time. Productivity increased, supporting the hypothesis. But when the research team later turned the lighting back down, productivity increased again. What was going on?” (Macionis, 2003, p 38)

What was going on was the “Hawthorne Effect” which has been used many times to explain the unexplainable when it comes to increases or decreases in human productivity in the workplace. This is not to say that the original studies that occurred almost 80 years ago haven’t come under closer scrutiny over the years. Many social scientists have pointed out sloppy or inappropriate conclusions made from the study. Berkeley Rise, (Rise, 1982, pp 71-74) the senior editor of Psychology Today has dubbed the study as the “The Hawthorne Defect” by questioning the conclusions of Mayo, the original investigator. Rise went to the Hawthorne factory and interviewed some of the original subjects of the original experiments, some fifty years later, to validate or dispel the conclusions of the original studies.

The Original Hawthorne Plant Experiments Revisited

This researcher went back and looked at the material that spawned the term, “Hawthorne Effect” among social scientists. Actually there were three experiments.

The first involved three (3) different work groups from three different departments. When the lighting increased, the first group’s productivity went up and down.

The second group’s productivity went up continuously during the experiment. The researcher says that it was not solely because of the change in illumination.

The third group’s results were:

“The production efficiencies corresponding to these periods of different lighting intensities were always higher than the starting level and did not always fall off with a decrease in illumination.” (Roethlisberger & Dickson, 1939, p15)

The second experiment took workers from the same department and split them into two groups. Both groups were isolated from each other to avoid competition between the groups. One group, the control group; had constant illumination, the second group had variable illumination where the lighting was increased. The results were the same for both groups. Productivity increased in both groups at almost the same rate.

The third experiment was exactly like the second experiment except it relied solely on artificial light. (The previous two experiments had combined natural and artificial light.) The results were the same except when the light went down to 3 foot-candles where the workers complained of insufficient light.

The researcher’s conclusion was:

“Although the results from these experiments on illumination fell short of the expectations of the company in the sense that they failed to answer the specific question of the relation between illumination and efficiency, nevertheless they provided a great stimulus for more research in the field of human relations. They contributed to the steadily growing realization that more knowledge concerning problems involving human factors was essential.” (Roethlisberger & Dickson, 1939, p 18)

In other words, interpersonal relationships between observer and subject began to gain more attention in regard to how the observer may influence the subject’s behavior while under real or imagined scrutiny. Out of these few outcomes, the “Hawthorne Effect” concept has been over generalized and was institutionalized in the aforementioned social science textbooks and has been defined by the Blackwell Encyclopedic Dictionary of Organizational Behavior as:

“This effect, observed in field experiments, occurs when: (1) one or more changes or manipulations are made by researchers in a field setting; (2) the persons in the target sample experiencing the change(s) are aware of the experimental manipulations; and the latter alter their behavior not because of the specific variables manipulated but because of the attention they receive. As a result, the researchers may falsely attribute the observed effects on behavior to the variables manipulated rather than the attention they received.” (Blackwell Encyclopedic Dictionary of Organizational Behavior 1995, p 211)

Hawthorne Effect Built Into Project Management

This altering of behavior could be the worker adjusting to the new environment they are facing within a project environment. This effect could be a reaction to their new environs or the attention paid to them by new leadership or both. Already within the project management structure there is emphasis placed on “socialization” of the project team through team building techniques:

“ Team-building Activities: Team-building activities can vary from a five-minute agenda item in a status review to an off-site, professionally facilitated experience designed to improve interpersonal relationships. Some group activities, such as developing the WBS, may not be explicitly designed as team-building activities, but can increase team cohesiveness when that planning activity is structured and facilitated well. It also is important to encourage information communication and activities because of their role in building trust and establishing good working relationships.” (PMI, 2004, p 214)

Other sub points in this part of the PMBOK® Guide draw attention to:

  • General Management Skills
  • Training
  • Ground Rules
  • Co-location
  • Recognition and Rewards

Clearly team-building is an essential part of team success. Clearly paying attention to people and “people skills” are very important to the success of a project and possibly built in by design. For example:

“This paper points out problems and offers solutions for dealing with project politics, sociology, and psychology that often have a larger impact on the success of Ada projects than do the technical issues.” (Firesmith, 1988, p 610)

Another paper highlights the technological environment and how it affects a programmer’s performance.

“This study investigates another class of variables, the technological environment faced by DP/lS personnel that might impact these job outcomes. The technological environment includes (1) development methodologies employed, (2) project teams and reporting relationships, and (3) work characteristics. Variables from all classes were found to impact DP/lS job outcomes. Over 12 percent of the variance in DP/lS job satisfaction is explained by these variables.” (Baroudi & Ginzberg, 1986, p 546)


“The regression analyses, however, clearly show-that the technological environment must be added to the list of factors such as job design, role variables, and leadership which impact programmer and analyst job outcomes.” (Baroudi & Ginzberg 1986, p 553)

It could be more onerous for the project manager who does not realize how their attention may impact on the project team. The project manager should be aware of these variables in order to take advantage of them to optimize team performance. However, the project manager needs to acknowledge how the discipline of project management is accepted within the confines of the corporate, company or organizational culture. In the PMBOK® Guide it states:

“The project manager should also examine the organizational culture and determine whether project management is recognized as a valid role with accountability and authority for managing the project.” (PMI, 2004, p 14)

Traditionally, establishing a team for a project changes the environment for the employee. It may be subtle to extreme, such as adjusted work hours to perhaps reporting to a new project “War Room” environment where the team works on the project in a centralized area. Regardless, the assumption here is that the employee is not experiencing “work as usual” and will have to adjust to the new environment and environmental variables. How the project manager recognizes and optimizes the change effect may have an instrumental effect on the success or failure of the project.

This paper is suggesting is that there should be a template, or at least an awareness or need to control, for the changed worker environment right from the beginning of the project. Consider these changes:

  • Change of venue.
  • Change in office space.
  • Change in immediate contracts.
    • New Team Members
    • New Direct Reports
    • New Managers
      • Project Manager
      • Project Sponsor
  • New Type of Work
  • Team Work
  • WBS
    • Clarified Work
    • More Attention to Detail
  • Working on New Procedures
  • Working on New Procedures without artifacts.

Another broad topic to consider is that organizations, which do not practice “management by project”, may have a difficult time adapting the project management discipline to their operational way of doing work. By contracting for the first time an outside group of individuals to complete a project, but expecting them to do it “The company way” may result in the Same Old Stuff (SOS) being generated. A different but related S.O.S. (Save Our Ship) may be generated if an improvement to a product, service or result does not appear from the project. In other words, an innovative way of doing work is needed to create an innovative way of doing business. If the organization is not used to the project management paradigm then the change in worker environment is even more problematic. The work difference between “Business as Usual” and “Management by Project” is clearly defined in the PMBOK® Guide:

“Projects and operations differ primarily in that operations are ongoing and repetitive, while projects are temporary and unique.” (PMI, 2004, p 6)

Built In Consequences

What may be some of the possible consequences of a “Hawthorne Effect” in a project environment?

  • There is a short term energy boost of interest in doing something new in the workplace.
  • There is the danger of the project immediately spinning out of control because of the expectations of the employees being involved in the project.
  • There is a dampening of spirits within the first or second week of the project when it is discovered that the project isn’t any more interesting than ordinary everyday operational work. (SOS to S.O.S!)
  • Employees work on things that interest them, but are not focused on their specific assignment in the project.
  • Employees are going above and beyond the call of duty by coming up with creative solutions to help the team, but the creative solutions are not appreciated.
  • Employees are going above and beyond the call of duty by coming up with creative solutions to help the team and are appreciated.
  • The team’s productivity is beyond initial expectations.
  • Team employees get involved in matters beyond the scope of their assignment and are not focusing on tasks at hand.
  • They may work extra hard on their assignments and produce more information than is necessary.
  • “Managing by project” may be the way of boosting employee productivity within an organization.

So if there is a “Hawthorne Effect” built into the Project Management Discipline, how does a project manager take advantage of or mitigate the effect? Taking advantage of the effect would be to tap into the enthusiasm and the “fresh start” qualities of a new project beginning. To mitigate would mean that the project is clearly defined, well planned, and the team job descriptions are such that little innovation or spontaneity is needed to complete the project. But then again, there may be expectations that need to be addressed at the project’s launch.

What all this seems to come down to is the idea of employee input and how to channel it to benefit the project and the organization. In some companies this has been done quite well:

“Southwest Airlines has learned to capitalize on the principles of the Hawthorne Effect. Since the company’s inception in 1971, it has been committed to employee input. In an industry plagued with business failures, it is staggering to reflect on how Southwest Airlines has consistently remained at the top of its industry, while placing a dogmatic focus on employees’ feedback and needs. Southwest seeks to share the company’s success with its employees. The airline encourages employee ownership by offering the chance to purchase company stock at 90 percent of the market value, while covering all broker fees.” (Frazee, 2004, p 25)

Matching the Strategy to the Project

Clearly if the project needs a creative team to fill in gaps or to help mitigate problems that may arise during the execution and controlling phase then the Hawthorne Effect should be encouraged so that spontaneity will occur and be channeled to keep the project on track, meeting milestones, and keeping down costs.

However, if the project is clearly defined with an exacting work breakdown structure then the project manager may have to reign in the Hawthorne Effect. In other words, the project team would be encouraged to work on the specifications as they are laid out. Their roles, duties and responsibilities would have to be defined so there would be no guess work on what the job at hand would entail.

Admittedly these project descriptions are at two extremes and there are projects that will fall somewhere in between. To some degree this may tie into previous attempts to quantify motivation and work productivity such as Discretionary Effort.

“Discretionary effort is the amount of effort between the minimum acceptable and maximum possible. In order to inspire people to work their hardest on a project, they must be highly motivated. Among the chief motivators mentioned here are stakeholder buy-in, financial rewards, personal empowerment, trust, recognition, and meeting project expectations. - Russell W. Darnall” (PM Network, 1994, pp 54-56)

What is interesting about this proposal is that the enthusiasm or “effect” is already built in whereas discretionary effort brings with it a host of issues to be addressed. With the Hawthorne Effect as part of the project launch, the project manager has to do nothing except take advantage of the effect (Or mitigate the effect.). In other words it is available for the project manager to be aware of and use or lose.


This proposed project management built in “Hawthorne Effect” has to be further investigated to verify its existence and the ability to use it as a technique and best practice. To some degree the effect has been recognized as being partially in place by the PMBOK® Guide. The project manager by job description has to pay attention to the project team members in order to control the project. The idea of socializing and building the project team through training and members having expertise is part of the knowledge area. However, more research has to be done in order to further verify and augment this proposal.


Baroudi, J.J. & Ginzberg, M.J. (1986). Impact of the Technological Environment on Programmer/Analyst Job Outcomes. Communications of the ACM, 29I(6), 546-555.

Blackwell Encyclopedic Dictionary of Organizational Behavior. (1995). Oxford, United Kingdom: Blackwell Publishing, 211.

Darnall, R. (1994, August) Tapping Into Discretionary Effort. PM Network, 8(8), 54-56.

Frazee, B. (2004, November) Organizational Behavior and the Learning Process. Chief Learning Officer, 3, 24-55.

Firesmith, D. (1988). Managing ADA Projects: The People Issues. TRI-Ada ‘88, Charleston, WV. U.S.A.

Macionis, J. (2003) Sociology. (9th ed.). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

Project Management Institute. (2004). A guide to the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK®) (3rd ed.). Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute

Rise, B. (1982, February). The Hawthorne Defect: Persistence of a Flawed Theory. Psychology Today7(2) 16, 70-74.

Roethlisberger, F. J. & Dickson, W. J. (1939). Management and the Worker. (Twelfth Printing.). Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 15, 18.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI or any listed author.

© 2006, Loran W. Walker
Originally published as a part of 2006 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Seattle Washington



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