Project Management Institute

PMO Power

Project Management Offices are Natural Pillars of Change Initiatives




“Ask the project sponsor what's been done to address change management. If they say nothing, make it clear that you have to manage it, right alongside scope, schedule and budget.”

—Tanisha Adams, PMP, Georgia Department of Public Health, Atlanta, Georgia, USA

Let's start with the billion-dollar question: Can project management offices (PMOs) make a big difference on large-scale change initiatives?

Absolutely. PMOs can drive better results if they're able to put change management front and center during the conceptual stage. That means they're part of the conversation before resources are engaged and before funding is approved—before the project is really even kicked off. In my experience, the deadline tends to drive most projects. But to be most effective, sometimes you have to slow it down. You can take the time to build a solid change management foundation, or you can race ahead without one and risk having to rework processes or plans. A rushed approach can wind up wasting time and money and resources.


“Change management can't just be a concept. It has to be an active strategy, with a plan and tasks that run throughout the project life cycle.”

—Tanisha Adams, PMP

It sounds like the PMO should be a real collaborator.

Exactly. It has to be a more collaborative role, because even if the project sponsor is ready to go, it doesn't mean his or her peers are. You have to tease out what the impact could be on other leaders at the organization. Could the change initiative be really disruptive to a particular department not highly involved in the project? Is another part of the organization not ready for it, because of what they have going on?

At some organizations, the PMO is part of the leadership team and therefore has a broader view of how change can and should happen—not just for different departments, but across the entire organization. But if that's not the case, hard conversations can happen during the first meeting with the sponsor. If he or she wonders what the success criteria for this project is, you may need to step back and ask: “What sorts of conversations have taken place relative to change management across the organization?” It has to be done for the project to be successful.

How can PMOs help cultivate a more change-ready organization?

PMOs can better leverage lessons learned. In every project, project managers conduct lessons learned. There's usually a change management item in there that could have been done more effectively. When the item relates to change management, it should be brought back to the PMO, to its leadership team. It should be proactively addressed. If that's continually done, it helps create a culture where people are more prepared for change and a more change-ready organization in general.

What advice would you have for project professionals intimidated by change management?

A lot depends on the culture of the organization. If change management is put entirely on the project manager, absolutely that can be intimidating. But really, change management isn't a bottom-up activity. It's a top-down activity—change has to come from our leaders. And if there's not talk at the top, then you have to assert your authority early on. Ask the project sponsor what's been done to address change management. If they say nothing, make it clear that you have to manage it, right alongside scope, schedule and budget. Change management can't just be a concept. It has to be an active strategy, with a plan and tasks that run throughout the project life cycle. PM

The Right Kind of Kickoff

Every project deserves a proper start, but change initiatives demand special attention. A kickoff meeting gone wrong can fuel panic rather than igniting passion. Here's how to set the change initiative on the right path—right out of the gate, says Bruno Cabuto, agile transformation consultant, Abu Consulting, São Paulo, Brazil.

STEP 1 Get Face Time With the Project Sponsor

This should happen before a kickoff meeting on any project, but it's even more crucial with a change initiative. “You want to know if there are some people or some departments who will likely be more resistant to change,” he says. “The more information you can get in advance, the better the kickoff will go.”

STEP 2 Extend the Invitation Far and Wide

“With a change project, there's typically a lot more people involved—and all of them need to feel acknowledged and included,” he says. Although a routine project's kickoff invitation list might include a handful of people, don't be surprised if the change initiative's kickoff is two or three times as big. Inviting a larger circle can help curb questions and resistance. “Don't choose only the most important people—you have to choose all the people,” he says.

STEP 3 Underscore the Value

The first 10 to 15 minutes of the kickoff meeting should be devoted to how the project supports the organization's strategic goals. Mr. Cabuto is a big fan of real-time drawing during the meeting to drive this point home. “Rather than use a static slideshow presentation, I like to draw something on the board to show the strategy in a simple way and connect it to the project,” he says. “Visual aids can really help when you're trying to get people to embrace a big change. When people understand why they're doing the change project, they feel more engaged.”

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