Project Management

Change From the Outside In

Mark Mullaly is president of Interthink Consulting Incorporated, an organizational development and change firm specializing in the creation of effective organizational project management solutions. Since 1990, it has worked with companies throughout North America to develop, enhance and implement effective project management tools, processes, structures and capabilities. Mark was most recently co-lead investigator of the Value of Project Management research project sponsored by PMI. You can read more of his writing at

For all of those who claim that we need to get better at change management, I have some bad news for you: You can’t actually manage change.

I’m addressing the dimension of organizational change here, obviously—the challenge of transitioning to a new state of operating, whether implementing new processes, systems, structures, roles or (for the very ambitious) cultures. You can totally manage scope change; most just don’t, at least not proactively and well. But organizational change is a different thing entirely, and a far, far greater challenge, one that defies management.

People do attempt to manage change, mind you. It’s just that those efforts very rarely produce anything close to what was intended, and seldom create outcomes that are lasting. That’s not to say that change doesn’t happen. It is just that change is far less likely to be the product of deliberate, intentional design than it is to be reactions, responses, self-protective behaviors and unintended consequences.

A project that I audited several years ago was an exceptional case in point. The original program had three separate projects, and a business case that—while compelling—only produced value after the third project was done. As lived experiences go, the project was described as a nightmare while it was underway, and far worse once it was …

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