Projects and Change Management


Posted on 8th August, by JimYoung in Blog. Comments Off on Projects and Change Management

“If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.”

There is no progress without change.  Yet, it is a truth universally acknowledged that “no-one likes change”.  Change freaks us out—probably even more than public speaking.  I once heard it said that the only person who likes change is a baby with a wet nappy.  Change is such an extraordinary, sometimes uncomfortable thing, isn’t it?  So many of us crave it but fiercely resist it, fueling an ever-escalating inner civil war.  While there’s no progress without change, change management has two meanings in the project management lexicon:

  1. Managing project changes (variations) to the scope of a project and is often needed to accommodate risk and altered requirements, features, functions, specifications and performance standards for a deliverable.  Change might also be driven by external factors, such as new contractors, technologies, or methodologies.  A change request often arises when our client wants an addition or alteration to the agreed-upon deliverables for the project.  Because change requests are beyond the scope of the initial agreement, they generally mean that the client will have to pay for the extra resources required.  Such changes easily rank among the top concerns that keep us project managers awake at night, mostly because our sponsors may expect the original schedule and budget to be upheld.  But a scope change is a separate decision that ordinarily requires additional expenditure and may delay project completion.  Such changes must stand on their own merits.  No change should proceed unless the associated benefits exceed the costs involved.1
  2. Managing the transitioning of individuals and organisations as they adopt new processes, services or products as a consequence of projects.  We aim to bring stakeholders from awareness to acceptance and adjustment to the new reality that the change creates.  We apply a systematic approach to helping the individuals impacted by the change to be successful by building support, addressing resistance and developing the required knowledge and ability to implement the change.  We manage the ‘people’ side of the change.  And in today’s fast-paced world, every organisation can benefit from a better way to manage change.  And recent research has revealed that the ineffective management of people during change is the number one reason for unsuccessful projects across industries.2

As diagram below shows, project management and change management support moving an organisation from a current state (how things are done today) through a transition state to a desired future state (the new processes, organisation structures or job roles defined by ‘the change’). Change management is a structured approach for ensuring that changes are thoroughly and smoothly implemented, and that lasting benefits of the change are achieved. Thus, project management focuses on producing the project deliverables and change management focuses on the people impacted by the change caused by the adoption of the deliverables.  Both disciplines are related, overlap and important if change is to succeed.  But change management is not a separate role or function.  It is a vital competency for all project and program managers and starts early in the project lifecycle.3

Change is a process and not an event.  As the diagram shows we can break change into three sequential states, and the time for the change process will vary depending mainly on the extent and degree of change involved.  Some organisations prefer the quick “big bang” approach to change, whereas other organisations may prefer incremental change over a longer period.  Ideally, the change should not occur faster than we can properly manage it.  When change occurs too quickly or is undertaken ineffectively we might expect:

    1. Productivity to decline
    2. Passive resistance to escalate
    3. Active resistance to emerge and sabotage the change
    4. Valued employees to leave the organisation
    5. Morale to deteriorate
    6. Projects to go over budget and past their deadline
    7. Employees to find workarounds to avoid the new way of doing things
    8. Employees to revert to their old way of doing things
    9. Divides to be created in the organisation between ‘us’ and ‘them’
    10. The organization to build a history of failed and painful changes.

Let’s consider in more detail what needs to happen during each of these three stages to ensure that the benefits of change are permanently realised.

1. Current State is how things are done today. It is the collection of processes, behaviours, tools, techniques, organisational structures and job roles that constitute how work is done. The Current State defines who we are.  It may not be working well, but it is stable, predictable, familiar and comfortable because we know what to expect.  The Current State is where we have been successful and where we know how we will be measured and evaluated.  Above all else, the Current State is the comfortable known, in which state we:

    • – Determine exactly what needs to change.
    • – Understand why change has to take place.
    • – Ensure there is strong support from senior management.
    • – Create a compelling message as to why change has to occur.
    • – Emphasise the “why”.
    • – Conduct a stakeholder analysis.
    • – Manage and understand the doubts and concerns.
    • – Communicate often. Describe the benefits.  Explain exactly the how the changes will effect everyone. Prepare everyone for what is coming.

2. Transition State is messy and disorganised. It is somewhat unpredictable and constantly in flux. The Transition State is often emotionally charged – with emotions ranging from despair to anxiety to anger to fear to relief. During the Transition State, productivity usually declines. The Transition State requires us to accept new ways of working, while still keeping up our day-to-day efforts. The Transition State can be very challenging.

    • – Generate short-term wins to reinforce the change.
    • – Provide support and training. Dispel rumors.
    • – Answer questions openly and honestly.
    • – Deal with problems immediately.

3. Future State is where we are trying to go.  It is often not fully defined, and can even shift while we are going through the Transition State.  The Future State is supposed to be better than the Current State in terms of organisational performance.  The Future State can often be worrisome.  The Future State may not match our personal and professional goals, and there is a chance that we may not be successful in the Future State.  Above all else, the Future State is pretty much unknown.

    • – Celebrate success.
    • – Anchor the changes into the culture.
    • – Identity what supports the change.
    • – Identify barriers to sustaining change.
    • – Develop ways to sustain the change.
    • – Ensure on-going leadership support.
    • – Create a reward system.
    • – Establish feedback systems.

Change management involves principles, processes, tools and techniques to manage the people-side of change to help achieve the required business case benefits.  Thus, it is the people impact of change that this blog item mainly considers – the need for the effective and efficient introduction of change to ensure that those people affected (stakeholders) adapt to the change to help ensure that the benefits are fully realised.  In fact, success and failure for project management is often determined by how effectively organisational change is managed.  At its core, such change management is about identifying and resolving potential problems associated with the proposed change.  While projects may be successfully completed, the management of change associated with the introduction of the new deliverables is often not planned at all or planned properly or executed well such that business case benefits that justified the investment are not realised or fully realised.

There are three key conditions in change management that we need to understand and address:

  1. Single changes create multiple stakeholder impacts. A new status quo can lead to stakeholders experiencing one or more of the following consequences – They can be better off. They can be worse off. They can be unaffected.
  2. Stakeholder perception of the impact may be different from the reality.  Stakeholder will respond based on their personal perception of the project impact. Therefore, it’s critical for change managers to understand each stakeholder’s perception versus reality.
  3. Stakeholder management and planning must take account of both the reality and the perception, for the change to succeed.4

Thus, just having a project deliverable that is the “right” answer does not guarantee that employees will make the necessary changes to their behaviours and work processes. Employee commitment, buy-in and adoption do not stem from the rightness of the solution, but rather from employees moving through their own change process.  It takes more than the right solution to move employees out of the current state that they know and into the unknown future state.  Fortunately, change management is not rocket science, and here are some well-proven commonsense principles to help ensure that the change process works properly:

  1. People Issues.  Any significant change creates people issues.  For example, new leaders will be asked to step up, jobs will be created, changed or eliminated, new skills and capabilities may need to be developed, and as a consequence affected employees (stakeholders) may be uncertain and many of them resistant.  Dealing with these issues on a reactive basis usually puts morale and results at risk.  A formal proactive approach for managing change — beginning with the relevant leaders and then engaging key stakeholders — should be developed during the project life cycle as we conceive, plan and execute the project, and adapted often as change moves through the affected parts of the organisation.5
  2. Start at the top.  Because change is inherently unsettling for people at all levels of an organisation, all eyes are likely to turn to the CEO and the organisation’s leadership team for strength, support and direction.  So, leaders themselves must embrace the change.  They must be genuinely committed to the change, speak with one voice and model the desired behaviours.  Bottom-up change is a very hard slog.
  3. Make the case. Individuals are inherently rational and will question to what extent change is needed, whether the change is headed in the right direction, and whether they want to commit personally to making change happen. They will look to the leadership for answers. The development of a sound business case for change is essential.
  4. Create ownership. Leaders of change must over-perform during the transformation period and be the zealots who create a critical mass among the work force in favour of the change.  This usually requires more than mere buy-in or passive agreement that the change is acceptable.  It demands ownership by leaders willing to accept responsibility for making change happen in all of the areas they influence or control.  Ownership is often best created by involving people in identifying implementation problems and crafting solutions.  It is reinforced by incentives and rewards. These can be tangible (for example, financial compensation) or psychological (for example, camaraderie and a sense of shared destiny).
  5. Communicate the message. Too often, change leaders make the mistake of believing that others understand the issues, feel the need to change, and see the new direction as clearly as they do. The best change strategies reinforce core messages through regular, timely advice that is both inspirational and practicable.  Communications are targeted to provide employees the right information at the right time and to solicit their input and feedback.  This may require over-communication through multiple channels.  Effective communication that informs various stakeholders of the reasons for the change (why?), the benefits of successful implementation (what is in it for us, and you) as well as the details of the change (when? where? who is involved? how much will it cost?) is essential.6
  6. Risk Management. No change goes completely according to plan.  Effectively managing change requires continual reassessment of its impact and the organisation’s willingness and ability to adopt risk management.
  7. Speak to the individual. Change is both an institutional journey and a very personal one. People spend many hours each week at work; many think of their colleagues as a second family. Individuals (or teams of individuals) need to know how their work will change, what is expected of them during and after the change, how they will be measured, and what success or failure will mean for them and those around them. Team leaders should be as honest and explicit as possible. People will react to what they see and hear around them, and need to be involved in the change process. Highly visible rewards, such as promotion, recognition, and bonuses, should be provided as dramatic reinforcement for embracing change. Sanction or removal of people standing in the way of change will reinforce the institution’s commitment. Provide personal counseling (if required) to alleviate any change-related fears It’s easy just to think that people resist change out of sheer awkwardness and lack of vision. However you need to recognize that for some, change may affect them negatively in a very real way that you may not have foreseen. For example, people who’ve developed expertise in (or have earned a position of respect from) the old way of doing things can see their positions severely undermined by change.

Conveying the need for change

Positive and negative stakeholders come in many forms.  Some individuals oppose change simply because they do not like the idea of changes to their routine.  However there are also those who oppose change because they feel it threatens their status within an organisation.  As an example, someone who is considered a subject matter expert for a particular software program may feel ill at ease at the proposition of a new, unfamiliar application replacing the previous system.  In cases like this, it is important to communicate the overarching goals and benefits, as well as positive impacts to the individual.  In this example, it is important to identify why this individual feels ill at ease, so concerns can be addressed via an effective communication strategy.  The communication strategy aims to ensure that the individual ends up with positive feelings about change.

Despite the natural disposition of some individuals to avoid change, it is important to outline how a planned change improves an organisation to get onboard as many stakeholders as possible early within the change management process.  Change management teams should not guess how individuals will be influenced, they carefully map the “is now” to the “will be” with respect to individual job roles, as well as utilising historical data to draw conclusions on how change has impacted the organisation in the past.  Additionally, within groups certain individuals are more influential than others.  It is very important to identify influential proponents of change and provide them with information, which they can use to ease the process of change within the larger group, aiding change management efforts.

Communications plan

All of the data gathering and planning amounts to little if there is not an effective communications plan in place.  Information is communicated in a transparent way, with clear and concise messaging to stakeholders regarding the benefits of the proposed change for stakeholders.  To ease the workload on the change management team, automated notifications are sent to keep users informed of how the change effort is progressing and how it impacts them.  Change management teams keep project teams updated as to the progress of change efforts, as well as easing the burden of communication through automated notifications.  This goes for both positive and negative stakeholders, since any information unnecessarily and intentionally withheld from negative stakeholders can be used as a platform for objections to change and perhaps sabotaging progress during the change.

Additionally, information which is intentionally withheld from relevant stakeholders can be interpreted as a sign that change has negative implications for those individuals, and can lead those parties to become suspicious of the team implementing change.  To avoid this, the change team determines what information is communicated to whom, and from there, the project team can effectively tailor relevant messages.

Project teams must recognise that change management is crucial to the success of their projects.  In order to obtain stakeholder buy-in, the goal of a planned change is mapped to a current pain experienced by the organisation.  Both those in favour as well as those opposed to change are informed of the change impacts in order to level set expectations early during the planning phases of a change effort.  Messages to stakeholders must be part of a wider, effective communications plan, which accounts for transmitting messages regarding updates to change efforts to individuals who occupy various roles within the organisation.

First Law: The Law of persistence

The status quo is persistent. The first law says that nature favours the status quo. Why? It doesn’t matter why. But for those who can’t rest until they know why, here’s a plausible reason. Nature is efficient. Since the status quo is where we need to be most of the time, nature has made the status quo free. We don’t need to exert any force to stay the course. But, in order for the status quo to be free and sustainable, then change must require force and cost. We get one or the other for free, not both. Nature has made a wise choice. The world we know would not be possible without this law. Take cricket for example. When a player bowls the ball, he’s applying a force to the ball while the ball is in his hands. As his arm moves through the air with the ball in his hand, he’s accelerating the ball. At some point he let’s go of the ball, removing the force. The ball is now on its own.  If the first law didn’t exist, the ball would immediately fall, since the force is gone. Instead the ball continues its motion, even though there is no longer any force acting on it. It continues its journey to the batter. The batter then wants to change the motion of the ball, so he needs to apply a force to it. He does this with his swinging bat. The ball accelerates in the direction of the force of the bat until it leaves the bat. Again, if the first law didn’t exist, the ball would fall to the ground as soon as the bat lost contact.7

Once we’ve established a way of doing things through training and coaching, we can leave it alone and it should faithfully continue to operate in the same way. We can expect that people and processes will behave today as they did yesterday. That allows us to focus on the things we need to change. Our world is stable, predictable. Imagine someone came along and tried to get our people to change their ways and that the first law didn’t exist. That person would have an easy time changing the team’s behaviour. We’d have to spend all our time making sure that didn’t happen. Fortunately that’s not the case. Change requires force, time and energy, so it isn’t easy for anyone to change our team’s behaviour. Of course, that means that if we want to deploy a change, we have to revert to using a force as well. We can’t have stability for free and change for free. We have to pay for on, and that one is “the change”. 

But how much force is required for a particular change? That depends. The second law explains. 

Second law: The law of power

If we want to move a 20 tonne truck we need a bigger force than moving a tricycle. Why? The truck is bigger. It has more mass. The greater the mass, the greater the force required. That seems pretty intuitive. If we don’t have enough force (not strong enough), the second law says, “Don’t waste your time trying.” We’re simply going to waste our energy.
 In addition to force, there is another consideration, “How far do we want to move the truck?” This is a second component to the second law. Even if we are strong enough to move it, can we move it all the way to where we want? Moving an object a certain distance is work. Work = force X distance (how far). Even if we’re strong enough to get it started, do we have enough energy to exert that force over the distance required? If we don’t, then we shouldn’t bother trying, especially if we’re moving the truck up an incline. As soon as we run out of energy and stop pushing, the truck will roll back down to its previous state. Sound familiar? In an organization all changes should be considered uphill. Many changes are not sustained for that reason.8

What does this mean for our business projects? If we are introducing a change that impacts 100 people, we need a larger f orce than the same change to 10 people. A change that impacts 10 powerful people will require greater force than one impacting 10 not-so-powerful people. One hundred people represent a bigger mass than ten people. So we need a larger force. If our change is small, then that’s like pushing the truck a small distance. If the change is big, then that’s like pushing the truck a longer distance. Our project requires enough clout (force) to impact our mass, and enough resources (energy) to move that mass to the new desired status quo.

Third law: The law of reciprocity

The first two laws say that people and processes don’t naturally resist, they persist. Imagine you’re wearing very slippery skates on an ice ring. Imagine to you walk up to someone from behind, so that they don’t see you and don’t have time to react. You push the other person, who is also on skates. Who will move? Of course, you will both move. But has the other person deliberately pushed you? No, they haven’t. The third law says that force is an interaction. Force always occurs in pairs. So when you apply a force to a body, then the other body unwittingly applies an equal force to you as well. That’s not resistance you’re feeling. That’s persistence.
 Now imagine the other person was facing you and just as you push them, they dig their skate tip in the ice and push back. Now you’d be experiencing two forces; you pushing him, and him pushing back. That would be resistance. 

When we try to change something, it will always reciprocate. That’s nature telling us that change is not free.9

The third implies that tiny changes may be easy while large changes will be difficult, regardless of any overt resistance that may be offered for other reasons. Resistance is not the third law. It is another unbalanced force coming from someone else trying to make a change of their own. When there is resistance, there are at least two forces coming from two different sources.
 Why is change difficult? How difficult is it? It is difficult so that stability can be easy. The level of difficulty will depend on the mass we’re trying to impact and how quickly we’re trying to impact it.
 People don’t naturally resist change. They persist in status quo behaviour according to the laws of nature. If you ask someone “Why do you do things that way?” and they respond, “Because that’s the way we’ve always done it,” don’t laugh, thinking that’s a poor reason. Not only is it a good reason, it’s the law.

Exercise Scenario

An organisation wanted to change its payroll system.  A consultancy “NOPAY” won the contract to design the best solution and implement the change. The project had just started when rumours began to spread: “This payroll change is not good for the company. The old system is fine.” Several supervisors and managers were resisting the change. They could see no benefit in the new system and preferred the old Datacom system.  It had been stable during the previous eight years, but was considered dated; there was no on-line access and the system provided insufficient data to support more complex information and research needs.  But the new consultancy’s help centre seemed to provide indecipherable advice.  Misinformation, negative comments, poor attitudes, lack of cooperation, lack of support and interest, and even minor sabotage were evident.  In some cases managers would not show up for key decision-making meetings.  Information was withheld or incomplete.10

During breaks and around the coffee machine, employees complained about the new system. Both employees and managers were distracted from their day-to-day work and productivity suffered. Some managers were rumored to quit if the change was implemented.

After several months of difficulties and delays, under and over payments, the consultants finally declared the project in jeopardy.  With the project at a stand-still, the client company held an emergency meeting.  They identified a department head as the focal point for the resistance. Arguments against the new system – initiated by this manager – were spreading throughout the ranks. It turned out that her supervisors were the same people who were resisting the change and presumably threatening to leave the organisation. The only recourse at this point seemed to be reassignment or termination of this department head. However, both options would have negative fall-out for the company, not least the affected manager.   Stakeholders were faced with a stalled project and a potentially lose-lose decision for a long-tenured manager. Resistance to the change was spreading.11

An underlying principle at work here, as with many changes, is recognising that resistance is normal, and that our success with change is dependent on how we plan for, recognise and manage resistance.  However, simply arriving at the “right” or “best” solution is not sufficient to ensure that performance is improved. Ultimately, changes come to life through the behaviors and work processes of individual employees, since:

  1. The right answer alone does not create buy-in
  2. The right answer alone does not create commitment
  3. The right answer alone does not mitigate resistance
  4. The right answer alone does not eliminate fear
  5. The right answer alone does not ensure compliance

Just having a solution that is the “right” answer does not guarantee that employees will make the necessary changes to their behaviors and work processes. Employee commitment, buy-in and adoption do not stem from the rightness of the solution – but rather from employees moving through their own change process. It takes more than the right solution to move employees out of the current state that they know and into the unknown future state.  As a group identify:

  1. Measures to salvage the project.
  2. Measures that would have helped prevent the current situation?




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