When project managers meet change management

an unexpected reconfiguration of knowledge

Professor, Researcher
Management and Technology Department
School of Management - ESG UQAM
Chaire de recherche en gestion de projet ESG UQAM
Université du Québec à Montréal


Change management and project management are not often connected. Nevertheless, in a context that requires specific efforts from organizations to better achieve their transformations, project managers are more and more involved and engaged in mandates integrating change management. But what knowledge in change management do the project managers possess and mobilize for handling a project of change? This question seems to us specifically relevant. To identity this knowledge, this exploratory study investigates the knowledge project managers acquired and transposed after a course in change management. Our results show that project managers have discovered and tried to spread a systemic approach; they have reviewed most of their visions and practices in project management as well. Having discussed the findings in relation to the current literature, we propose that education in project management should revisit its theoretical roots to better reflect the reality of projects and project managers when organizational changes occur.

Keywords: change management; knowledge; complexity; systemic approach; education


Organizations are increasingly tracked by changes (Soparnot, 2010; Huemann, 2010). They have to address the issue of organizational or strategic changes (Balogun & Hope-Hailey, 2004), and to do so, they are looking for methodologies to cross-reference change management and project management (Gareis, 2010; Lehmann, 2010b). However, to ensure the success of a change remains a huge challenge (Jacob, Rondeau, & Luc, 2002; PwC, 2011). According to a recent study, 70% of changes fail in one aspect or another (Isern & Pung, 2006).

Currently, to improve their performance in these aspects, organizations mobilize project methodologies (Gareis, 2010): they believe they will find effective solutions there, based on the capacities of the traditional methods in project management to control cost, deadlines, and quality (Kerzner, 2010). Therefore, project actors and structures are usually requested to answer mandates integrating change management (Huemann, 2010).

Traditionally, the role of project managers has been to implement these change projects (Autissier & Vandangeon-Derumez, 2007), but these actors are now more often involved in the design of these projects. Recently, Globerson and Swikael (2002) have noticed that project actors are also involved in the conception of change projects. By change projects, we mean “projects that require from end users to transform their views, attitudes or behaviors towards some (new) work practices,” thus, projects in which the human factor represents a significant outcome or represents the key success factor (Tréhorel, 2007).

However, most project managers, just as project directors, do not have much expertise in change management (Hartman, 2008). And those who are trained in project management have often followed programs centered on models of project engineering, which investigate little the human side of projects, including managerial and organizational issues (UQ Report, 2008). The great majority of courses in project management programs (second cycle academics, master's degrees) indeed teach at first the processes of planning, the support systems, the control dashboards, and the management of gaps. Whereas human resources management is sometimes taught, change management rarely is (Rapport, 2008).

So, in contexts that require specific efforts from organizations to better achieve their transformations, this question arises: What knowledge in change management do the project managers possess and mobilize for handling a change project? In this study, to identify this specific type of knowledge as closely as possible with the real-life situations that project managers encounter, we were interested in the learning they had acquired and transposed at the end of a teaching session dedicated to change management. Such a level of analysis was relevant according to us because it allowed us to redraw directly contents of knowledge connected to change management and also to understand how change management linked with or became attached to project management, from the point of view of the project actors.

Literature Review

The literature in change management is rich concerning driving or coaching changes (Pesqueux, 2002; Weick & Ashford, 2001). Research in change management is not new (Demers, 1999). For more than two decades, a lot of scientific works refer to contingent, systemic, and complex approaches (Orgogozo & Sérieyx, 1989; Rajagopalan & Streitzer, 1996; Brown & Eisenhardt, 1995; Weick & Quinn, 1999). To illustrate this, for Rondeau (1999), organizational changes cannot be managed otherwise than on a case by case basis and by taking into account the interdependence of various parameters. He warned: whatever the projections, the complexity will be there on the ground. For Argyris (1999), a closed system is not suited to represent a second order change, because the current paradigms need to be revisited.

In praxeology and in pedagogy too, the notion of complexity is well represented (Demers, 1999). Several handbooks and professional documentations refer clearly to open systems and chaos theory (Serieyx, 1993). Some authors express their will not to see change management being reduced in a set of distributed activities taking place in a linear way (Senge, 2000; Hamel, 2000). Other specialists emphasize that it is fundamental to take into account social interactions in organizations and that it turns out to be impossible to apply a standardized method or a non-iterative process (Ackerman-Anderson, & Anderson, 2004; Axelrod, 1992; Axelrod, Axelrofd, Jacobs, & Beedon, 2006).

Next to this, the literature in project management does not show that complexity and systemic approaches are common models (Shenhar & Dvir, 2007). Only in the past decade have some researchers in this field, such as Al Jaafari (2003) and Blomquist, Hällgren, Nilsson, and Söderholm (2010) urged to think and practice complexity, following some ideas expressed by Lundin (1995) on temporary organizations (Hällgren, 2010). But, rarely, do complexity, systemic approaches, and project management mix in organizations (Remington & Pollack, 2007). The notion of complexity in project management is hardly introduced in organizations (Remington & Pollack, 2007).

On the other hand, most of the time, teaching in project management does not pay much attention to complexity or systemic approaches (PMI, 2013). Only a few university programs in project management handle these topics (UQ Report, 2008); project management is often proposed as an applied science at the undergraduate or graduate level, where teachings concentrate on the classic notions of the project management (Córdoba & Piki, 2012). Projects of change are generally presented solely as a category of projects (Asquin, Falcoz & Picq, 2005). It follows that project actors, in particular those formed in higher education or trained by short-term intensive sessions, do not know the concepts of complexity, contingency, or reflexivity; the vast majority of them do not know change management either, no matter whether they are junior or senior project managers. The fact that in 2012 several researchers in project management (Söderlund & Maylor, 2012) called to transform the teachings of project management strengthens these comments.

Goals and Conceptual Guidelines

So, to translate into research our interrogation about knowledge in change management acquired and mobilized by project actors when a change project arises, we decided to study knowledge acquired and mobilized by project managers who are directly exposed to change projects and must contend with ad hoc constraints and stakeholders (Picq & Bompar, 2002) when they answer internal requests related to change.

We thus investigated the concepts and knowledge project managers had transposed at the outset of a session of teaching dedicated to change management. Such a situation is interesting because it allows us to question at the same time the knowledge acquired during and at the end the course and the knowledge transferred at work later, in organizations. We took advantage that a course dedicated to change management—and more specifically to projects of change—was proposed within a master's degree program in project management to examine the knowledge acquired by project managers and then applied more or less to their work.

To perform this exploratory study, we used a loose conceptual framework because we wanted to be able to gain emergent and various data (Baumard & Ibert, 1999). But some specific conceptualizations are embedded in this research, as those of: active learning (Cohen, 1999); change as learning (Kourilsky-Beillard, 1995); knowledge, including cognitive, emotional, and active dimensions (Adell, 2011); reflexive action (Schön, 1987); and knowing for doing (Argyris, 1995).

The notion of learning here refers to the concepts dealing with active pedagogy (Kolb, 1984, Giordan, 1998), inspired by Piaget (1974), who places the learner in the center of teaching (Schneider & Stern, 2010). It also borrows from Kourilsky-Beillard (1995) for whom to learn requires to question our mental frames, and to Argyris (1999), for whom to learn means transposing in situ or realized learning.

The definition of knowledge we use here is: “a set of knowledge acquired by an individual, thanks to the study and the experience” (Legendre, 2005), but also through “impregnation, imitation, advice, demonstration, errors and exercises” (Ermine, Guittard, Lièvre, & Paraponaris, 2012). Besides, knowledge is here seen as situated, being partially “the product of the activity, the context and the culture in which it is acquired and used” (Brown, Collins, & Duguid, 1989; Tardif, 2006). Finally, it is seen through an externalist perspective (Brassac, 2008). Following the ideas of Spender (1996) and Tsoukias (1996), it is considered here that knowledge is a constituent element of the organization which allows its development and its revival, in a dynamic perspective.

The knowledge in change management we attempted to identify here is the knowledge that the project managers, as ex-students and current practitioners, consider by themselves essential for a project of change; it is also the knowledge they mobilize and try to share in their organizations. Investigated knowledge does not represent all the teaching materials or the knowledge that should be learned. It is only what strikes the learner as important, relevant or pertinent.


To obtain a good understanding of those phenomena, we realized a mix model study, based on a pragmatic approach (Tashakorri & Teddlie, 1998). This approach is neither positivist nor functionalist (Giroux & Demers, 2000), but interpretative (Giordano, 2001). We mobilized academic and professional literature referring to different scientific perspectives and we went primarily through a qualitative process (Eisenhardt, 2000), based on interviews plus meetings and the use of academic and corporate documentation.

We met with project managers individually and collectively; we also collected specific reports and written essays produced by project managers after an academic course or training in change management. Those learning sessions were performed between 2008 and 2012. Some of them are lectures belonging to a master’s program in project management for professional students; others concern a six days intensive seminar given to active project managers (juniors and seniors) registered in a master’s degree in operational management. All students were active managers during the course or the training, working in different organizations and belonging to diverse cultures; they were between 27 and 52 years old. We compared data coming from the course and the training sessions to obtain a better understanding and to challenge the results.

All in all, 87 documents were examined; 114 written documents, including mid-session reports and individual summaries have been collected, but we used 27 of them as illustrative data. Four round tables were and eight in-depth interviews were conducted. Primary and secondary data were gathered from 2008 to 2012. Our sample is a “convenient” sample (Muchielli, 1994).

Concerning the tools, for the collective meeting session and the individual interviews, we used a half-structured guide. Academic reports and written essays which have been collected came from specific take-home exams related to a course or a seminar in change management, which investigates traditional and actual approaches in change management (Rondeau, 1999; Axelrod, 2006; Van der Heidjen, 2008) as well as the use of those approaches, depending on the external and the internal environments of an organization. Individual change (Dai, 1999), communication (Bareil & Savoie, 1999), leadership (Ackerman, Anderson, & Anderson, 2004) are also part of the teaching. In the course or seminar, the relationship between project management and change management (Tréhorel, 2007) is discussed. The pedagogy mixes traditional presentations, case studies, discussion, individual, and collective works; it requires a complete analysis of a change project in an organization and a self-analysis about managing a change project.

To analyze the data, we followed the prescriptions of Miles & Huberman (2004) concerning grouping and stepping. A researcher in change management and a specialist in project management were invited to analyze the data and to comment the results. The results have been presented to some of the project managers involved in the study. In this text, to illustrate the results, we will present some significant quotations, extracted from documents or interviews. Even if the results cannot be generalized, this category of study offers richness and depth (Baumard & Ibert, 1999). Here, the use of different tools to collect data in different periods brought reliability and solidity to our results (Drucker-Godard, Ehlinger, & Grenier, 1999).

To realize this study, a course in change management, which is offered as an elective in a part time master's degree program in project management for professionals, was used as a research environment. It is a 45 hour course given over four months centered on the management of change projects and developed in 2007. We also had access to the same teaching condensed in six intensive days, offered to project managers by a renowned European business school that allowed us to verify our results.

The course in change management "borrowed" for this study has been elaborated specifically for a public of professional project managers (at the junior or senior levels). To give transparency (Langley, 1997), it seems to us important to specify the main themes of this course: after an introduction on individual change and its implications (Dai, 1999, Bareil & Savoie, 1999; Bareil, 2010), several basic concepts inherent to change management are presented: organizational development; strategic change versus organizational change; episodic change versus continuous change; learning organizations, etc. (Weick & Quinn, 1999; Mintzberg, 2000). Different approaches for driving or coaching change are discussed (Tréhorel, 2007, Messager-Rota, 2009). An meta-model for change management constituted of seven interrelated components, inspired by Rondeau (2002), Hafsi and Fabi (1997) is then described and mobilized during the course (Figure 1). Before the end of each session, stakes, and challenges regarding a specific topic are collectively discussed.

An integrated model for change management

Figure 1: An integrated model for change management

Pedagogy is here more active than traditional (Giordan, 2000). A strong team analysis of an organizational change (performed while the change is ongoing) represents an important deliverable for each participant. A personal synthesis is also required after the course. During every lecture, one chapter of the compulsory book (Tréhorel, 2007) and two texts of the mandatory codex (26 scientific articles, 327 pages) are mobilized. The intensive formula of the course (training) is based on the same educational model.


Findings indicate that new knowledge acquired and mobilized by project managers refers to “complex systems.” Practitioners mention also that through change management, they modify their vision of project management: they learn a new or another way to think and to manage projects. Among relevant knowledge, we identity that human factors and self-analyzing have been very often quoted as key inputs of project organizing

Based on data collected through interviews, written essays, and focus groups, our results show that topics related to transferred knowledge are similar to those related to acquired knowledge. To transfer is seen as self-understanding (to get a new cognitive frame) and then shared understanding (to behave in a different manner). These results are interesting because they could confirm that any transfer of knowledge, in part, is made up of personal experience and individual mind mapping.

To sum up, relevant knowledge in change management acquired by project managers is:

  • the interdependency between the dimensions representing the context of a change and the dimensions representing the change project itself. It concerns also the interdependency between each of those seven dimensions to be analyzed for defining a change project
  • the human side to take into account and to tackle for a change project (as the socio-dynamic analysis of stakeholders and the individual V curve related to transition)
  • the vision that a project can be driven by change management (and not only the reverse: a change driven by project management)
  • the incompleteness of standard methodologies in project management and the necessity to design contingent methodologies
  • the need to think outside of the box to define alternative criteria of project performance (appropriation, social acceptance, and other proxy according to the case)

Knowledge in change management transferred by project managers at work, is:

  • a different way to formulate project methodologies (not only for change projects), keeping in mind that one method cannot fit for all, and that “it all depends”
  • a different way to enter into a change project: by investigating organizational, group, and individual levels, and by building a systemic and collective analysis of the situation
  • a different way to going through a change project, by modifying the project on an ad hoc basis and by iterations
  • a different way to manage their teams on a day to day basis, keeping in mind that individual change implies emotion, anxiety, resistance, etc.
  • a different way to approach top managers when a change project occurs, by asking for human resource managers and change consultants to be part of the project team
  • a different way to consider stakeholders, by taking into account that they can be facilitators, by analyzing them earlier and looking to integrate them as soon as possible in the project
  • a new activity through self-analysis in a context of change and the exploration of emotions on a regular basis
  • the use of some new methods and tools such as: the analysis of the organizational capacity for change, the cartography before/after of a change's content, the mapping of the community of change, the evaluation of the appropriation of a change

About Complexity and Rediscovery of Project Management

Here, the concept of complexity is used in the sense of Weick (1969, 1995) and of Chekland and Scholes (1990), who consider human systems as complex systems. The concepts of systemic perspective (representation of the whole; the global nature of the interrelations) and of systemic analysis (decomposition of the whole; the details of the interactions) are part of this notion of complexity (De Rosnay, 1975). Used in the sense of Morin (1991), the notion of complexity refers to systems opened to multiple input-output and to hyper-complexity, in connection with uncertainty and recombination.

Concerning acquired knowledge, our results show that for project managers, to handle a change project implies to mobilize a pattern with multiple entrances and exits, far from the linear flows of input-output usual for them: “everything can thus move,“ so they express their representation of the phenomenon.

Project managers experiment that interdependences affect every component of the proposed meta-model (see figure 1, a wheel-approach) and that the trial-error principle can prevail. They accept that any element of a project can interact with the others and they tell us how much these discoveries upset their primary vision of project management.

Project managers notice, often with surprise, that the organizational dimension has a considerable weight in the case of a change project but that the project can, by itself, change the organization in the long term. Through this, project managers discover that any organization is organic and that nothing is static, but, rather, set in a continuous motion. And finally, they comment: “It is impossible to generalize or to standardize.”

To quote the professional students who responded:

“One of the lessons I learnt is that it is difficult or impossible to generalize. I learnt I have to adapt methods and tools depending on the environment and the type of change I wish to achieve. I will proceed now like that: analysis of the context, evaluation of the organizational capacity to change, type of actors involved, tools to choose, going for and back from one item to the other.”

“A project of change requires to work with some approaches different from the traditional approaches I knew. I have to work case by case in a change project, and this is not usual for me.”

About transposed knowledge, the results show that project managers implement or try to introduce complex systems and contingent approaches into their organizations. Some findings reveal that transposed knowledge concerns some new understandings or some new shared visions rather than the implementation of tools, rules or procedures. A project manager highlights that to do so, he “did not choose to implement the simplest but the most enriching for the projects to come.” Other project managers shared their perspectives on the issue:

“My new beginning was to study a (change) project, using new parameters besides the PMI’s standard. Now, I understand that the success of a technological project depends on human velocity and organizational capacity to change. I would like to have known that ten years ago, when I was involved in two huge urban projects.”

“What is amazing for me is that every situation requires a specific answer, which must be relevant to the whole. Now, I work on that every day.”

At the praxeologic level, the challenge of complexity seems really addressed. It is what tends to demonstrate some new managerial practices and some actions directed towards senior executives, as one respondent pointed out:

“In all the projects I drove, there was no human side taken into account. The idea of a capacity to change did not exist. That shows well how I have to work to be a ‘change manager.’ And to be a good change project manager, I will have to fight to make clear that complexity surrounds every project. I think I will have to destroy some myths in project management to do so.”

We understand that project managers find through the notions of complex systems and complexity a way of reasoning and also a representation of their working universe closer to their view of the phenomena that surround them (Roller & Balogun, 2007). The idea of “creating sense” rather than “optimizing data” makes sense (Nonaka & Takeuchi, 1997, Alderman, Ivory, McLoughlin & Vaughan , 2005). We believe they put into practice this learning of a non-linear vision of their real-life experiences because this view allows them “to look beyond”, as one project manager phrases it.

About Human Factors and Self-Analysis as Key Inputs for Organizing Projects

As said, project managers mention they discover that human factors represent key inputs for organizing projects. They already knew that people should buy into a project (to gain success), but they said they learned that people should especially build the project.

“A change project begins with the respect of others. People must be considered as emotional, organic, not as mechanic, nor as disposable ("Kleenex"). If the human factor is not treated with this perspective, the project will have no end, no successful end in any case.”

“To achieve success in a change project, the most important is to look for quality and richness in social interactions and to take into account this critical factor: the human side of change”

“In a change project, a project manager has to manage the skills, emotions, and ideas of others. He needs to understand his organization and its people. To do so, he must be able to learn and to change himself.”

When transposed, this knowledge conducts project managers to review their daily practices in project management.

“Now, for each of the projects I drive, I am aware of the importance to inform and involve end-users. Before, I thought that their contribution was limited to obtain their opinions. I did not see any interest at all to involve them in the process of change. Now, I understand what the word ‘appropriation’ means, and I understand how it is important to involve the end users during the conceptual phase. I have in charge several megaprojects in construction, and I have already changed my approach in the way. I manage my stakeholders to bring them into the project. I can see the results: they participate willingly and I do like to work with them.”

According to us, the interest of project managers in the human component of projects should be moved closer to other results that they strengthen. Indeed, a systemic vision of organizations (Taylor, 1993; Deetz, 2008, Taylor & Latour, 2008) goes with an understanding of the organization as a set of soft systems in permanent interaction with hard systems (Muchielli, 2000). Besides, to value the human component as a collective dimension opens project managers to new manners of conceiving and realizing projects, in accordance to organizational, strategic, and cultural contexts. And if the individual dimension becomes a subject of concern for project managers, it is because they understand by themselves the links between organizational change and individual change. This recalls Hsu, Tung-Ching, Zheng, and Hung work (2012) and the importance to think projects starting with people.

About self-analysis, project managers insist on the importance of looking at themselves and of rethinking their way of managing people and driving projects. They said they appreciate doing this type of exercise. Our results show clearly that project managers have learned to take a step back at work. They also perform some activities referring to reflexive action (Crawford, Morris, Thomas, & Winter, 2006).

“As an engineer, I am used to measur[ing] and to control[ling] risks. I like to predict. But to understand how I change allowed me to project myself differently at work, even as a project manager.”

“To be aware of the complexity of change makes me more competent as a project manager.”

“Before, I thought my team was not competent enough to lead. Since I have discovered change management, I learned how project depends on people. Now, I delegate and I involve all my team members in the whole process of the project…”

Regarding those findings, we believe project managers find through these reflexive activities new means to develop professionally, similar to self-coaching (Weick,1983). It is difficult to know if such actions will continue in the long run, but this study shows that learning was transposed.

On Change Management Versus Project Management

To better understand our results, we decided to present them in a holistic view. Table 1 represents a classification of our main results and interpretations on striking learning acquired and transposed by project managers; it allows a better identification of how change management binds itself to project management, from the point of view of the actors, as was the main purpose of this research.

From an analytical point of view, by comparing the distinction between the old knowledge learned by project management and the newly acquired and transposed knowledge learned by change management, Table 1 indicates that the difference between the new and the old knowledge concerns numerous elements of learning. From a global point of view, this table underscores that the former knowledge learned by project management is little congruent with the current approaches in strategy and management. This old knowledge is hardly able to describe an organization as a socio-political system (Rouleau & Séguin, 2000) or as a learning entity (Kim, 1993;); such knowledge does not consider management as a complex activity (Minzberg, 2000) and does not view strategic management as a collective action (Koenig, 1996; Hatchuel, 2005). Nevertheless, these conceptualizations have been established for decades in management sciences, as the works of Simon and March (1958), Minzberg (1974) and Smircich and Stubbart (1985) give evidence. The implications for researchers, practitioners, and teachers of such a statement is presented further.

Table 1: Acquired and transposed knowledge learned by change management compared to old knowledge learned by project management

Elements of learning Acquired and transposed knowledge learned by change management Old knowledge learned by project management
Vision of organizations and/or of projects Organic – holistic Mechanistic – split
Approach Systemic – contingent Analytic – systematic
Focus Interactions – interrelations individuals and collective Engineering – division tasks and coordination
Time reference Dynamic – on the move Static – fixed
Main studied dimensions Organizational dimension Processorial dimension
Organizational capabilities
Human dimension
Integration of stakeholders
Planning and control
Technical dimension
Respect for the constraints
Components layout Non-linear – case by case basis
Open interdependences
Linear – standardized
Closed sequential mode
Underlying conceptualizations Complexity – complex systems
Interpretativism – reflexive action
Simple model
Positivism – objectivism
Links with current concepts in strategy and management Strong links with most current approaches Weak links with most current approaches

Discussion and Implications

Through these results, we can understand that knowledge in change management mobilized by project managers includes complexity. Even those project managers who consider iterations and complex frames as painful and difficult to implement, say that it is worth it. We also understand that contingency is welcome: project managers consider it relevant to adjust the frames in use or to create new frames, according to the situation. Besides, we noticed that gaining knowledge in change management is an opportunity for project managers to revisit their references and their frames about project management. So, project managers become more reflexive, as suggested by Crawford et al. (2006).

Moreover, our results show that project managers are willing to be active in transforming their organizations and that they want to participate in such transformations. They spontaneously consider themselves as change actors: a change actor here includes cognitive, emotional, and doing capabilities (Hartman, 2008). That suggests they have to be viewed as change agents when there is a need to transform any project methodology or tool. As Crawford et al. (2006) mention, project managers are not only technicians anymore, and this study underscores that they want to be considered not as technicians but as challengers.

Finally, from our findings, we can deduce that project managers had, before the course or the seminar they had, a poor vision of organizational change and change management. It confirms the gap that Crawford and Nahmias (2010) had noticed.

Certainly, the arrival of several researchers in strategy, management, and theories of organizations in the field of project management has contributed to open project management to the concepts of complexity and reflexivity (Martinet, 2006; Germain, 2006; Joffre, Aurégan, Chédotel, & Tellier, 2006).

But our results on acquired and transposed knowledge learned by change management, which refers to complex systems and to reflexive action, echoes several very recent works in project management that put emphasis on the necessity of being equipped with new paradigms in research. Navarre (2005) but also Blomquist, Hällgren, Nilsson & Soderholm (2010) say that current conceptualizations in project management are, for most of them, old-fashioned, inappropriate, even dangerous. Pollack (2007) insists on the existing disconnections among environment-practices-methods.

Our interpretations link also directly with the conclusions carried by Brédillet (2005) and Kollveit, Karlsen & Gronhaug (2007) who urge using complex frameworks in project management. These researchers denounce the dominance of non-iterative processes, the absence of stand back, a concentric vision, and a systematic lack of understanding of human aspects in project management discourses. For Murtoaro and Kujala (2007), it is time to conceptualize the projects as permanent negotiations

In connection with our findings and these works, we see several implications. We think that it will be relevant to explore in situ how project managers handle the systemic approach. A lot of authors in the field of management agree to say that fuzzy approaches are difficult to introduce into organizations (Rouleau & Balogun, 2007; Thiétart & Forgues, 2006). So, it will be meaningful to conduct qualitative studies on this topic.

Concerning the challenge to connect changes to projects, our results led us to believe that the existing gap between the fields of change management and project management is not a simple semantic problem, as suggested by some researchers (Picq, 2011): the distance is of an epistemological order. It would thus be necessary to investigate deeper this gap before being able to establish a good prescription. It would be also interesting to lead an empirical research study within organizations, to understand how institutions try to connect change management to project management. To collect corporate documentations and testimonies presenting trials and errors by highlighting organizations working in several sectors or situated in various types of external environments would allow establishing an enriched portrait of practices; it would extend this exploratory study. A quantitative study could follow.

About teaching project management, the results obtained here are supported by several recent works in this field. Indeed, several recent academic texts argue that education in project management needs to revisit its theoretical roots, if only to improve business schools students' knowledge (Hartman, 2008; Atkinson, 2008; Ashleigh Ojiako Chipulu & Wang,, 2012).

Concerning the fact that the old knowledge learned in project management is little congruent with the current approaches in strategy and management (see Table 1), these results are confirmed by the studies led by numerous authors in management and in strategy who deal with the importance of the human systems in organizations and the necessity of their integration in managerial and strategic activities (Morin & Delavallée, 2000; Chanlat, 2007).

From these various comments, we can develop this proposal that the teaching models in project management need to be updated by the integration of some current conceptualizations in management and in strategy. This proposal confirms the comments of Bergren and Soderlünd (2008) about project management education: in recent critiques, project management education has been accused of being based on over-simplified models and bodysuits of knowledge produced by practitioner organizations.

In this spirit, we believe that it would be relevant to introduce the notions of organizational capacity, systemic approach, and contingent management according to the projects during the first courses in every program of project management. Learner-centered teaching, using presentations, debates, and demonstrations such as simulations would be appropriate too, as expressed by Eskerod (2010).

To conclude, at first we consider that this study contributes to clarify the relationships between project management and change management, as asked by Gareis and Huemann (2010). Our representation of the old and new knowledge also comes to enrich the rising discussions about the theoretical acquaintances between project management and management of change. By fixing the gap existing between knowledge in project management and in change management (Crawford & Nahmias, 2010), it summons up opportunities new studies on the current educational approaches in project management and future challenges for organizations and for project managers.

For some researchers, this study can also be seen as an invitation to realize some other studies on knowledge mobilized in organizations by project actors: how do project actors use project methodology in situ? To what extent do practices match documentation? Which knowledge in project management is involved (or not) in the case of large-scale projects? Some conceptualizations about application of practices in project management could be enriched in this way (Garel, Giard, & Midler, 2004).

Certainly, this research could be extended to validate our findings and to give a better understanding of knowledge mobilized by projects managers in the case of change, but we think that an interesting issue could be to pursue the work undertaken by Thomas and Mengel (2008) about learning about complexity in project management.

For practitioners, we believe this study can bring about some clues about change management. Those could be used as guidelines about how to enter into a change situation in any organization. Not only project managers, but project management offices (PMOs) and top management can find useful knowledge here for managing change projects. They also will find several interesting ideas to discuss the practices of change and could so revisit their cognitive frame.

Finally, we believe that it would be appropriate to circulate our results among project managers in organizations (Söderlund & Maylor, 2012), to improve the knowledge in change management (Lehmann, 2010a) detained by these project actors. Besides establishing a natural extension of this study, such a collective development would allow a mutualization of knowledge, which would yield a multitude of implications in education and in research.


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Valérie Lehmann, is professor in project management for the School of Management at Université du Québec à Montréal (ESG UQAM) in Canada. She holds a Master’s in Communication, an MBA, and a PhD in Administration. She was a project manager for 12 years. Her research, consulting, and publishing activities focus on project teams, stakeholder management, change and knowledge management and co-innovation as living labs. She is currently one of the scientific directors at the Chair in Project Management ESG UQAM. In 2010, she initiated an international think tank on large scale projects, which culminated in five colloquia and a collective book that was published in 2013 entitled Communication and Large Scale Projects. Currently, she is working on a new book about change and large scale projects.

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