Measure twice, change once

practical strategies for change management


Jack P. Ferraro, CSM, PMI-ACP, PMP


Sound change management processes and behaviors link strategy and execution teams. They enable portfolio managers, executive leadership, and program and project teams to increase their organization's ability to react effectively to change.

This paper presents a comprehensive approach to making an organization more responsive to change by means of effective structuring, planning, and measuring of change management across portfolios, programs, and projects. It explores the role of change management in portfolio management and how to structure an organization for successful change. It discusses the value of measuring change management and how to best do so before, during, and after the change process.

With effective structuring, planning, and measuring of change management efforts, organizations can achieve effective change when challenged by resource constraints and conflicting executive priorities.

The Role of Change Management in Portfolio Management

Change is a constant, and a constant source of anxiety. But sound change processes and activities—including structuring, planning, execution, and measurement—can help your organization react to change effectively.

Portfolio Management and Change Management—The Connection

A project is the creation of a product, service, or result, and the act of creating causes change. Organizations use programs and projects to drive change; these tools are organized into portfolios to align with and facilitate strategies. As strategies evolve, the individuals executing a portfolio's components must be able to react quickly and effectively. Change management is an integral part of organizations’ project management—and especially portfolio management—to achieve strategies and objectives. Exhibit 1 depicts the integration of change activities as strategies transition to portfolio management activities and then to program implementation activities.

Integration of change activities with organizational project management

Exhibit 1: Integration of change activities with organizational project management.

Translating Strategy Changes into Portfolio Changes

The translation of changes in strategy to portfolio managers is critical to organizational agility. Portfolio managers must make sense of changes, buy in to them, and provide the authority to act on the changes. Change activities such as effective communications, sense-making activities, and personal and organizational impact assessments enable portfolio managers to act decisively as they execute and effectively manage changes to the portfolio components.

Defining, Aligning, and Authorizing Portfolio Changes

Changing portfolio components and reprioritizing is difficult. Portfolio managers must transfer the strategy changes that portfolio changes reflect to program and project resources or project management offices. This, too, requires change management activities that define, align, and authorize these changes. These activities—such as assessments of readiness, crafting of need and vision statements, and definition of done—should aim to gain consensus through the stakeholder community and achieve a sequenced, prioritized list of portfolio components. Communications to achieve consensus may include town hall meetings, posters, email newsletters, and website content. These must answer basic questions, such as why the initiative is taking place and what needs to be done to have a successful outcome.

Prioritizing Resources and Optimizing Performance

Portfolio changes flow down to the project management offices and execution teams that will need to adjust their processes and procedures to accommodate the shifting priorities. During the transition to the PMO, the most important change activity for portfolio managers is turning over the proper artifacts to the PMO and providing clear prioritization of all components. The quality of portfolio change activities will determine the criticality and effort of change activities required for the execution teams to achieve buy-in and support from stakeholders not involved in the portfolio management activities. To avoid the devastating impacts that multitasking has on productivity, workers should be able to prioritize tasks to increase throughput given their fixed capacity.

Addressing a Lack of Strategic Agility

Often, portfolio managers recognize the lack of strategic agility or the inability of their organization to react to new strategies. Portfolio management change activities should address such a lack by monetizing the impact of having no strategy. Portfolio change activities should make execution-level conflicts transparent in the portfolio risk analysis and reporting and by providing execution teams with the ability and authority to resolve resource conflicts without fear of executive punishment.

Lack of realism and being too risk-averse are other dangers to strategic agility. A portfolio manager's ability to educate sponsors and stakeholders and to facilitate dialog to bring realism to the effort is a subtle, but critical, change activity. The change initiative must show timely, incremental, and measurable progress to build the confidence of the organization.

Portfolio Management's Role in Influencing Organizational Change Competencies

Portfolio managers (or teams) inherit the role of change-maker and can increase organizational project management maturity. To attract agents or early adopters, portfolio managers and portfolio teams need to demonstrate competencies based on knowledge, skill, and experience. They must also demonstrate competencies within change management and be comfortable with complexity and ambiguity. Their subject matter expertise is essential in the organization's business operations, portfolio components, organizational politics, and communications management. They must be able to develop trust within the organization – with executives and program and project teams, and with peers. Because they have no direct authority to develop strategy or execute it, portfolio managers need to be able to influence those around them through consultative leadership. This all requires personal courage and resilience, particularly when strategy changes create portfolio components that necessitate second- and third-order changes requiring employees to think differently about their work and learn new skills.

To capitalize on this unique position, portfolio managers should adopt a service-based leader's competency pyramid (Ferraro, 2015). As shown in Exhibit 2, this framework provides change leaders with the personal competencies to lead change across the organization when team structures are temporary and working relationships are informal and lack stability.

The service-based leaders competency pyramid

Exhibit 2: The service-based leader's competency pyramid.

For all change efforts, the following three high-level factors are crucial to success:

  1. Executive leadership, such as visible and sustained support from the sponsor and other executives, and protection of the project from pressures such as time, budgeting, and resources.
  2. Employee needs, including fair treatment, clear communication, and defined expectations.
  3. Project management, including capability, staffing, planning, and communicating the change and project progress (Mourier & Smith, 2001).

Service-based portfolio managers provide value by using the competency pyramid to guide the conversion of strategy to viable change initiatives. They do this by eliminating conflicts in execution strategy, driving the appropriate risk analysis, and instilling realistic expectations with management before unrealistic deadlines are mandated to execution teams.

Structuring Organizational Change on Programs and Projects

For a project to bring change throughout an organization, the structure of the initiative is critical (see Exhibit 3). The structure begins with the organization's resources rallying around a need to change—the “Why?” The response to the need is the vision. Together, the need and vision are critical to properly aligning the project organization with the change. Out of the vision, the project or program organization structure arises. This structure has key roles, each with important responsibilities and skills. Out of the structure, specific project mission statements crystallize how each project associated with the larger change initiative facilitates this change.

Structuring project-oriented organizational change

Exhibit 3: Structuring project-oriented organizational change.

The Real Need—Discovery Process

Understanding the real need involves continual dialogue and collaboration between change leaders and customers. Therefore, relationships must exist among the program manager, project manager, change leader, and/or stakeholders. Diligent research and investigation of similar projects are practical ways of beginning this process.

To justify the needs identification and articulation process, the leader of the change initiative can ask questions such as:

  • Why does capacity need to increase or cost need to decrease?
  • Why do we need to embrace agile?
  • Why do we need to restructure and realign resources?
  • What if this need is not met? What happens? Who is at risk?
  • Who ultimately benefits from having these needs met?

Once these truths are defined, the change initiative team can articulate the need accurately and in a meaningful manner so that stakeholders understand it and the team can generate an urgency with clarity.

The Needs Statement

Developing a needs statement begins by validating the articulated need with the primary and secondary stakeholders and by gaining agreement with the needs statement. The needs statement should be truthful, specific, and eye-opening. It should articulate what is needed and why, but should not identify a group responsible for accomplishing the need; this avoids the “not my problem” mentality and encourages inclusiveness while building urgency. A good needs statement is honest, transparent, and forward looking and does not place blame on previous management or decisions. It aligns with stakeholders’ long-term interests rather than short-term personal goals. It acknowledges the challenges, risks, and potential sacrifices associated with the undertaking. This is especially important because many people will take on duties beyond their normal jobs to accomplish it (Ferraro, 2012).

A Compelling Vision

Vision is a picture of the future and the need. Jumping straight to the picture of the future without articulating the need creates a change initiative that is not well structured. An organization that is honest with itself has a healthy tension between reality and the future. A strong vision is necessary to bring changes of attitudes, behaviors, and processes.

Driven by the identified need, vision directs stakeholders’ actions, aligns them with objectives, and inspires the act of creating, which leads to permanent results. The creative project leader and team follow the vision to address underlying issues and tensions to create new solutions, rather than temporarily adjust to the same old situations.

When articulating a vision, leaders can use pictures, graphs, and diagrams to begin with the end in mind. Clear mental images and shared visions create energy and hope that precedes the physical creation. A good vision:

  • Clarifies the general direction for change,
  • Motivates action in the right direction, and
  • Provides a shared sense of direction that coordinates the actions of many people (Kotter, 1996).

A complete vision statement fully addresses the needs statement and expresses an outcome that is imaginable, desirable, and feasible. The vision is focused, allows for flexibility, and can be readily communicated to stakeholders (Kotter, 1996). Developing this vision statement requires several iterations and feedback from key stakeholders and often needs time to evolve.

Structuring Change Management Initiatives

When organizations or teams are not structured properly, they will take the familiar path of least resistance and will often fail to achieve their desired results (Fritz, 1999).

Organizational Structure

The customer team, advisory team, and project team work closely and balance one another, creating a project organization that produces benefits and can establish trust, help team members work cohesively, and, ultimately, increase project performance.

The customer team consists of individuals representing those who will consume the deliverables and achieve the defined benefits. A functional manager (integrator) typically leads this team and is responsible for ensuring that users comply with new processes and adopt systems that are delivered.

Members of the project team, led by the project leader, produce the project deliverables that enable change and deliverables related to change management. This team's interactions with the customer team generate feedback and assimilation of the change by the customer. Project team members should have business process knowledge and financial operational knowledge, which is essential for developing trust and gaining needed information from those on the customer and advisory teams.

On the advisory team, are individuals with whom the project and customer teams must consult to ensure that the change being introduced by the project is acceptable, does not create unintended consequences, and will be accepted by end users. This team may include executives, regulatory advisors, legal experts, and other managers whose processes are affected by the change initiative. They are important stakeholders who provide essential insight into how a change in one department may impact other factors that might not be perceptible to the project or customer teams.

Project Mission Statement

A strategic organizational need is met by action—a project mission. This mission attempts to resolve some or all of the need expressed in the needs statement and aligns with the broader vision statement of the change initiative. When stakeholders are not clear about a project's intent, they will likely resist it or be neutral. The project mission statement clearly states what the project team is creating; who consumes the product, service, or result; and what benefits are to be attained. This statement becomes a pitch for project leaders, a consistent message to bring new stakeholders on board to the project, and a tool to quickly and articulately express sense-making statements to wary stakeholders.

The project mission statement should follow the format: “This project will create <deliverables> to be used by <customer(s)> to achieve specific <objectives>.” Deliverables should be specific to the project and the product, service, or result of the effort. Customers should be the specific departments, user groups, or individuals that will consume or use the project output. Also, specific, measurable project objective statements should address how the success is measured. The project manager should work closely with primary and secondary stakeholders to refine this mission statement until everyone can make sense of it and own it.

The Power of Deliverables

Once the correct structure is in place, change management should be displayed prominently in project planning, execution, and control, not buried in the project's work breakdown structure (WBS). Deliverables—including change management deliverables—inherently require acceptance criteria and success measures. Change management deliverables do not simply start with training activities, fancy newsletters, and project-branded polo shirts. Rather, they begin with measuring urgency, attitudes, and capabilities; and then address what those measurements have revealed.

The project plan includes all change management components, starting with the WBS at level 1 or 2. Change management deliverables can include the following:

  • A clear vision statement for the project,
  • Structure of the project organization with project team and customer team,
  • Customer workshops with documented feedback,
  • Assessments to measure organizational agility and attitudes, and
  • Communication best practice methodology.

Deliverables drive interaction and shared experiences between the customer team and project team, enabling the project organization to adjust and react to emergent needs and new requirements. Without visibility and measurement of change management elements, the change initiative is likely to fail. As schedule pressures increase, change management efforts are often cut in order to meet a milestone date. When stakeholders and sponsors focus on benefits, instead of solely on a project output and deadline, better decisions are made during project execution and adoption of change and benefit recognition is more likely.

As the ones who realize benefits, the customers must be actively engaged in the project and the project team must focus on the customers’ needs. This is done via deliverables, such as prototypes, that users can test and experience, begin to understand, and begin to assimilate.

Roles and Responsibilities

Project Leader: Leading the project team, the project leader is required to understand organizational change management. This individual may assist in creating the vision and project mission statements, will enable active involvement of the sponsor, and will nurture trust between the three teams. The project leader assesses the change activities conducted at the portfolio level and ensures that change management deliverables are incorporated in the project plan. The creation of a detailed, written plan is a critical step.

Sponsor: The sponsor links the project team and executive leadership, helps facilitate the necessary organizational support, and helps to keep the project aligned with the organization's strategy and vision. The sponsor should be actively engaged with the project, have a sense of ownership for the project, and ultimately be responsible for realizing the project's intended benefits and implementing the desired change (Bourne, 2012).

Customer-Facing Analysts: Those analysts who interact directly with customers with analytical and interpersonal skills contribute to the understanding of the organization's current state and its desired future state, and provide necessary subject matter expertise.

Change Management Leader/Change Leader: This role is central to change management success and is often filled by a seasoned project leader. The leader needs to understand what the future will look like, assess change indicators, align people with the vision, and inspire them to make it happen in spite of any obstacles (Kotter, 1996). The change management leader should have significant authority to build a coalition of leadership and must be able to diplomatically raise issues with sponsors (Tan & Kaufmann, n.d.). He or she listens to the fears of other stakeholders and identifies the root causes of their resistance.

The change management leader ensures that change management is given visibility and recognized as critical to the initiative's success. He or she ensures that change management deliverables are in place throughout plan development, with means to measure their acceptance and/or implementation.

Functional Managers/Integrators: The functional manager leads the group that will receive the direct benefits of the change. This individual engages with the project team and provides input for requirements, and helps align goals and objectives with organizational vision. The functional manager provides the project team with the needed resources to complete the project and, with the project leader, shepherds the change within the environment (Ferraro, 2012).

Advisory Team Members: Advisory team members give input on the requirements and identify unintended consequences and impacts. They provide insights for implementing the change successfully, including which staff members need which information, and when.

Measuring Organizational Change Management on Programs and Projects

Will a project actually realize the benefits for which it was begun? So many aspects of an organization can affect project results and achievement of the project's desired benefits. Without measurement before, during, and after the change, leaders of change initiatives don't truly know their starting points and can't identify and reduce barriers to benefit realization. If change factors (attitudes, behaviors, and skills of the organization) are not measured, the organization's investments in its portfolios are increasingly at risk.

Leaders and teams should measure the organization's ability to adapt to the change, then continually target project work by increasing the organization's ability to assimilate the project deliverables and reduce resistance.

Key Measures

Change management begins with assessing and benchmarking the current state of an organization, considering both its ability and willingness to change. Ability to change is a function of the urgency to change and the organization's capabilities. Willingness to change is a function of the organization's collective attitudes.

Three key measures for second- and third-degree change initiatives are:

  1. Urgency associated with the change;
  2. Attitudes from executives to rank and file staff; and
  3. Capabilities of the organization, people, processes, and systems to change (Mourier & Smith, 2001).

Evaluating these measures requires measuring positive and negative factors with input from stakeholders at various levels in the organization. Possible positive factors include employees’ understanding of their role in the change, visible sponsor support for the change, reward for change and innovation in the organization, and a dedicated and capable project team. Factors measured on the negative side may include an uninvolved or ambivalent sponsor, goals that seem vague, a clash between the change and the way things are done in the organization, and the lack of attempts to keep people informed (Mourier & Smith, 2001).

Once the influential factors specific to the planned organizational change are identified, the project team selects specific tactics to strengthen or neutralize these factors, as appropriate, to increase the chances of a successful project outcome. When urgency is lacking, the project team can plan events or create artifacts during the initiation and planning of the project to increase urgency, such as updating the need statements and conducting town hall meetings with sponsors. If capabilities are lacking, the project plan may need to include training programs or acquire specific system capabilities.

Change Management Effectiveness: Measuring During Project Execution

To measure readership and engagement, the project plan could include open and click rates of critical communications and participation rates in surveys. Participation, comments, and feedback are essential for engaging people in the change initiative. The next crucial area is comprehension. To determine whether customers really understand what is changing, tools include simple assessments and test questions about the material provided, skills assessments, and engaging people in two-way dialog.

Stakeholders at all levels must be ready to deal with the change. What is the organization's ability to execute the change if it were to happen immediately? End users’ skills also should be ready for new processes.

Communication Best Practice

Following a communication best practice for the initiative helps to ensure the development of the proper awareness and educational content regarding the change—why it must happen, its impacts to specific stakeholders, and the path to successful change. Communications must target specific stakeholder audiences and the plan must include measurement of both content comprehension and desired behavior changes (or lack thereof), and the application of corrective measures where needed. The model shown in Exhibit 4 is appropriate for second- and third-order changes.

Change management communication model

Exhibit 4: Change management communication model.

Based on the measurements of readership and comprehension, change needs to be continually reinforced by project activities. Measuring once is not enough; timely feedback on key measurements clarifies barriers people face and the proper level of urgency, sense-making activities, and empathy.

Change Acceptance: Post-Deployment Measures

Even when users have read the provided material and indicate that they are ready for a change, will they actually accept it? Too often, users revert back to the familiar, comfortable processes that a project was designed to eliminate.

Post-deployment measures ensure lasting, successful adoption of the change. To make certain that these measurements take place and realize their full impact, change management measures should have transparency to all stakeholders affected by the change to increase accountability.

Embedding change into management systems is also critical for the change to last. Organizations must align personnel and information systems with the vision of the change and build in metrics to ensure that the changes are ingrained into organizational reports and scorecards. Without new measurements, managers will continue to use existing measures to drive their behavior.

Once deployment begins, project teams should pay attention to the process measurements that point to a shift in desired behavior. They also need to look back to the benefits and objectives defined in the project mission statement. If the implementation is proceeding as planned, are users able to complete their work in a manner that achieves the project objectives? This includes quality, cycle times, cost measures, and customer satisfaction.


Change management processes link strategy and execution teams. These processes connect strategy to portfolio management, to program management, and to project execution. With effective structuring, planning, and measuring of change management efforts, organizations can achieve effective change when challenged by resource constraints and conflicting executive priorities.

Bourne, L. (2012, April). What does a project sponsor really do? Retrieved from

Ferraro, J. (2012). Project management for non-project managers. New York, NY: AMACOM.

Ferraro, J. (2015). The strategic project leader: Mastering service-based project leadership. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.

Fritz, R. (1999). The path of least resistance for managers: Designing organizations to succeed. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler.

Kotter, J. P. (1996). Leading change. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Mourier, P., & Smith, M. (2001). Conquering organizational change: How to succeed where most companies fail. Atlanta, GA: CEP Press.

Tan, A., & Kaufmann, U. H. (n.d). What makes a good leader of change? Retrieved from

© 2015, Jack P. Ferraro
Originally published as a part of the 2015 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Orlando, Florida, USA



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