Sunday, May 23, 2010

Project Management and Change Management

Late last year I was asked to write a newspaper article about project management that was never published. The topic I choose was this very one as I thought it would be an easy introduction to project management as a way to change things in an organization - and make the organization a better one. And then I had a kind of an "Ah ha" moment: actually there are things that are not all that obvious. Later on I was surprised by this year's topic for the Research Working Session (part of the PMI EMEA Congress) was Change Management. Who would have guessed I was following PMI's research trend? And that made the 2nd "Ah ha" moment.

The link between Project Management and Change Management is pretty straight forward: if you want to change something in an organization you do a project (or a program). On the other hand, any organization's activity can be classified either as an operation or a project. Operations serve the organizations purpose of producing value by means of recurring activities: making lamps, building cars, lending money or whatever. In contrast, projects are the way organizations adapt to their ever changing context: basically, organizations build a strategy to fulfill their vision and then they define strategic objectives to implement strategies. Now some of these strategic objectives require a change in the organization. When this is the case, projects and programs are the way to go: it can be the construction of a new highway, a new hospital, a new product or whatever fulfills the proposed objectives.

Now imagine a company that has the vision of being the top national construction company on a small country like Portugal. Also imagine that last year they had 20% market share following the 2 current market leaders. One way this company has to gain market share in Portugal is to start operations in Spain so they are recognized as a leading company and take some construction projects from their competitors in Portugal (the strategy is internationalization). In order to do that they decide they have to (i) have 10% of their human resources speaking Spanish by the end of this year and (ii) change their ERP software so it complies both with Portuguese and Spanish laws and practices like fiscal reporting by the 1st quarter of next year (the strategic objectives). So it's quite straight forward that this company has to start some projects to reach these objectives and comply with the defined strategy. In order for this company to change they have to get some projects going.

Before I continue with this example, let me introduce the Change Management topic by introducing John Kotter (

Kotter is a leading author on Change Management. He studied how organizations make changes happen and why some succeed and some don't. That's how he came up with his 8 Step Change Model ( You can check for details on Kotter's site, but in short these steps are:
Acting With Urgency
Developing the Guiding Coalition
Developing a Change Vision
Communicating the Vision Buy-in
Empowering Broad-based Action
Generating Short-term Wins
Don't Let Up
Make Change Stick
I don't want to go into much detail on Kotter's model, the point is that you can group these steps in 3 stages much like in habit changing models (defrost - change - refrost). That is:
Allow changes to happen
Make the changes
Turn them into habits
Projects belong to the "Make the changes" part which include the steps:
"Empowering Broad-based Action" and
"Generating Short-term Wins".
The same example I used to show the link between Project Management and Change Management can also be used to show something not so obvious. The fact is that in any situation you can think of, changes in the organization start long before the projects do, and changes will continue long after the projects end.
In this case, learning Spanish (imagine a couple of projects to address this like selecting the people who have an interest in working in Spain and develop a formal classroom in the office where these people learn Spanish) started with the vision of being the leading construction company in Portugal - not a very obvious connection. Furthermore, the purpose of these projects don't end when 10% of the employees can speak Spanish. And the project's results don't continue inside the organization just turning them into operations like after building a bridge you start charging tolls and maintenance.
So, before the project exists several things happened in the organization that made the project justified - in a minimum, building a vision, selecting a strategy and developing strategic objectives. And after the project ends the change process is still running by enforcing the project deliverables use thus making these changes incorporated into the organization.

Going back to the example, before you start any project to help this organization start operations in Spain you should prepare the people in the organization for that change to happen and gain their support. If you don't do that you'll probably get so much resistance that the projects may actually fail even if they are a success - that is, the project may deliver the desired results but they can't be incorporated into the organization. The same goes to what happens after the projects end. If you don't find a way to incorporate the changes they made, things will go to the way they were before, much like the steering wheel of a car after a curve: all you have to do is let the wheel go and immediately the wheel goes to the "less effort" position and makes the car go straight again.

So, in short:
- Organizations have operations and projects
- Unlike operations, projects are done in order to change something in the organization
- In order to change something in an organization you have to go through 3 stages where projects fit in the middle stage
- And that means that there's something that caused the need for the project and
After the project ends, you need to somehow incorporate that change into the organization

Bottom line is that in most cases you can look to Project Management as a part of Change Management. And if you understand the need for a project and the impact it is intended to have in the organization...
Then you can be a better project manager!

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