Project Change Challenges

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Who should lead the change challenge: organization management or project management?

The project team probably has a better idea of the technical aspects of the changes required. But, the organization's management initiates the project and has overall responsibility for achieving the intended benefits after the project is complete.

In my opinion, change management is an organizational responsibility. The role of project management is to focus on creating the deliverable effectively and supporting the organizational change effort.  

In short, the project management team works for the organizational change management team. However, I have seen many situations where managing the change is treated as a project responsibility.  

For those project teams undertaking change management, the change challenge is getting the necessary buy-in from organizational stakeholders who have to make effective use of the project's deliverables to get the expected value from the project.  

There is no point in the project team being happy with its work if no one uses it. The way the organization works has to change if the deliverable is going to be used effectively to create value for the organization and generate a ROI on the investment in the project.

Effective communication with the affected stakeholders is a must when addressing the change challenge. These communications follow a fairly standard pattern:

  • Explain the reason for the change needs so they are understood.
  • Define, communicate and support the actual changes to work practices and behaviors though training or other skills development activities.
  • Provide ongoing support to embed the new practices into the operating culture of the organization.
Do you think change management is an organizational or project responsibility? Which option do you think is best for effectively engaging with the affected stakeholders? Which option best facilitates the overall change in behaviors needed to generate a successful project outcome?

See more posts from Lynda.
See more on stakeholder management.

Posted by Lynda Bourne on: March 19, 2012 03:53 PM | Permalink

Comments (10)

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Vicki James
Great post! Thank you. I completely agree that change management belongs to the organization.

Executive management and sponsors must be at the forefront championing the project and the benefits that the project will bring. Offloading this to the project team will create a perception of management disinterest. Why should organizational staff support a project and the change it will bring if the executive management is not demonstrating support?

Project managers need to work with sponsors and executives to help them understand the risks the project will face in providing business value when support for organizational change does not come from above.

Deanne Earle
Hi Lynda,

We're in agreement that change management must be owned by the organisation. Therefore it's an organisational responsibility as the organisation must be willing and ready receive the solution developed and delivered by the project. Otherwise why do the project?

Where management of the change process sits may be up for debate depending on each organisations view and mechanism for delivering that change.

Regardless of whether it's operations or project the two areas must be synch'd and closely aligned to achieve a successful outcome. What I'm talking about here goes beyond any process. It requires project and operations to look outside their immediate sphere of responsibility and beyond the process. Strong leadership and a business focus are key.

Without this the process becomes the center of attention further entrenching ingrained beliefs and silo mentality that projects and change are difficult. When we stop concerning ourselves about the process being followed to the letter and start focusing on what the business needs supported and enabled by the process, we'll open the way for the receiving organisation to fully engage, prepare and transition from today's way of working to tomorrow's business as usual. Which after all is what delivering change through projects is all about.

Thanks, Deanne

Nina Kelley-Rumpff
I agree that the organization is responsible for the change management strategy & plan, but I also believe that the project scope must include execution of that plan, including reporting back up to the sponsor(s) when/if there are challenges with user adoption and what might be the reason for those challenges. Delivery of the product only is short-sighted.

Susmita Mitra
I have seen that it is very important that Change management is an organizational process, which is defined with buy-in from the stakeholders.

Project teams will follow that process based on the guidelines provided in the process. Having a process in place gives the team and the stakeholders confidence that we have the right information which include, scoping, estimations or cost , impact, downstream impacts to other releases.

It has helped my program to deliver the utmost value for customers and at the same time keeping senior management involved in the key decisions, when rapid changes are called for.


Padmakar Bolyapati
I agree fully with the author.

Unless the change is initiated or supported by the Senior management of the organization, there is no much impact or support that can be achieved from the other staff.

The impacts or the effects of changes (both positive and negative), the time when the benefits are expected because of the changed need to be clearly communicated to the staff who will be impact by the change. Else, a lot of resistance for the change can be expected.

Syed Moiz
Change management is organizational responsibility, but having said that project management role is to understand it to its clear meaning. Directly and Indirectly change management has tendency to impact project management in terms of scope/quality/time/cost, all the good project managers are always aligned to policies of change management being in practice. Regards

Frank Spiegel
I agree fully with the author, too.

I will add something, the idea of project portfolio management. In my opinion the effective way to implement changes is top down.

- Define a strategy and the necessary changes
- Use project portfolio management to choose the right projects to implement the strategy
- Implement the strategy via these projects

Holly Bierer
Definitely an organizational responsibility. However, I think it depends on the size of the company and the ultimate stakeholders (owners) attitude on backing the project. Working for a small company (22 employees) I was a project manager for implementing a new ERP system and had to instigate the plan for change management with the boss and continued to push for communication with the employees. It was totally worth the effort. In this case, it needed to be a joint effort to be successful.

Selwyn Swe
I agree that it is an organizational responsibility; however, in a highly projectized environment it is rarely treated this way. One thing for certain, regardless of where the responsibility lies, it is most important that there is good communication between the PM and CM roles.

Kristen Cook
I agree that it is an organizational responsibility. The project team is generally focused on the technical aspects and generally will only engage with stakeholders when they need to. Whereas, the organization should be engaging with their employees throughout the change to create awareness about what is happening, why it is happening, and help them transition effectively from the current state to the end state as quickly as possible in order to minimize disruption and get back to business as usual. Ultimately employees look to their leadership for direction. In a world with ever increasing priorities, they will seek guidance from management to understand the alignment of those priorities. When change management activities originate from the project team, employees will inevitably validate it with their management before taking action, or not depending on the response from management. There is much more to it, but this is the basic idea.

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