Project Management Institute

In times of change


Fast becoming a new norm of the modern business world, change management requires strong leadership from above.



In a business world that can morph overnight, organizations have no choice but to adjust accordingly.

Companies must constantly be on the lookout for drivers of change—and then rapidly recalibrate the project portfolio in response, says Ken Jones, president and CEO of Astellas Pharma Europe Ltd., London, England. At Astellas, that means tracking the markets, regulatory environment and growth in key global markets, as well as being ready to shift gears when the need or opportunity arises.

Yet even the most agile enterprises cannot transform themselves overnight, let alone convince wary stakeholders such upheaval is necessary.

Managing change on the project and portfolio levels can ease the transition, helping companies shift technologies, business strategies or project management methods. “It's all about communication, being open to new ideas and empowering people to make decisions,” Mr. Jones says.

73 percent
of project professionals said their organizations use change management and that these practices lead to higher success rates.

Source: PMI's 2012 Pulse of the Profession survey

Given the rapid pace of today's business, change management is an integral part of project-driven organizations: 73 percent of the project professionals in PMI's 2012 Pulse of the Profession survey said their organizations use change management and that these practices lead to higher success rates.

Change occurs on all projects. To make sure it doesn't derail things when it does, organizations must acknowledge that inevitability in each project plan. This requires a complete shift in mindset across the enterprise, and securing buy-in at every level is the only way it will work.

“Change management is all about managing human resistance,” says Frank Ryle, PMP, a project management consultant and trainer at the International Institute for Learning, Princeton, New Jersey, USA. “Yet that's the side that often gets ignored.”

And without it, companies may face a full-scale revolt.

“As project managers, we tend to focus on process, but you need to look at culture,” says Rebecca Porter-field, PMP, director of project and process management and process improvement at Performance Trust Capital Partners, a financial services firm in Chicago, Illinois, USA.

“You need to assess what your population can handle and what they will accept,” she explains. “Because if you don't, you can implement the best change in the world, but they will ignore it.”

Performance Trust Capital first brought in Ms. Porterfield to implement a project and portfolio management structure to give the company better oversight and management of its IT projects.

“When I arrived, they were having a lot of trouble understanding how resources were being spent, where they were being spent, and why some projects were getting done and others weren't,” she says. The company was doing projects ad hoc and had few project management methods in place.

A change was necessary. But Ms. Porterfield knew if she loaded down team members with a lot of process and paperwork, she'd lose them.

“People often have the idea that project and portfolio management is a lot of bureaucratic overhead that just gets in the way,” she says. “So the biggest challenge was getting people to embrace the change.”

To ease the organization into the more formalized project management, she introduced a lightweight and flexible structure, something not overly time-consuming but still capable of delivering tangible benefits. She started the change management process by creating a “purposeful bottleneck” that forced all project plans to land on her desk. Then she launched a steering committee of department heads who agreed to meet frequently to review the project plans before approval. “This added oversight without significant delays,” Ms. Porterfield says.

She also required every project leader to complete a one-page brief outlining the value of the project to the organization, the projected outcomes and how those outcomes align with strategic business goals. “It was simple, but it leveled the playing field for the steering committee,” she explains. “Now they can evaluate all kinds of projects based on the same kind of information.”

All of these actions not only changed future projects but also impacted those already in progress—and the team members working on them. With a keen eye on culture, Ms. Porterfield changed the way the company's project leaders build a business case and gave the executive team the oversight it sought.



—Ken Jones, president and CEO of Astellas Pharma Europe Ltd., London, England


Taking the time to understand cultural concerns will substantially improve the ROI around change management, says Kathryn Yates, Portland, Maine, USA-based global practice leader for communication and change management at Towers Watson.

Companies that build a solid business case for change and then communicate the need for it across the enterprise are far more likely to succeed. “Change doesn't just happen. It needs to be well-planned and communicated,” says Ms. Yates, who led Towers Watson's 2011-2012 Change and Communication ROI Study Report of 604 global organizations.

To effectively manage change, companies should:

  • Ensure that when change occurs on projects, the end result still aligns with financial performance and other business measures as originally planned
  • Identify change as necessary to ongoing success
  • Change at an effective pace
  • Sustain the positive impact of a change for five or more years

The study found that companies highly effective at communication were 1.7 times as likely to fiscally outperform their peers. And those organizations that were highly effective at both communication and change management practices were more than twice as likely to do better than their peers.



Change management doesn't always follow the same template, but these six ingredients can better position companies for success:

  1. 1       Leaders who track how business, economic and political trends will impact the company. “In an effective organization, the leadership is continuously looking ahead to spot changes on the horizon,” says Phillip Baillie, a program manager with the City of London police force. “By doing that, they can proactively position the organization in anticipation of change.”
  2. 2       Alignment between change initiatives and strategic business goals. Change will be embraced and deliver value only if it supports the broader vision of the business, says Christian de Loës, PMP, senior project manager and program manager at SJ AB, a government-owned passenger train operator based in Stockholm, Sweden. “Change must be connected to the strategy of the organization, or no one will support it in the long–term.”
  3. 3       A business case that defines the tangible benefits expected from the change. “If change can't be explained in terms of business strategy and benefits, it must be questioned,” says Kathryn Bates of Towers Watson, Portland, Maine, USA.
  4. 4       Strong leadership backing. “If you don't have upper-management support from the outset, forget about change,” says Mr. de Loës.
  5. 5       A targeted communications plan. Project leaders often get so caught up in the technical aspects of change that they forget about the people side. But project leaders must secure buy-in through a solid communications plan that allays fears about job security and reassures stakeholders that the change will be beneficial, says Frank Ryle, PMP, International Institute for Learning, Princeton, New Jersey, USA. “There has to be a people plan developed alongside the project plan, or it won't succeed.”
  6. 6       Defined success metrics. Whether it's increased profitability or greater productivity, the realizable benefits of any change must be measurable, says Mr. de Loës.

“This is true no matter your industry, your region or the economy,” Ms. Yates says. “Being able to communicate change in terms of new behaviors, new business strategies and how people are impacted is key.”

Too often, the strategic impetus behind a change gets lost in a haze of corporate business speak, which muddies the waters with stakeholders.

“If change is ambiguous, they won't change,” says Mr. Jones. “But if they understand what's going to happen and why, they will follow.”

One of the best ways to ensure the change message gets through is to tailor it to the audience. “Identify what matters to the group you're engaging with,” says Philip Baillie, a London, England-based transformation program manager currently working with the City of London police to help embed change in its management processes and organizational structures. “While the CFO may be interested in reducing costs and the COO in meeting performance targets, the majority of individuals in an organization are not,” he says. To win over end users and frontline employees, he advises discussing what's relevant to them—or face resistance.

“If you don't take the staff with you, you risk having change blocked at every turn and the organization and its staff reverting to old ways as soon as the project is over,” says Mr. Baillie.

Part of winning over stakeholders is considering how the change will impact each group and incorporating those unique effects into the project plan. This is particularly important for end users, whose day-to-day roles can be upended by the implementation of a new process, technology or management system. “You need to turn your work streams sideways and look at how they impact critical roles,” Ms. Yates says.

End-user input often can help make a project more effective. They are, after all, the ones intimately familiar with what's being changed, so they often can pinpoint mistakes in the project plan that outsiders can't see. “Often the solutions are well-known at the operator level, but the questions just haven't been asked at the senior level,” Mr. Baillie says.


Once it becomes clear that change is necessary, project leaders must determine whether it achieved the desired business impact, even when the outcomes may not be as cut-and-dry. “The key is to focus on the ends not the means, or outcome rather than outputs—e.g., to be a more efficient organization rather than the introduction of new IT system,” Mr. Baillie says.

Only then can organizations ensure the desired transformation has taken root. “All too often, change management is closed before the changes have become properly embedded and measured, and when that happens, the benefits are lost,” he says.

Measuring results is part of all change management at Astellas, says Mr. Jones. The company conducts frequent “scans” of change management efforts to determine whether the shift has occurred, whether it had the desired effect and whether it met the anticipated business goal.

When the company launched a new product in Spain, for example, it split the sales team into two groups—one focused on hospitals and the other on primary-care providers—in an effort to better meet the needs of each audience. When the executive team evaluated the project several months later to see if the split did indeed deliver increased business, it liked what it saw. “We found that it made a huge difference in terms of our overall performance and market penetration,” Mr. Jones says.

Such evaluations not only prove the success of change management on the project in question but also reinforce support for it on future ones, he says.

Instilling that flexibility may be the only way to survive. Companies may not be able to predict what the next big change will be—but they know it's coming.



Change can be a tough sell in even the most agile sectors. Now try it in oil and gas exploration, which tends to stick to the tried and true.

“This industry still thinks the way it did in the 1970s, when they could pull huge profits out the ground,” says Matt Rawson, director of program, project and change management at Expert International, a project management advisory firm, Henley–on–Thames, England.

“Tech and product development companies are used to a rapid rate of change, but in traditional industries, they struggle more,” he explains.

For example, many oil companies still rely on traditional sequential project lifecycle planning, in which each team delivers its piece of the project without taking into account how its actions impact the rest of the project. Only recently have companies in this field begun implementing integrated project teams, through which all members align their efforts to broader project goals.

More conventional companies will need to deploy strong communications efforts aimed at shifting the mindset across the enterprise. “Change is about people, processes and technology, but focus the most effort on the people,” Mr. Rawson says.




Two case studies illustrate the inevitability of change, the need for senior leadership and the lasting implications of effective change management.

Changing Course Mid-Allstream
Terry Ricci, PMP, PgMP, Allstream, Toronto, Canada

Terry Ricci, PMP, PgMP, Allstream, Toronto, Canada


The individuals need to see the value the change brings and be connected to its success. —Terry Ricci, PMP, PgMP

Terry Ricci, PMP, PgMP, has a team of project managers so talented that she's giving them up for the good of her company.

Ms. Ricci is the senior manager of the service delivery project management office (PMO) at communications provider Allstream, Toronto, Canada. In the last five years, she and her 35 project managers have overseen hundreds of complex projects to deliver communications services to businesses. But now she's in the midst of changing the company's processes in a way that will dramatically alter the way the PMO and the project teams work.

Recently, Allstream embarked on a strategic review of its order-fulfillment process to improve client satisfaction, shorten lead times for smaller projects and increase collaboration. The new model takes project managers out of the PMO and puts them in cross-functional service provisioning teams. Co-locating the multiple functional groups makes collaboration and problem-solving more efficient.

“The PMO will still run the non-standard, complex projects,” Ms. Ricci says. The fact that the leadership team values the PMO's expertise was a major driver of the shift, and some project managers are heading up cross-functional teams.

That left many team members uncertain about their new responsibilities, Ms. Ricci says. “There are still a lot of unknowns,” she says. “My goal is to keep my team engaged and motivated, and to ensure minimal impact to our clients. That requires careful planning of the transition to new roles.”

To ease the impact, part of her decision-making process includes evaluating which project managers currently are engaged, when their projects will end and whether someone else can take over their role.

“The individuals need to see the value the change brings and be connected to its success.” Ms. Ricci explains. “Without that, there is a significant risk that the change may not be successful.”

That's where effective change management can help ease the transition and win over stakeholders.

“Once the change was articulated and team members saw how they could bring added value to the company and the customers through the change,” she says, “they were excited to jump onboard.”



When the bottom fell out of the U.S. housing market and unemployment numbers soared, Wells Fargo Bank knew it needed to change the way it engaged with customers.

Ben Soccorsy, enterprise program leader at Wells Fargo Assist, San Francisco, California, USA

Ben Soccorsy, enterprise program leader at Wells Fargo Assist, San Francisco, California, USA


Change is always easier when it's connected to something bigger.

–Ben Soccorsy

“When [customers] went online looking for help, they didn't just need information about one product,” says Ben Soccorsy, enterprise program leader at Wells Fargo Assist, San Francisco, California, USA. If they were struggling to pay their bills, for example, they likely also wanted information about refinancing their mortgage and dealing with credit issues. They “wanted us to address their needs across product lines, but we haven't always done that.”

So Mr. Soccorsy launched a project called Wells Fargo Assist that aimed to bring customer information together in one spot and streamline the way the bank communicates with customers via phone, email and the web. The anchor was the development of the Wells Fargo Assist website, which customers often visit for account information.

But true integration would take more than just building a new web interface. It required the historically decentralized department heads at Wells Fargo to take a more team-centric approach to the way they developed content, tracked business trends, managed data and communicated with customers.

Knowing it was an opportunity that could change the way the company operated, Mr. Soccorsy's team brought together the heads of the collections and loss mitigation teams for a brainstorming session. He wasn't sure at that point whether he could convince leadership to support the change in process, but he knew it would never work without their commitment.

A breakthrough occurred when the head of the mortgage division's collections group, which is at the center of the company's core business strategy, openly supported the idea.

“He said, ‘This is the right thing to do for the customers and the company,’” says Mr. Soccorsy, who had gone into the meeting unsure if any of the stakeholders would get on board. Then he pledged to work with the other divisions and plug his group's content into a shared site.

The support of the mortgage leadership prompted other division leaders to share their own data and processes with the project team to build a more seamless online presence. “Their buy-in helped us minimize risks [that the project wouldn't get the support it needed] and overcome resistance,” he says.

One reason the project was able to secure that kind of support was it aligned with the broader vision of the organization to create a customer experience across all channels. “Change is always easier when it's connected to something bigger,” says Mr. Soccorsy.

The site went live in December 2011, and the team is on track to meet its first-year goal of identifying 100,000 unique customer visits to the site.

But as with any change, success is a moving target.

“You've always got to innovate,” Mr. Soccorsy says. “Leadership across the company is asking everyone to be more proactive, and this is an example of how we're doing that.”PM

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