Incorporating Change Management in Project Management

Change management in project management

Change can be very complex and happen on multiple levels. Within organizations, changes can occur at the individual level when people learn new skills or develop new ways of working through mentoring, coaching, education, and training. It can also occur at the group or team level as teams develop new ways of working with one another, define their goals and objectives, and learn ways of addressing conflict.  At the organizational level, Change also happens through the development of new strategies and processes, visions for a new desired future, and major system practices that affect employees.  

Because of these complexities, it’s very important to incorporate a Change Management approach in your Project Management methodology with dynamic, flexible guidelines that will help achieve success. 

With any large-scale project or implementation, change is a large part of the overall project goal. Whether the project aims to increase efficiency or improve system processes, change is often very necessary, which is why following and creating a change management strategy should be a top consideration before undertaking a project. Change management is typically needed when an organization introduces a new initiative that requires that changes be effectively managed on both the technical side and the people side.  

Change management is defined as the tools, processes, trainings, and procedures that are used to cope with the changes associated with undergoing a project. Adequately and efficiently tackling change and addressing any roadblocks to project success are a critical part of change management, and, in turn, project management. Depending on the type of project your organization is tackling, the change management process will oftentimes include a person whose dedicated role is to work as a project manager and assemble a dedicated change management team. This project manager is tasked with supervising the team and making sure that they accomplish the project goals. Below, we’ll further explore the role that change management plays in project management. 

First off, it’s important to understand why change management is such an important factor in leading and managing a successful project. By including change management as a key aspect of project management, you’ll increase the chance of project success by helping employees and key stakeholders embrace the new technologies, systems, and processes that are brought about by your project initiatives. When all parties are informed and aligned with the project objectives and goals, the likelihood of undergoing a successful project greatly increases.  

Although the method organizations may decide to use for navigating change management is largely based on individual needs and circumstances, and there are a few ways the change management process can be broken down and categorized. In order to have a mature change management process, your strategy should prioritize change during the initial planning period, taking action upon unforeseen circumstances, incorporating incremental change throughout the project, and leading larger more strategic change initiatives with important overarching organizational goals.  

In the initial planning period, anticipated changes are at the forefront of the conversation. During this stage, project managers and team members are having discussions centered around foreseeable future pain points and moments within the project plan that are going to require specific attention. Mapping out these areas early, assigning responsibility, and creating tangible steps to overcoming barriers to incorporating and dealing with these changes can help minimize surprises and help the project move forward smoothly.  

The project manager can delegate responsibility for specific scenarios so that there is no question of which team member is responsible. Using a RAID log in this early planning period can be a useful tool for Project Managers to use to help track and map out scenarios and then delegate responsibility.  

Communication is especially important to any organizational change. In this initial planning period as well as throughout the project, employees are most responsive to change when they are kept well informed. Unless there’s some sort of need for secrecy, employees should be aware of the change from initial planning to final implementation. If they’re kept in the dark until the very end, they usually suspect something bad is happening, and it’s human nature to think the worst when people don’t know something. Mitigate any miscommunication through transparency when possible.  

Oftentimes, no matter how much time and energy is spent diligently planning and anticipating potential change management roadblocks, in all likelihood, there will still be unforeseen challenges that the project team was unable to anticipate. Reacting well to unexpected challenges that come up in a way that leads to project success is a necessary part of managing a project. Reacting to unexpected challenges often comes in the form of a crisis response.  

In this situation, typically there is little time to no time to plan for the ideal course of action. Instead, project managers must create a solution quickly which requires a mix of good judgement and experience. Though reactive change management is not the ideal scenario, it is oftentimes a necessity. 

Along with proactive change management and the ability to respond in times of crisis, on-going change support and education should be included in your project management efforts. By introducing and reiterating crucial information early and often to key personnel, you’ll increase the chances of your message being heard, understood, and put into practice. With this strategy, it’s important to introduce gradual changes over a period of time. Doing this allows users to get used to changes at a reasonable pace before introducing another tool or process change.  

With all of this in mind, it’s important to keep change management as an aspect of project management in perspective. As with any project or initiative, the goal of process or system improvement should roll up to a larger organizational goal. Operating strategically to prioritize changes that directly benefit your organization and contribute to the overall positive future direction is important. A project manager should keep the overarching organizational goals in mind, particularly if unanticipated roadblocks come up during the project.  

Overall, navigating change management as a factor of your overall project management process and strategy is worth looking into if you, your organization, or team of project managers haven’t yet had experience focusing on change management. In Elire’s project change management work, we’ve used a Change Impact analysis as a tool to plan for our training. It shows how the future changes to the system will impact both systems and individuals. By assigning a simple impact score to each business process, we can determine what sort of training approach is necessary for each business process.  

If change management is something you’re struggling with or maybe you’re just interested in learning more about how Elire can assist with your project efforts, take a look at our Advisory Services here and download our Project Management Informational PDF. In the meantime, reach out to [email protected] to discuss your unique needs and sign up for our quarterly Project Management Newsletter here to gain access to webinars and articles specifically for project managers and leaders.

  • Ms. Caron serves as Elire's Marketing Associate, specializing in content writing and digital media communications. Maddie works to deliver relevant industry updates and technical blog posts to educate and engage Elire's audience.

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