Project Management Institute

Effective practices for change management action


Inspira Management Ltd


This paper describes examples of effective change implementation through real world examples wherein change management plans were translated into action with success. Organizations are starting to recognize the benefits of including change management process and methodology when initiating and planning projects. Integration with project planning and activities is vital for the effective execution of change management plans. However, if not executed properly, change management activities can compete with project management priorities during the project life cycle. Effective execution of change management plans and alignment with organizational and project goals is critical to project and change success. Successful integration of change management and project management is not accomplished by simply adding a “change management” activity into your Gantt chart. It requires an action plan, effective engagement, fresh approaches to communication and acknowledgement of support upon project completion. Change activates should complement, not compete with, project activities to ensure project and organizational success.


Change management is maturing as a discipline. Organizations are starting to recognize the benefits of including change management process and methodology when initiating and planning projects. Integration with project planning and project activities is vital to the effective execution of change management plans. Very often though, if not executed properly, change management activities can compete with project management priorities during the project life cycle. Effective execution of change management plans, aligned with organizational and project goals is critical to project and change success.

Change Management should follow the same “Plan, Do, Check, Act” deming cycle of project delivery. Planning for change is the easy part; change action takes work. The key ingredient in change action is effective stakeholder engagement. Proper engagement builds change champions and establishes a valuable feedback loop to the project during execution. In successful projects, change is “organized,” “carried,” and “sustained.” This paper describes detailed examples and suggestions of these actions.

What is Change Action?

More and more organizations are starting to realize that, just like project management, change management is necessary to improve project outcomes. Unfortunately, often the detailed activities of change management are not clearly understood or defined, so Gantt charts end up looking like this:

Change Management in Gantt Chart

Exhibit 1 – Change Management in Gantt Chart

By including one broad activity labeled as “change management” or “change management/communications,” often sponsors are satisfied that something is being done; what actually needs to happen in that bar remains a bit of a mystery. Even worse, change management activities are included near the end of the project, bundled together with training or operational readiness like this:

Change Management at end of Gantt Chart

Exhibit 2 – Change Management at end of Gantt Chart

Procsi research tells us “Projects with effective change management programs were more likely to meet objectives, stay on schedule and stay on budget than those without effective change management.” (Prosci, 2012, p 9). When push comes to shove , change management activities will be sacrificed if they are seen to hamper project progress. Engaging stakeholders, allowing access to technical teams for information gathering, modifying schedules for client priorities or investments in communication or training needs can be seen as “not within scope” of pure project delivery. Building a solid action plan for change management early in project initiation can ensure that these activities are funded, prioritized, valued and supported. Showing success through change action will reinforce the benefits of these investments.

Where does change come from – types of change

When assessing change, be aware that change can occur both internal and external to the project team. Change is initiated by process change, organizational change or even by the introduction of formal project management methodology. As organizational capability in project management matures, change can be felt by delivery teams, as well as impacted clients. Progressive organizations focus on both internal and external change.

Case in Point – Embedded Systems Design Project, Cobham Surveillance

The project scope included the design, development, testing and production of communication equipment.

A successful local engineering design company was bought by a larger global company. The company had recently won a sizable contract to produce equipment for a US client. The contract had aggressive scope and timelines, a fixed price budget with potential bonuses for meeting design criteria and schedule milestones, and a high expectation of reporting rigour. The company realized formal project management was a necessary investment. Previous projects were delivered with engineers or operational managers acting in an informal “project management” role, which often led to delays through competing priorities in design versus delivery. The team was resistant to outside, contracted resources being brought in to manage their big project. In order to ensure controlled progress in delivery, the project management team and client established an intensive monthly status and review meeting schedule, with deliverable milestones required for every meeting. Detailed status reporting, requirements reviews, design reviews, and scope verification were scheduled. The project management team took care of the details and reporting; the team was free to perform their engineering tasks and participate in the technical discussions as required. As the project progressed successfully, the team realized the benefits of effective project management and came to embrace a new organizational culture.

Organizing Change – Get Ready for Action!

Preparing for change

During project planning and initiation, tools are available to help assess the organizational impacts of change and determine change readiness. Assessment models can be useful to identify stakeholders that may require attention. These tools and models are integral parts of planning for change and determine which change actions are most suitable. Once the change management plan and Strategy is developed and approved, it is time to get organized for action.

Creating a brand

When organizing change, it is useful to establish a brand for your project that allows stakeholders to build awareness and identify with the change. A brand can be as simple as giving your project a name that means something to the team and other stakeholders, or as expansive as contracting a design or communications firm to develop a name, logo, themed communication templates and media strategy. The extent to which a project is branded depends on the impact of the project, affected groups, duration and budget. For projects that impact a large number of people across an organization or citizenry, more effort and focus on branding can pay off. Giving your team and supporters common terminology and a name to rally behind creates consistency in information distribution. A successful project can become a marquee brand for the organization.

Case in Point – The Office Suite Migration Project, Province of Nova Scotia Chief Information Office

The Office Suite Migration Project was a 15 month initiative to migrate all Provincial workstations, files, printers, BlackBerries and email to Microsoft technologies. Approximately 13,000 users were affected.

The migration project did not have a name during planning. Communications resources brainstormed with stakeholders for a name and brand that would be recognized and create excitement for a project that would result in dramatic changes to people, process and technology. Project leaders did not want the project to be only about “Microsoft,” but to focus on the shift to a new suite of business tools. The team named the project the “Office Suite Migration Project” and developed a progressive logo. By happy accident, the acronym OSM quickly came to be pronounced “awesome.” Who would not want to be a part of the “OSM” project?!


All projects can benefit from some thought and care when choosing a name. Sometimes, a project may actually require a rebranding to generate momentum and support.

Case in Point – The Network Upgrade Project, Province of Nova Scotia Chief Information Office

The Network Upgrade Project is a three year project to standardize network infrastructure and design, replace end of life LAN switches and implement wireless network access across all Provincial offices.

The Provincial Data Network Re-design Implementation Project was known by the team and sponsor as the PDN Project or Network Re-design Project. Many stakeholders across the enterprise had no idea what the PDN was and were reluctant to be impacted by project work. To build momentum and support, a project manager with a focus on communications and stakeholder engagement was brought on board. As a simple first action, the project manager renamed the project, the Network Upgrade Project or NU Project. The team could now communicate about their project with a common name that resonated with other provincial employees. Effective communication with stakeholders, under the project brand, paved the way for successful upgrades.

Change Champions & Call to Action

Another important activity when organizing your change for action is to develop your change team, formally or informally, to respond to your call to action. Change champions come in both the obvious and unexpected forms. Not surprisingly, champions often include your sponsor, a senior leader within the organization, the quality division, allied clients, sales, marketing, and operations or production. Somewhat unexpected champions can be found in unlikely forms such as the dissenting team member, the skeptical client, the difficult vendor or disgruntled support team. Through effective engagement and change action, these former adversaries can be converted to your most ardent supporters.

With an established identity and good support, the team is ready to carry the change into action.

Carry the change – Charge!

Spread the word

Create evangelists to spread the word. Change champions will spread your messages far and wide if given the proper tools. Change messages will be carried to groups that may be impacted to increase awareness and establish feedback loops to assess the effectiveness of actions. It can sometimes come as a surprise that people outside the project team want to play an active role in change management. Astute departments, groups and individuals know that if they have an inside track to change information, they have more time to prepare and potentially influence. Asking for a change lead from affected groups to serve on a change panel or business change team creates an avenue into the business or organization for information distribution, ongoing impact assessments, calls to action in support of project activities and requests for environmental insight not typically available to the delivery team.

Useful tools to supply to your evangelists include a slide deck overview of the project, briefing notes for senior management, email templates that can be customized for distribution to their particular groups, quick tip cards, or videos. Keep your project website up to date with engaging content. Solicit questions through your change champions and acknowledge people that have made contributions or gone the extra mile. Source product information from vendors, if appropriate. Request some product giveaways from larger vendors to be distributed as prizes or tokens of appreciation. A little effort from the change or project team can go a long way to instill good will and gain support in an affected group. Arrange a visit to brief interested staff in person, man a pop up information booth, invite stakeholders to product demos or arrange a regular support phone call with groups that may be struggling.

Case in Point – Motor Carrier Division License and Inspection System, Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal

The Motor Carrier Division License and Inspection System Project was responsible for the development and implementation of a new electronic license and inspection system to replace a legacy license management system and manual inspection process.

The Motor Carrier Division is responsible for the license administration, enforcement and inspection of passenger carriers (i.e., motor coaches, transit and school buses) in the Province of Nova Scotia. The Division Inspection staff had been performing vehicle safety inspections in a paper based manual format for their entire careers and some were reluctant to move to an electronic method for recording inspections. Although requirements had been documented prior to design, the system vendor, MCD sponsor and MCD project manager decided to engage two of the most senior staff members in the detailed design and testing process. By asking these influential resources to actively participate as representatives of office and inspection staff, all staff felt their concerns and ideas were being considered. They had insight into the benefits of the system by participating in development as the system evolved and seeing the system in action through early demos and testing. Although they were sceptical at the beginning, they became two of the biggest supporters of the new system and led their teams through training and adoption.

Echoes and Reverberations

Lend a hand to respond to the echoes as your message and actions are felt throughout the organization. Be available to support your change champions. Adjust project communications as necessary based on feedback from support teams. Are some users or clients not preparing properly for change? It could be that your messages need tweaking. Are messages causing confusion or alarm? If so, be prepared to follow up and apologize if necessary. Process improvement benefits communication and engagement strategy as well.

A recommended tool is a project email account. Consistent with your brand, this allows project messages to come from a recognizable source. The inbox can be monitored by several team members to respond to inquiries, complaints, or even praise (it does happen for effective teams!).

Sustain the change – Transform and Transition

How's it goin’?

Sometimes the most effective way to determine the effectiveness of your change action is to ask. Ask your teams “how's it goin’?’”. Have an informal coffee break with your team. Reward them with a treat, such as cookies or ice cream. Visit a client site or affected group for a check in, or cold call a user to look for areas to improve. It can be enlightening to put yourself in the role of the user. Are you able to do what you are asking the users to do to prepare for change? Are you able to follow the instructions? Testing your change actions and strategies can provide good evidence to sponsors when asking for continued support of planned activities, or justification to modify ineffective practices.

Make sure your actions are building sustainability within the organization. Enhanced support during project execution, without an eye to service transition, can create a gap in sustaining the change post project. Build a training plan that accounts for the impact of change. It will not be enough to provide the “how,” you will also want to continually reinforce the “why.”

Case in Point – Automated Seafood Processing Equipment Design Project, Clearwater Fleet and Quark Engineering

A major seafood retailer is committed to sustainability and quality in its local and export products. They have made major investments in processing technology to achieve these goals.

A small engineering design firm was engaged by a major seafood harvesting and processing company to build an automated seafood processing machine for integration with an on-vessel, at sea processing plant. The technology was cutting edge and designed to replace a process that had been a manual task for decades. Once the prototype achieved design goals for throughput, quality and safety, it was ready for sea trials. Before that could happen though, the new operators of the equipment had to be trained. This presented a challenge as the operators were the ones most skilled in the manual process. They were highly doubtful that a machine could be faster and more efficient than a person. The project team and sponsor carefully introduced the new technology: first to the fleet manager and then to an “elite” crew of processors. For orientation, the pre-production machine was removed from the lab environment and setup in a familiar location – a dockside fish processing facility. Orientation day was planned to introduce the design and safety features first, followed by a hands on training session. Refreshments were plentiful, product information was distributed and the crew tested the new machine. They were visibly surprised by its speed and efficiency. They were also encouraged to see that it still required an operator, but the work was much less physically demanding than the old manual method. After a few sessions, a single machine was installed on the vessel. While at sea, impressed with performance, the crew began to support the new equipment and requested additional training so they could become permanent operators.

Change Hangovers

Ensure adequate support plans are in place post project to allow transition to operations. Do not leave operational readiness to the end. Make sure it is a priority in project planning. Engage a member of the operations management team to be on your change committee or steering committee. Establish a role for support integration in your change strategy. Request support staff to be seconded to the project on full or part time basis, as an opportunity to build knowledge and skills. Often, the support staff are anxious about the outcomes of the project. Having a liaison or conduit into the project team throughout execution can create champions within the support community and facilitate a smoother knowledge transfer. This ensures that operations are not only ready, but that operations are sustainable.

Case in Point – LyncIT, Province of Nova Scotia Chief Information Office

Following the introduction of Microsoft Lync into the environment, it was determined that uptake was less than planned for benefit realization of the new collaboration and communication tool. The CIO requested an innovative approach to generate excitement among senior leaders in government and increase departmental utilization.

Voice and video conferencing from your desktop became possible within the organization following the implementation of Microsoft Lync. Unfortunately, most people were reluctant to use it as they were unfamiliar with the technology. Many departments had not invested in the required devices, such as webcams and headsets. A small service oriented team was assembled as Lync champions, headed by a progressive departmental director, with direct support from the CIO. The team received approval to fund 100 Lync kits or “LynclT's.” Each kit included a headset, camera, quick fact document and USB with training tools, packed in an attractive gift box with label. A Lync Open House was arranged for a location that contained offices for senior organizational leaders. The CIO sent an invitation to attend several demo and information sessions scheduled throughout the day. The team crafted a realistic use case demonstration of functionality, served refreshments, and provided each participant with a LyncIT. Following the Open House, many kits were requested and Lync has become a key communication and collaboration tool within the organization.


Successful integration of change management and project management is not accomplished by simply adding a “change management” activity into your Gantt chart. It requires an action plan, effective engagement, fresh approaches to communication and acknowledgement of support once the project is complete. Change activities should complement, not compete with, project activities to ensure project and organizational success.


Prosci (2012). Best Practices in Change Management (2012 Edition). Loveland, CO: Procsi Inc.

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.

© 2014, Wendy Spears, PMP
Originally published as a part of the 2014 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – USA



Related Content