Project Management Institute

Managing change the project management way

by Samuel Formby, PMP, and Gerald Ostrander, PMP

HAVE YOUBEEN THERE, DONE THAT”? How often have you been assigned to support improvement initiatives aimed at specific problems? How often do the results fully satisfy expectations? If your business is like many that have embraced total quality management and its successors over the last 10 years, you have probably been frustrated at times with the quantity of overlapping and redundant improvement initiatives that don't achieve lasting or complete results. In some cases initiatives are required to fix the problems created by the preceding improvement.

As companies everywhere frantically reengineer the way they do business to become faster, leaner, and more profitable, staying on the competitive edge requires the ability to successfully implement change, and to do it quickly and do it right the first time. And that requires sound project management skills.

Many managers have used various subsets of these skills subconsciously in reengineering, but how often do they really approach it like a project? In the most successful examples, change is managed like a project, although sometimes without calling it a project. The focus is on the people, the goals, the benefits and the measures of success.

Let's look at five common types of changes that businesses are challenged to implement, along with typical causes of poor results. Because businesses often manage each of these changes as stand-alone efforts without fully evaluating the effects or need for change in other areas, the results are often incomplete and exhibit undesirable side effects. Each type of change has merit but can better contribute to success if managed as part of a fully integrated change project.

Procedure Changes. Businesses love to process-map and change procedures, reviews, and/or approvals. The negotiation process involved with this type of change smoothes work flow but is frequently constrained by the existing organizational paradigms and structures, as evidenced by “silos” of procedures sacred to various parts of the organization. At best, the current business is optimized and the organization develops a much better appreciation of other business constraints. Relationships between internal customers will also improve, but only temporarily.


Responsibility Matrices. Next, decision-making is streamlined by setting up responsibility and authority matrices. This is almost always a well-meaning effort to eliminate redundancy and empower the right people to make decisions. However, frequently there are just too many people in the business making the same decisions. Since eliminating positions is not that easy, the people cut out of the loop are left to find other “good” reasons to be reinserted somewhere else in the process. The benefits of this type of effort (and of the procedure changes) are often limited by not being able to redesign job content and eliminate functions or positions, or change job classifications within organization structure.

Process Changes. Changing processes sounds more complete in approach, generally cuts across many organizations, and impacts many supporting activities. Fully understanding these changes and impacts is difficult. More often than not the organization and management don't have the patience to think through it all and really don't know how to start. In an effort to “just do it” a high-level, senior, experienced, outside, independent, expert review team is often brought in to evaluate and recommend the changes to be undertaken. A list of sometimes-sacred prescriptive actions are generated defining the process changes to be implemented. From there, teams are established to implement what they may or may not have had input in defining and may or may not believe in.

Wouldn't it be better if we stopped and established a work breakdown structure, with a clear understanding of expectations of each element of the change? It would certainly be easier to manage.

Reorganizations. This must be most managers’ favorite since reorganization is more the norm than the exception. The approach starts with brainstorming customer supplier linkages and process changes. Then presto, the organization is realigned to better meet customer needs. This fix often has its subconscious origins in management's inability to get everyone to work together as a coherent team, so conflict and personalities are redistributed to “force” alignment to common goals. One of the biggest shortcomings is that the motivational factors that cause conflicting behaviors and lack of teamwork in the first place are not always addressed.

Partnering. In this age of growing matrix and project team management, there is a popular activity called team building. It typically results in grand and lofty memorandums of understanding or interface or partnership agreements between organizations and external customers. This is probably the most elegant and management-satisfying solution. We sometimes even frame our signed partnerships like trophies. The most common cause of failure of these is that after we get everyone agreeing on the right way to do business we don't bother to change the reward systems and performance measures to provide an incentive for change.


Exhibit 1. Instead of jumping into a change project with the “just do it!” mentality, wouldn't it be better to apply project management tools like this WBS in order to establish a clear understanding of each element of the change?

I know, you're saying “Been there, and done all of that!” Sometimes it worked better than others. None of these changes are bad in themselves, but they can be just “flavor of the day” approaches to solving more complex problems. There is a better way! Project-manage the entire, complicated problem from the beginning. Here's how.

Develop the Contract. The contract is a combination of the project charter and the specifications that define success. Apply change management methodology to identify the stakeholders, potential sponsors and change agents. Stakeholders are all the people who will be impacted by the changes, including the customers. Sponsors are those who can authorize the changes. Change agents are the key people who have the sponsors’ and stakeholders’ confidence to implement the change in a way that results in widespread buy-in and support.

Without any prejudices as to the solutions, the project manager should pick key representatives from these three groups and brainstorm to clearly define the problem, clarify it, analyze causes, look at alternative solution paths, pick one or more, and document success criteria, boundary conditions, and cost and schedule expectations. In considering alternatives, the team should look at the changes from multiple facets. Consider major business variables and constraints: people (skills and types), processes and procedures, reward systems, and organization structure. Resist the tendency to lock-in on a prescribed solution defined by one person without the consensus acceptance of these three groups—even if the prescribed solution is from the boss.

The results of this critical analysis becomes the contract with all three groups: those impacted, those authorizing, and those making the changes. Unless the attitudes of these groups support the changes, the business tends later to readjust itself to the previously more comfortable posture, and the project will be a failure. This doesn't mean that all stakeholders will be happy, but they will all understand the reasons for the business decisions. There may actually be times you strategically elect to leave out certain stakeholders. This is an acceptable risk, but only if you have a definite plan to anticipate and manage their response to the changes. The most positive changes involve, in some way, all of the stakeholders.

Establish the Project Team. This is easy. The project team must be made up of change agents.

Scope the Project. Apply systems engineering to define all facets of the change(s) necessary to meet all of the contract specifications of the solution. Exhibit 1 represents some topics you might cover in the work breakdown structure. Detailed changes to be implemented must be developed under each applicable leg of the WBS. As the scope is fully defined this is the best time to also document a risk management plan by asking questions like What can go wrong? Who is going to do what about it? When? Who (sponsors) needs to be kept informed on risks? and What mitigative actions or contingency plans need to be put in place? It is also the best time to establish a documented communications plan with the sponsors and stakeholders.

An understanding of the barriers and a plan to eliminate them is critical to success. As each change agent responsible for the success of their portion of the project encounters impacts from other elements of the project, corrective actions can be made. No change is fully successful without proper management or change agent attention. Working the project in small accountable elements allows the attention to detail required for success.

Each element of the WBS must have an accountable sponsor. The expectations of each element should be clearly defined both by other teams and the sponsor to make sure the outcome will meet everyone's expectations.

Lay out the project execution plan and detailed scope and schedule of changes and reconfirm with the contract team that they agree the expectations will be met.

Work the Plan and Bask in the Glory! Now you have a clearly thought out integrated solution that sponsors, change agents, and stakeholders have agreed to. All of the elements of the PMBOK Guide and the skills in the project management toolbox can be applied. Go for it! We did!

At the Savannah River site, Westinghouse is the prime management and operations contractor for the Department of Energy for about 12 nuclear chemical processing facilities supported by many infrastructure processes and facilities on the 300-square-mile site. The prime mission is stabilization and cleanup of legacy nuclear materials previously generated by our nation's defense programs.

Though our facilities are on one site, they for years were managed somewhat like standalone plants. As operating missions and work scope have shrunk and cost savings have become extremely important, we have found that centralization and sharing of critical resources and consistency in certain processes are critical to meeting cost savings expectations. Two examples of multiyear changes that have been managed like projects are engineering centralization involving over 2,000 engineers and total project cost management. Case studies illustrating the truths described above could be written on each of these. However, for the sake of brevity, we are giving you the benefit of our lessons learned without the learning pains.

Using these successful efforts as a starting point, we are using more project management techniques to understand and manage initiatives for change in our complex business. We have started to implement a sitewide project management process (though not always labeled as such) that will allow us to integrate cost, scope and schedule information for everything we do. We are developing the ability to manage series of related changes in coordinated and strategic order so that customer benefits are maximized. By developing this integration, we are also developing the ability to better prioritize our active business tasks by performing cost benefit and make/buy analyses for each. As our systems get more sophisticated, other opportunities for change and business improvement will become evident.

AS BUSINESS BECOMES more complex, agility and versatility become more critical to market success, and managing change successfully can be a real competitive advantage. Project-managing change provides the structure and discipline to help ensure the most complete, integrated, and effective solution possible in the shortest time. Project managers today need to broaden their thinking and apply their tools to benefit their companies in new ways. So if you have “been there and done that” try it again the project management way. ∎


Samuel Formby, PMP, is deputy general manager, Technical Services Division, Westinghouse Savannah River Company. He has 18 years project and engineering management experience and has previously held the positions of site chief project manager and site chief engineer in the Westinghouse Savannah River Company.

Gerald Ostrander, PMP, is manager, Technical Services Division Projects at Westinghouse Savannah River Company. He has been in project management for approximately 18 years. Founder of the Savannah River PMI Chapter, he has also chaired the PMI Council of Chapter Presidents and served as PMI's Region II vice president.

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.

PM Network • August 1997



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