Project Management Institute

The speed of change

by Lorna Pappas * photo by Nina Ruecker

Change has a bad reputation.

It's up to a project manager to convince team members that it's not the force of evil they think it is—indeed, it even can be a force for good. As businesses work to transform themselves into market leaders, project managers must work especially hard to plan, facilitate and advocate those changes.

Change often is regarded as negative and disruptive, but it's “not necessarily harmful, it just ‘is,'” says Dave Wirick, PMP, interim COO and principal consultant at Babbage Simmel, a project management and training firm in Columbus, Ohio, USA. “Change is a natural phenomenon that can't be avoided. Many project managers mistakenly believe that their role is to create order and prevent changes. Rather, project managers are responsible for outcomes, and because change is a necessary element of reaching those outcomes, change management is becoming vital to project management success.”


Holger Nauheimer, Director, Change Facilitation, Bratislava, Slovakia

Changes in a project are inevitable in today's fast-paced business environment. You must know how to quickly respond—and motivate your team to do the same.

Build Excitement

“The focal point really shouldn't be on managing resistance but on getting people excited about the benefits of the change,” says Jeff Hiatt, president and CEO of Prosci, a change management research firm in Loveland, Colo., USA.

Project managers typically are drawn to the tangible, analytical and concrete elements that keep tasks moving forward. They often view people management as someone else's job. “The downfall is that the ineffective management of the people side of change is the number one obstacle to the very essence of what project managers are trying to achieve,” he says.

“The workforce needs to be moving in the same direction as the change, not against it,” he says. “A competency at managing those people affected by the change is essential to realizing the very project goals being pursued. Therefore, change management must be viewed not as a subcomponent but rather a developed competency and partnership discipline to project management.”

In a 2005 Prosci study of 411 companies, 55 percent of the participants said they used a structured change management methodology, up from just 34 percent in 2003. “Additionally, the use of change management processes and tools was cited as the number two contributor to project success,” says Tim Creasey, director of strategic planning at Prosci.

The study also reported that the top reason for resistance from employees was that they weren't aware of the organization's need for change. “The first step toward addressing resistance is helping employees understand the change's root cause, generally addressed via employee communications, engaging sponsors, and training managers and supervisors to share developing core issues with workers throughout the transition state,” Mr. Creasey says.

Employee resistance is “a natural reaction to the fear and uncertainty related to an unknown future state,” he says. “While you can't totally circumvent resistance, you can proactively identify what it might look like—where it will come from, what steps you can take to mitigate it—then develop plans for identifying and responding to it quickly when it does occur.”

Overcoming Resistance

Not all team members will readily accept change. Dave Wirick of Babbage Simmel offers five tips to win team members' buy-in:

  • * Pay close attention to stakeholders resisting the change. They may be on to something. There may be elements of the solution or project that should be reconsidered.
  • * Understand the interests of those who resist. Project managers may have to do some investigating to identify these interests, because people under stress typically focus on their pain and their positions.
  • * Develop strategies for change that address those interests. If a person is focused on maintaining job security, try to identify the aspects of the project that might enhance it. If the CFO wants to ensure that financial information is available in a timely manner, be sure the project addresses that need and make those features known to the CFO.
  • * Find external validation and evidence for the change. People are more likely to be positively disposed toward change when they can see it reflected outside their organizations into their industry, profession or society as a whole.
  • * Dedicate yourself to the tough, unpleasant conversations. It's easy to develop a “bunker mentality” that marginalizes those you've defined as resistant. Instead of surrounding yourself with your allies, take the time to talk with your adversaries.

What Executives Want to Know

To attain senior-level engagement, Mr. Hiatt says a project manager must address upfront the three issues that interest the executives most:

  • What is change management?
  • Why should I care?
  • What is my role?”

“The first two issues generally can be addressed using standard project management documents and research data,” he says. The third is less straightforward, but crucial.

Executives have three primary roles as project sponsors, according to Mr. Hiatt:

  • Actively and visibly participate throughout the entire project
  • Build a coalition of support from other senior and mid-level managers
  • Communicate directly to employees about the business reasons for the change and how it aligns with the company's organizational direction.

Securing executive sponsorship results in “faster adoption of the change, higher participation and greater proficiency in the process being changed,” Mr. Hiatt says. “The final outcome is faster realization of the business objectives for the project and increased return on investment for the business.”

The Power to Change

Looking to improve its speed in realizing project benefits, CPS Energy, San Antonio, Texas, USA, is incorporating change management into its project and process teams, says Larry Macias, a process improvement analyst at the company. As it moves to a more process-centered point of view, the company needs a way to communicate the project changes to the entire organization. “We're dealing with a lot of changes—some are little, some are big,” he says.

To ease that transition, the company established a process improvement office (PIO) nearly two years ago. “Through the PIO we are helping to build CPS Energy's competency for being flexible toward change,” Mr. Macias says. “Where previously a different group handled change management, today the project team is the change management team.”

Time and effort goes into selecting team members with both technical knowledge and interpersonal skills, he says. These team members are key to securing project buy-in from members of the organization. A few strategic teams are currently involved in developing extensive communication plans that identify when, what and how to convey project information to stakeholders during the project life cycle.


The focal point really shouldn't be on managing resistance but on getting people excited about the benefits of the change.JEFF HIATT

Lessons Learned

Change Facilitation, Bratislava, Slovakia, specializes in the transformation of organizations and employees. The company's survey of 562 participants from a range of industries around the world revealed several lessons learned about the use of change management:

  • Change management is not a fad, and demand for skills in the area will increase
  • The longer people experience change management approaches, the more confident they become about their future

Managing Expectations and Assumptions

Change management is all about setting expectations—and in an ideal world, the outcome of the project should meet those expectations, says Neville Turbit, director of Project Perfect Pty Ltd., a project management software and consulting firm in Sydney, Australia.

“Project expectations typically are based on assumptions,” he says. “These assumptions should be based on fact, but many are based on what ‘could’ be. Because change involves a set of preconceived assumptions, if you are to change expectations, you first must change the assumptions.”

Quantitatively benchmark the assumptions so that progress made toward setting realistic expectations can be measured. In one of Mr. Turbit's projects, respondents were asked to rate the following statements from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree):

——The implementation will be difficult

——My job will be easier after the implementation

——The project change will make my job more secure

——I expect a few problems in the first few weeks

——Customers will see the change's benefit almost immediately

——We will not have to work as much overtime

——We will be more confident that stock is available when we take an order

——The changes have nothing to do with me.

A survey such as Mr. Turbit's allows project managers to create a series of change management activities to address each assumption. A repeat of the survey at a later date will measure overall progress.

  • Change management is dynamic and methods will change over time
  • Change management can be applied in all cultures
  • Top management often believes the organization understood the change message when that is not the case
  • The transformational potential of change management approaches is not always evident, so monitoring and taking a down-to-earth approach to reaching different process stakeholders is needed.

The survey also disclosed some common causes of change management failure:

  • A narrow rather than broad stakeholder focus
  • Lack of active leadership
  • Change activities not linked to final objectives
  • Specialists failing to involve the people who will implement the changes
  • A culture of distrust that leads to change resistance.

Holger Nauheimer, director of Change Facilitation, and author of Taking Stock: A Survey on the Practice and Future of Change Management [H. Nauheimer, 2005] is an evangelist for change management. “The huge individual benefit people gain from studying and applying change management principles normally has remarkable consequences,” he says. “First, people become more motivated to work as agents of change. Second, the more people understand the principles of change management, the greater the likelihood of organizational transformation.”

It may take time to actually see the effects of good change management, Mr. Nauheimer says. If a company isn't committed to managing change, it will only see what it wants to see or only those situations that changed for the worse.

Escalating market competition and fluctuations will require most companies to refocus continuously, necessitating a solid means for swiftly implementing and accepting more frequent changes. “In the near future,” Mr. Nauheimer says, “an expertise in change management will be considered a prerequisite for many project management positions, equal to or even more important than organizational and team skills.” PM

Lorna Pappas is a business-to-business freelance writer based in Andover, N.J., USA.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.




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