OCM--the missed connection


A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) covers the key principles needed by project managers to initiate, plan, and implement projects successfully. The PMBOK® Guide provides practitioners with the knowledge and processes necessary to deal with the complex dimensions of projects. However, a possible hurdle in projects' successful completion is not paying attention to the often missed connection - OCM. Organizational Change Management, OCM, is the crucial link that ensures that projects are going to proceed smoothly and are going to be well received. Since projects are unique and produce results and services that are likely to change how things get accomplished in a given organization, there is a need to have the right reception to these outcomes, so that these projects truly succeed in accomplishing their goals.

This paper covers the resistance often seen in the face of implementing certain projects. Since project management is change management, human nature will struggle with the change associated with projects. This resistance stems in many cases from the lack of crucial information that the customer team members and other users need to know about the implemented product or solution. Even though a project could be implemented as per the documented expectations, it still might be considered a failure if the results were not taken on by the customer's organization.

OCM requires a complete plan. This plan could be part of the project plan or could be handled as a separate entity. At the core of this plan is communication. It is vital to have a serious campaign to address the value of the implemented solution. Whether it is an ERP system that is supposed to integrate various parts of an organization's operation, or a new Project Management Methodology that has been just developed and put in place, it is important to have the proper buy-in of the parties associated with the project.

This paper addresses the root causes of projects' failures associated with resistance to change. OCM plans and systematic implementation create the necessary thread of connectivity between the project and the strategic direction of the organization. This allows the leader to see the potential of actually eliminating the frustrations and expenses associated with the late canceling of many projects that could not go on and make the critical connection to expected operation. The creation of the proper supportive environment, the linkage of the OCM effort to the c-level's agenda, and the utilization of sustainable communication strategies, will be outlined as key components to the success of this link.

So what does OCM have to do with it?

Why is OCM important?

OCM is a way of life for organisations. No matter what the project or program type is, it has a direct or indirect impact on the organisation either implementing or receiving the results. At the core, OCM is about managing the change that is the result of the project or program. Organisations continually have to change to survive, to grow, or to excel. Having a planned and a systematic way to deal with this change is fundamental to the success of many initiatives.

As these initiatives are pursued, mistakes could be made in positioning them, in understanding the stakeholders affected by them, the assumptions surrounding their existence, amongst other classic possible initial concerning holes. The lack of a well planned approach could result in these initiatives negatively affecting people's lives and interrupting their daily business operations. When the hearts are not engaged or connected to the change effort, the potential for adopting the new approach or outcome is weak, if any. This disconnect is tied to the missing plan, the missing clarity around the initiative, or is due to the lack of doing the necessary homework by the driving team.

Sources for OCM Challenge

As projects are initiated, there are always some unknowns. Whether the project is internal or external, there are missing pieces of information. This leads to risk, assumptions, and involvement of players we call stakeholders. These stakeholders approach the project with different levels of interest and concern. During that process some stakeholders are then missing out on key information that might affect their understanding and position towards the project. It is in these moments of incomplete communications that a level of fear or anger might be created that then possibly continues over the cycle of the project journey.

Another source of the OCM challenge is the culture of the organisation and how ready it is for adopting the change or supporting the change. Cultures are hard to define and represent the life of the organisation up to this point. Openness of the culture to adopt changes is crucial and if missing, this could represent a hindrance that we would have to cross. Along with culture, the organisation structure plays a role in being ready to provide the right support or create additional silos that add to the difficulty linked with the change.

There are many other possible sources for the OCM challenge, such as technology, the external environment, the management added constraints, or the industry regulations. It is the focus of this paper to narrow our attention to the people, culture, and boundaries of a given organisation.

Why having an OCM program is a crucial link?

Linking the Organisation & Project Directions

Many projects, and even programs, are created for the wrong reason or without clarity of how they would enable the success the enterprise had hoped for. This link is a fundamental one. Organisations through their governing boards should have the proper criteria by which the initiatives are started. Proper attention should be given to the management of the portfolio to make sure that the right projects or programs are selected. Equal attention should be paid to the OCM program that has to be tied to theses initiatives. OCM programs need both time and money. Proper skilled resources should be planned for to take on this tricky piece of the puzzle.

The role of the project or program sponsor is instrumental in making sure that this linkage is taking place. That person represents the organisation in making sure that the eventual project manager would go on a path that does not contradict with the organisation's expectations from the authorised effort. That sponsor needs to be visionary, able to see the big picture, and capable of understanding the importance of OCM and the associated challenges.

In addition to the sponsor, the project charter acts as the tool or the document necessary to clarify the reasoning behind the projects, the expected challenges, the associated authority to deal with those challenges, and ultimately some description of the possibly needed escalation process. This charter is a life line for the project manager to help guide the change journey.

The Players

The project players or stakeholders are quite a wide body. This body represents folks who are interested, involved, or impacted by the project both directly or indirectly. Their needs, expectations, drivers, and ultimately attitudes towards the project, and the associated change are different. It is crucial that a proper stakeholders' analysis is done as early as possible in the journey of the project. Many times this is forgotten or done in the minds of the upfront decision team and not given much attention afterwards. This is quite dangerous and could create loop holes that are hard to close later on.

Conducting the stakeholders analysis requires asking the right questions. These questions could cover who is affected, whose commitment or cooperation do I need, who might be opposing the project goals, etc. A main question on the mind of the project manager is who the potential allies are. This also includes a proper understanding of the potential allies' worlds. It also includes knowledge of what is important to them in business as well as in their personal life. Work habits, management style, job concerns and demands, and career path ambitions, amongst other pieces of information, are important to better understand the position of these stakeholders. Their power has to do with the perception of others working with them and reporting to them. This is sometimes the reason why the best source of information could be someone like an administrative assistant. Company information, reports, and other communications could also contribute to the sources of intelligence about these stakeholders.

The information we are seeking is not exclusively about the person. We need to learn about his or her organisation and how it operates. When visiting the person's office, we need to be observant and aware. Looking around and noting reflections of their hobbies, favorite rock stars, children, awards, history, etc. This information is necessary to build a proper relationship supportive of the change effort. Exhibit 1 shows a good grid for stakeholders' analysis that needs to be developed early on and updated throughout the journey of the project.

Stakeholders Analysis

Exhibit 1 – Stakeholders Analysis

The dimensions of Exhibit 1 are the power and concern. A complete brainstorming of all possible players associated with the project is done and then a consensus is reached regarding the placement of these players on the grid. This analysis could provide the foundation for the action planning that would have to take place to work on moving the interest level or concern from one quadrant to another. For example the players that end up in the top left quadrant have high level of power and low level of concern. If we need their involvement and support, the OCM program would have to include the actions necessary to sell the importance of the change/project and how this affects their personal interests and motivations.

Models of change

Exhibit 2 shows various possible change types and their corresponding intensities.

Samples of Change

Exhibit 2 – Samples of Change

As seen from the Exhibit above, as the degree of change increases, so does the potential benefits. Also the challenge of managing these changes becomes higher. A classic type of change is internally triggered changes such as for implementing new methods and systems in an ongoing organization. Changes to be managed lie within and are controlled by the organization. However, these internal changes might have been triggered by events originating outside the organization, in what is usually termed “the environment.”

Other types of changes are the clearly externally driven ones and are changes over which the organisation exercises little or no control (e.g., legislation, shifting economic tides and currents, etc.). The performing team has less control over these changes, yet since they are typically strategic requirements, proper support to making these change initiatives succeed, is generally present.

It is the failure to progress towards full change commitment that could result in project failure. This lack of commitment from the right stakeholders to the changes could lead to a negative perception, team confusion, different levels of resistance or even rejection, and, in some cases, to the complete cancellation of the project and in many instances, at the worst of times.

Teams, Accountability, and Communications


A team is a group of people working together towards common goals. It is the assumption that this will improve the performance over just the individual. Accountability has to do with the ability to live with the success or failure associated with outcomes resulting from project work. Communication is the exchange of information that takes place between various stakeholders.

Trust is the foundation of good project teamwork. Teams that do not live in an atmosphere of trust, have weaknesses in their commitment to the organization, to other project team members, and to projects deliverables. Responsibility assignment models can be used as great commitment enhancing solutions to create the clarity necessary for team members to be accountable and to like the project encounters with the other project team members.

Great project leaders use their team's sense of accountability to focus on doing the right things for the project and the organisation. Teams could possibly work hard and produce results, yet sometimes they are not working on the right things.

Leaders today need to be compassionate. This is closely related to their ability to create powerful networks in their stakeholders' community. Project managers who want to excel in the new business world would have to focus on mastering networks development. This could mean creating checklists of all types of stakeholders that the project manager should meet, get to know, and partner with for the success of teams, projects, and organisations.

Fear Sources

People have different views on change. The most common issue is the fact that change creates discomfort. This discomfort is mainly stemming from fear. This could be a fear of having to relearn things, get accustomed to different ways of doing work, possible loss of control, or even of a job. In most instances this fear comes from the lack of information. The amount of unknowns that we have in projects is large and especially as these projects affect and change organisations, this lack of information could complicate our ability to succeed.

The strange aspect of this fear is that in many cases it could be due to imaginary reasons. Team members and other stakeholders could be making things up without having validated their assumptions. They judge the project and its outcomes without truly giving themselves the chance to understand what it could truly bring. As this level of assumptions continues, dangerous resistance stemming from this ignorance and thus fear get created. When the right understanding of accountability exists and various stakeholders are authorised to make the decisions that go along with their level of responsibility, a much better control of these fears and the potential resistance is achieved.

Political Acumen

Politics exist in every organisation. Organisations do business in different ways. The project managers are the link between an organisation and its projects. Some organisations have great understanding of projects and what projects need, others know that projects exist, yet are covered with political games that make it hard to provide the project manager with the proper support or authorisation needed for project work.

Political behaviour varies across stakeholders groups. Some might misuse information and confidences to get what they want, some will go through the proper channels, some could feel that “unnecessary” networking and “small talk” is a “waste of time” and some exchange favors, negotiate or use persuasion as techniques to get collaboration from others.

Lyndon B. Johnson suggests “Learn how the system works so that you can work the system”. It is important to develop the skills necessary to turn conflict into productive cooperation without using the “crutch of formal power”. This is being politically savvy and able to work the organization to get the right focus on the efforts surrounding a given project or program.

Communications is at the heart of the success in handling the organizational politics. Knowing how to orient the message to the audience after having understood the true needs and drivers of that given audience is crucial. A great deal of listening to the pulse of the organization and its key players is what creates this political acumen and allows project mangers to drive a higher level of understanding amongst all players of a project team.

Developing the OCM plan

The need for a Plan

According to a recent survey study done in cooperation between SAP Business Consulting and the University of Mannheim in Germany, 79% say that Change Management has had a high/very high impact on the success of their projects. As we have analyzed earlier, there are many groups of players involved in the change management process that takes place around project work. Amongst the key players are the sponsors who are in position to create the right environment to enable the change's success. Another group of players is the agents who are actually responsible for making it happen. Another group is the targets, who are affected by the change, then we have the advocates who believe in the change, yet don't have the true power to support it, and another group in the audience is the opponents who are possibly in the resisting camp. This last group could be a big part of the focus of an OCM plan.

Organizations involved in major, disruptive change require high levels of commitment to succeed, although change can occur without strong commitment from all roles. If the sponsor commitment is high enough, change can occur without commitment from agents or targets. Targets could be told to simply comply or leave. However, the costs of this kind of change include employee alienation, lost productivity, absenteeism, moral issues, and grievances. Change requires complete target commitment to gain full benefit. A dangerous position is the lack of commitment from sponsors and agents which could raise serious questions about the quality and sustainability of the change.

The Plan

The OCM plan is focused on communications. It is a serious campaign that the project manager has to run or have specialized experts run on the project manager's behalf. This plan is like taking an organization through a journey of maturity development. There needs to be some starting point where the awareness is raised, which is similar to initial maturity phases where ad hoc management still insists, yet some recognition for the need exists. The second stage is understanding, which equates to the exposure to process in management maturity, and the third step in the OCM plan is the buy-in, where the stakeholders start taking on the on going support for the implemented product or service. The next level is a higher level of commitment, which is similar to being ready to master the process and then the last step is the ownership which is similar to the ongoing improvement and development of the maturing organization.

Exhibit 3 shows generally what the plan attempts to accomplish. As the plan is developed, it has to take into consideration the many factors that have driven the organization to take on the change and thus initiate the project or the program.

The focus of the OCM Plan

Exhibit 3 – The focus of the OCM Plan

As the plan is being finalized, a realization that we are dealing with people is key. This is almost like handling people in a situation of a loss. One would have to understand that when moving someone from a position of denial to a position of acceptance, this would require the use of supportive arguments. The plan would involve utilizing many forms of communications such as project web pages, regular journals, brown bag lunches, town hall meetings, amongst other forms. In all these forms, the focus of the OCM communications plan would be to provide some sense of direction, sense of control, provide the right amount of information timely, and work on correcting the perceptions and strengthening the positive beliefs.

C Level's Agenda

Senior Management's Role

As discussed earlier in this paper, this group is crucial for the success of the change initiative. It was also stated that some change initiatives could be forced on the teams, even though at a high expense, and thus achieve some of the desired success, if this senior group is on board. However the key role of this group is to act as the inspiration for the organisation and its success. The journey of dealing with change is a hard one and requires a great amount of energy that could come only from a focused and dedicated management team.

The leadership that is provided by this senior team allows the troops to see the true level of commitment to the change since any doubts here could create massive doubts for the team members. The senior team plays a fundamental role in the creation of a functional team that if focused on doing the work necessary for the change effort. Starting from a strong kick off meeting that sets the foundation for engineering a healthy team, the senior sponsor could paint a very clear picture of the vision of the enterprise. The cultural conditioning that could be enabled by the senior team enhances the team's ability to have a clearer orientation and interpretation of the world around them and thus improve the clarity of communications.

White Space and Dash Boards

The white space is the organizationally uninhabited territory outside of the formal structure. It's a place where the rules are vague, authority is fuzzy, budgets are non-existent, and strategy is unclear. It's the place where the energy for innovation and renewal occurs. Project managers and change agents should utilize this creative space to work on building the alliances across the boundaries of stakeholders who are at different stages in their support to the change effort. These change agents should have the right knowledge and skills and have these complemented by the positive beliefs and attitudes that would enable them to come across as tactful and diplomatic leaders.

The Dash Boards which consist of a mechanism to allow us to check on the pulse of the change effort are a bit more on the formal side of the space. They have to be designed based on an agreed upon criteria for when certain alarms are raised and when the change effort is progressing just fine. The classic one used is the traffic light. A simple RAG (Red/Amber/Green) system could allow for the proper escalation and for even the simple connection of the C level to the pulse of the project. This has to tie well to the initially established authorization of the project manager in the initially established project charter.


–      At the core, OCM is about managing the change that is the result of a project or program

–      The amount of unknowns that we have in projects is large

–      People can't embrace change unless they feel safe

–      The lack of safety would make people become risk averse and this could be fatal since they might loose the associated benefits of the change effort

–      People respond to the heart of the project manager, project sponsor, change agents, and others in the leadership team

–      The OCM plan is focused on communications

–      The OCM program provides some sense of direction and control

–      The C level group has to act as the inspiration for the organisation and its success in implementing change

–      The white space is the place where the energy for innovation and renewal occurs and has to be utilized

–      Great listening opens the door to the connection needed for supporting the change effort


Conner, D. R (1985), MOC – Change Commitment Model,.

Pinto, J., (1996) Power & Politics in Project Management, Newtown Square: Project Management Institute,.

Rummler, G. A. & Brache A. P., (1995). Improving Performance: Managing the White Space on the Organization Chart, San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass, Inc.

© 2005, Zeitoun and Potts
Originally published as a part of 2005 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Edinburgh, Scotland



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