Lutheran Brotherhood’s journey--the integration of project management and change management

Cynthia L. Hoffer, Assistant Vice President, Project Office, Lutheran Brotherhood
Sherry L.R. Holtz, Manager, HR Development, Lutheran Brotherhood
Char Kinder, Implementation Management Associates, Inc.
Michael W.Wold, PMP, Fissure Corporation

Project complexity is increasing significantly. The desire to leverage new technology for strategic advantage often results in projects that cross organizational boundaries and affect larger groups of people. Many projects, e.g., process reengineering and new technology implementations, are having a major impact on day-to-day company operations and changing the way people work. There is a growing realization that these complex, high impact projects require a new approach to be implemented successfully.

Lutheran Brotherhood is a member-owned fraternal benefit society of 1.2 million Lutherans joined together for financial security, benevolent outreach and volunteer service. The organization’s mission is to improve the quality of life for its members, strengthen communities, and aid Lutheran congregations and institutions. In approaching its strategic projects, the organization discovered an approach to project management that successfully deals with complex, cross-organization strategic projects. It has adopted a “change management” methodology to address the human side of change and has integrated it with their project management processes. The goal of this integration is greater project success, user acceptance, and improved business results. (Note: The term “change management” in this paper refers to the management of the human elements of change—e.g., resistance, expectations, and sponsorship and not “change control” as is typically thought of in project management.)

The Environment

In 1997, Lutheran Brotherhood completed a major review of its business strategy and decided to initiate several complex, strategic projects that combined business process reengineering with the use of the latest information systems technology. They recognized that there was a need for an approach that not only employed more disciplined project management, but also emphasized the important role that sponsors, customers, end users and other key stakeholders play in a project’s success. New processes and technologies meant there would be significant changes in employees’ work roles and the organization would need to manage people’s expectations and resistance to change in order to realize the expected business improvements.

Exhibit 1.Project/Change Management Matrix

Project/Change Management Matrix

Exhibit 2. Lutheran Brotherhood’s Journey and Timeline

Lutheran Brotherhood’s Journey and Timeline

Lutheran Brotherhood had seen signs that their traditional way of managing projects in the organization would no longer work. There had been mixed results achieved in the past on less complex projects. Many projects were “successful” in the sense of meeting their technical objectives, but were not successful from an implementation perspective. Projects were causing unnecessary disruption to the organization during implementation and there was often low user acceptance. There were other signs that a new approach was needed. Often ownership and sponsorship were not clearly established and there was a lack of a defined role for business units to play in projects. In addition, the absence of standard project management processes or terminology made it difficult to manage projects that crossed organizational boundaries.

There was a growing realization within parts of the organization that project management skills and the ability to manage change more effectively needed to be key management competencies. This became even more apparent as the organization began focusing on the achievement of business results from project efforts.

The Response

In responding to its need for project and change management capability, Lutheran Brotherhood initially set up two parallel initiatives— one focused on change management and the other on project management. Later, with the leadership of Human Resources, the two initiatives were integrated. The organization has benefited from this integration. Since beginning competency development in both the project and change management dimensions, the organization has seen a significant increase in the use of a disciplined approach to project and change management for planning and managing projects. The benefits of focusing on both dimensions are shown in Exhibit 1—Project Management/Change Management Matrix. The journey toward this integration along with the successes, challenges and lessons learned are described in this paper.

The Journey

The Journey Begins—Change Management Initiative

Lutheran Brotherhood began its journey with the goal of building change management discipline in the organization. In mid-1997, it contracted with Implementation Management Associates, Inc. (IMA) to develop an environment that would support the major changes it was anticipating. (See Exhibit 2— Lutheran Brotherhood’s Journey and Timeline.) Sessions were conducted to raise managers’ and supervisors’ awareness of change management and its benefits. The organization also began using IMA’s Accelerating Change methodology with two of its strategic initiatives. Teams were trained and accredited in this methodology to assist projects in managing change. The teams also created practical tools and templates to use in projects. Examples of these tools are:

Key role maps—a visual representation of key “players” in a project

Sponsor contracts—agreements between the sponsor(s) and the project team outlining expectations, wants, and offers

Team member agreements—agreements among a team member, his or her direct manager, and the project manager clarifying roles and responsibilities

Communication plans—proactive plans of what, who, and when to communicate during a project’s life cycle

Change readiness plans—proactive plans to surface and manage the organization’s readiness for the project/change.

In 1998 and 1999, a group of project sponsors participated in a semi-annual Sponsor Assessment process. The assessment provided the group 360-degree feedback on their performance as sponsors. To motivate improvement and reinforce the importance of the sponsor’s role in project success, the scores from the assessments were directly tied to the sponsors’ management incentive compensation. Additional Accelerating Change education for employees from across the organization was provided to develop a common language (e.g., sponsor, target, frame of reference) and skill set for change management.

Parallel Roads—Early Project Management Efforts

As the organization began its strategic projects in mid-1997, it became clear that the previous methods of managing projects would not work. These methods relied heavily on the interpersonal relationships of its employees and little on disciplined project management processes. Since projects could not be delayed until the internal capability in disciplined project management was developed, Lutheran Brotherhood outsourced its project management leadership to an experienced vendor. Since the vendor brought in its own project management processes, the change management processes were not closely integrated. Although project managers made efforts to apply change management, the lack of integration limited their effectiveness in managing the human side of change.

Two Roads Converge—Integrating Project Management and Change Management

In mid-1998, Lutheran Brotherhood took steps to develop strong project management capability internally. The Blueprint for Project Success (BPS) team was formed to lead the development of project management capability in the organization. The team represented a wide range of job diversity and its members were selected by their managers for their interest in project management. Strong sponsorship was developed through the creation of a steering committee of upper and middle managers representing all areas of the company to provide direction to the BPS team.

Under the leadership of the project manager of the BPS team, who was also the manager of Human Resource Development for the organization, the team decided to integrate the change management and project management processes. The team leader, because of her organizational placement in Human Resource Development, had immediately seen the relationship between project management and change management and the value of their integration. The company also enlisted the help of Fissure Corporation to help build the foundation for project management skills and continued its relationship with IMA to build change management skills.

The BPS team began by first educating themselves. They explored the best practices of project and change management. Team members became familiar with PMI’s A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide), participated in Fissure’s Managing By Project simulation training course that is aligned with the PMBOK® Guide, and participated in IMA’s Accelerating Change workshops. They also decided to use the processes they were creating to manage the BPS project. This provided practical insights into the new processes and also gave the team credibility as they marketed the processes to the rest of the organization.

In order to demonstrate the integrated approach to project and change management, the BPS team immediately involved the project managers who would be the ultimate users of this new discipline. The team solicited the project managers’ help to develop and refine the processes, scope and prioritize the training courses and attend the training pilots.

Another key decision the team made was on the content of its project management and change management processes. Although significant time could be saved by simply adopting the processes intact from vendors, the team decided that the processes would be more readily accepted if they were tailored to its culture. Therefore, the team spent four months customizing a set of project management and change management processes based on information and concepts from PMBOK® Guide, Fissure, and IMA, as well as successful techniques Lutheran Brotherhood had used in past projects. Each team member was actively involved in the creation and review of these processes. After several review cycles by intended users, the processes were released in early 1999 as a Web-based project management reference guide. The reference guide included downloadable templates for key project management and change management documents.

The project and change management process flow in the reference guide emphasizes the integration of these two disciplines from the project initiation stage through the planning, execution, control and closure stages. For example, the project management process describes a project plan that includes an implementation plan. Also the project management planning process includes specific change management activities and tasks along with other project tasks in each phase of a project. The change management activities emphasize securing and maintaining sponsorship for the project, communicating to key audiences about the project, and activities to ready the organization for a new way of doing things. Also, both the project and change management planning processes have measurable deliverables, e.g., a project plan (incorporating an implementation plan), a sponsor contract, and a communication plan.

In 1999, the BPS team released the supporting training program called Keys to Project Success that focuses on the formal integration of project management and change management. Participants actually use case studies and exercises that require them to combine both skill sets for project success. Each course stresses the relationship between change and project management and the participants develop both skill sets simultaneously.

To measure the maturity level of the organization in project and change management, the BPS team used an assessment tool created by Fissure Corporation to conduct a Project Management Best Practices Review. From this they developed baseline performance measures for the organization. The categories measured include:General Project Management, Scope Management, Time Management, Cost and Resource Management, Quality Management, Communication, Risk Management, Procurement, Performance Management, Organization-wide Support, Teamwork, Team Leadership, Sponsorship, Target Readiness, and System Development. This review is now done annually and provides quantitative measures of success for the initiative. The latest survey was completed in early 2000 and showed that there were significant improvements in General Project Management, Cost and Resource Management, Organization-wide Support, and Target Readiness.

The BPS team also recommended the formation of a corporate project office to support the movement towards more disciplined project and change management. This recommendation was accepted in 1999 by executive management. The corporate Project Office reports to the senior vice president of Corporate and Human Resources and provides ongoing support to the organization’s projects. Project Office support services include: project coaching, continuous improvement initiatives, project coaches’ and managers’ forums and networks, facilitators for project initiation workshops, and annual best practice reviews. There is continued ongoing support from Fissure and IMA consultants as needed.

Rest Stops and Oases—The Successes

In its journey Lutheran Brotherhood has had some pleasant rest stops and oases, realizing some major successes of the integration of the two disciplines.

Improved Sponsorship Skills—The sponsorship for projects, particularly strategic projects, has improved dramatically. A sponsor assessment process measures the probability of implementation success based on how effectively a sponsor expresses, demonstrates, and reinforces his or her commitment to the project’s outcome. In the most recent sponsor assessment, average scores have increased ten points over a two-year period, indicating that the probability of implementation success is higher. Today, a growing group of managers understand what is required of them to be effective sponsors and they are trying to further develop their skills.

An Expectation for Discipline—There is now an expectation for the use of a disciplined approach to project and change management on large projects. Deliverables like work breakdown structures, detailed schedules, sponsor contracts, communication plans, etc. are becoming common and expected.

Clearer Roles and Expectations—Project managers, team members and sponsors now know what is expected of them. Projects have clear objectives and expected business results are communicated. Projects have specific beginning and ending date commitments.

Perceived Value—The organization is beginning to see the value in discipline and use of the processes. They now “know what they didn’t know,” are eager to learn more, and more aware of less than optimal project results.

More Involvement—Sponsors, users, and business areas are more involved and take more ownership of projects.

Common Language—A common language has developed across the organization making it easier to plan and manage cross-departmental projects.

Successful Project Office—The coaching, training, and networking services of the new Project Office are used and appreciated. During 1999 there were 1,100 attendees at the training offerings of the Keys to Project Success curriculum and evaluations were high. The curriculum continues to undergo more integration of project management, change management and system development skills resulting in a more efficient delivery.

Barriers and Yield Signs—The Challenges

As with any journey, Lutheran Brotherhood met yield signs and barriers along its path that presented challenges to developing an environment that supports and enables change.

Yield, but Proceed

Maintaining Sponsorship—Strong sponsorship was critical to the BPS initiative, so the team recognized this and worked hard to maintain upper and middle management sponsorship throughout the project. Members of the team were responsible for keeping their managers, most of who were on the steering committee, informed throughout the project and for maintaining their commitment.

Acceptance of the Discipline—A key challenge was the organization’s acceptance of the discipline required. Even though past project success had been limited due to acceptance issues and inefficient use of resources, the fact remained that the projects had been completed without the new disciplines. Project and change management planning was considered a luxury that slowed progress and consumed resources. The perceived value of project management came slowly as projects using the new approach began to be seen as more successful and efficient. The perceived value of change management was even slower to develop since the real benefits were often not evident until actual implementation.

Too Many Models—To bring discipline to projects, several project-related disciplines were started throughout the organization simultaneously as well as the introduction of change management. Each of these disciplines had a “model” and language of their own. This multiplicity began to confuse employees and raised concerns about which was the right model, did employees need training in all the disciplines, etc. The Project Office became a focal point to clarify, simplify, and consolidate disciplines, processes, templates, and deliverables to ease user confusion.

Barriers Yet to Overcome—Continuing Challenges

As with any major cultural change in an organization, barriers and challenges continue long after the initial implementation.

Pockets of Resistance—Because there is a reluctance to give up the old way of doing things, there are still pockets of resistance in the organization. Some view these disciplines as encroaching on their independence and resist standardization. Undisciplined project management has its appeal, especially when it seems that too much time is now spent in the planning phase. In order to manage this resistance, the Project Office is collecting and communicating success stories that demonstrate how proper planning and executing these disciplines actually reduces adjustment time at the back end of projects. In addition, management must continue to enforce the use of the processes.

Project Office Role—In order to emphasize the corporate-wide focus of the project, it was placed in the Corporate and Human Resources organization. The challenge is to provide a high level of services to all departments, including IT, so that there is not an incentive for them to retain some informal project support functions leading to duplication and perhaps conflict.

Alignment of Reinforcement Systems—Disciplined project and change management is relatively new to the organization and the reinforcement systems are not yet fully aligned with this focus. There currently is not much personal benefit for using the new disciplines and career paths still tend to go through the traditional managerial promotional chain. This causes potentially strong project managers to think twice about committing their careers to the project management path. Fortunately, the organization recently completed a leadership competency study that resulted in project management and change management skills being declared key competencies for all managers. This will help the alignment of reinforcement systems for these disciplines.

Sponsor Effectiveness—The organization has realized that developing good, effective sponsorship is extremely difficult. Unclear or weak sponsorship was tolerated in the past, but negatively impacted project success. Under the new approach, sponsors are required to make specific commitments for support in terms of resources, decision-making, shared responsibility, and even personal behavior. Based on the improvement of the scores for the strategic project sponsor assessment, there is evidence that with clear expectations and reinforcements, sponsors can become more effective. However, during the same period of time, sponsorship scores across the organization did not increase based on the Best Practices Review results. Project managers and teams now know what to expect from a good sponsor and are holding their sponsors to a tougher standard. Building sponsor effectiveness will require continued focus and sponsor education.

Risk of Complacency—Although implementation of these new disciplines has occurred, there is the risk of complacency in sponsorship and use of the new processes. The Project Office will need to continue marketing the successes and keeping disciplined project and change management on the top of the agenda for the organization.

Travel Aids and Shortcuts—The Lessons Learned

In its journey to integrating project management and change management, Lutheran Brotherhood has identified lessons learned that may provide others a few travel aids and shortcuts in their own journey.

Obtain Sponsorship and Involve Management—Strong sponsorship and management involvement is key to success. Without the executive sponsorship of the senior vice president of Corporate and Human Resources and the support of the cross-organizational steering committee, the BPS project would have been doomed to failure. The steering committee provided good strategic insight and demonstrated their commitment by using the new processes in their own organizations. They also offered up their projects to test various processes and encouraged their staff to attend the pilot training sessions. Finally, the steering committee became advocates for establishing a corporate project office for ongoing project management support.

Integrate Project and Change Management from the Start— Lutheran Brotherhood started developing its project and change management capabilities as parallel paths. Fortunately, the organization combined these paths and even integrated other processes, e.g., system development life cycle, into one model. This integration eliminated confusion and reduced training needs. It would have been better to integrate these disciplines from the outset.

Use the Disciplines First Hand—The BPS team decided to use the two disciplines real time and treat the development of project and change management capability as a project. The team used all of the various processes that they were developing. Some examples were good planning techniques, clear deliverables, detailed schedules, issue and risk tracking, formal meeting minutes, sponsor contracts, target readiness plans, status reviews, closure reports. In short they used good project and change management. This resulted in the team meeting its objective within cost and schedule and also engaging sponsors and users along the way. Using the disciplines first hand sent the message that the processes really worked in a practical environment. In addition, there were a number of process improvements that resulted from their use by the team.

Analyze the Need for a Corporate-wide Project Office—The organization did an extensive trade-off analysis before it made the decision to have a corporate-wide project office. Many alternatives were considered including a network of department project offices, virtual project offices with no specific organizational placement, and no project office at all. Based on the analysis, it was decided to establish a corporate project office and place it in the Corporate and Human Resources division to emphasize its corporate focus. It is important to continually market the Project Office and make results of the use of their services visible to the organization.

Measure the Results—It is important to demonstrate quantitative results for investing in developing organizational capability in project and change management. From the outset, the BPS project plan included the scheduling of a “best practices review” on an annual basis. Using the Fissure Project Management Capability Index questionnaire, an assessment is performed on project management, change management, leadership, and teamwork capability. Quantitative measures allow the organization to measure its capability improvements, helps to maintain executive support, and provides the Project Office information to focus their resources.

Require Skills Transfer from Vendors—To accelerate the development of the project and change management capability, Lutheran Brotherhood used outside consultants/vendors. But a clear expectation was set for the transfer of skills to the organization to ensure self-sufficiency. This was done through the development of training guides and processes that were easily transferred. This has worked well and reliance on the vendors has been greatly reduced.

Looking Through the Rear View Mirror— Conclusion

Three years ago, Lutheran Brotherhood realized that the old ways of managing projects simply would not work with its complex, strategic projects. With the support of key sponsors, they responded with a set of initiatives aimed at developing strong change and project management capability in the organization. The initiatives resulted in the creation of an integrated set of change and project management processes and supporting training program. A corporate-wide Project Office now provides ongoing support and continuous improvement. The result is a more disciplined approach to projects, which they are confident will lead to improved project performance and user acceptance of deliverables while bringing about intended business results.

Project Management Institute Standards Committee. (1996). A guide to the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK® Guide). Upper Darby. PA: The Project Management Institute.

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.

Proceedings of the Project Management Institute Annual Seminars & Symposium
September 7–16, 2000 • Houston,Texas,USA

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