According to change guru Peter Senge (1999), most change initiatives fail simply because they fail to produce hoped-for results. Given that project management is all about changing the status quo, effective change management is critical to project success.
Whether this is the latest ‘flavour of the month’ programs that senior management rolls out, implementation of an IT system or an internally-driven team initiative, it is important that the change and expectations are effectively managed.
Current thinking indicates that good managers are the key to successful change management. In general, managers who see the need for change are usually correct in their assessment. Senge (1999) says: “companies that fail to sustain significant change end up facing crises. By then their options are greatly reduced.”
It can be quite difficult for managers to view their work on change in a holistic fashion. Personal attitudes and political agendas can lead to bias towards HR issues or IT issues specifically preventing the big picture focus.
Based on this I have constructed 10 success factors to help project managers manage change in small projects or large organisations:
Factor 1 – Plan first
Take time to understand the central need for change. Know what you are trying to do and why. Think about the links of the change to real-life problems and create a vision of what it will look like when those problems are resolved.
Factor 2 – Involve the Team
Create opportunities – especially in the early stages – to discuss change with the team. This will not only create enthusiasm for change but also be a source of ideas for improved processes and ways of communicating to others. Negotiation will be easier if the team is on board from the start.
Factor 3 – Support the Team
Introduce the change clearly to the team. Explain the current performance level and why the change is needed, what it will involve and the objectives. Reassure staff throughout the change process – particularly around issues of changing roles.
Factor 4 – Lead by Example
Showing your own commitment to the change will act as a signpost for others in the team to also commit. Make your commitment evident in the decisions you make.
Factor 5 – Put Yourself in the Team’s Shoes
Try to anticipate what will be the key issues that concern team members. Plan how you can best deal with them should they arise. Concerns will most often be about changed ways of working, new reporting structures, changes to job roles and services and unfamiliar systems or tools.
Factor 6 – Manage Resistance with Compassion
Resistance to change may be frustrating but it is a natural human reaction. Team members might resist change if they think that job security, the way the work, or work patterns will change. Managers need to source, analyse acknowledge, respond to and deal with staff concerns throughout the change process.
Factor 7 – Communication is Essential
Tailor your communication to the audience and their needs. Make it frequent and use different methods tailored to different preferences and accessibility. Methods might include one-on-one briefings, workshops, formal training programmes, advertising, briefing papers, blogs, RSS-feeds, e-mail and intranet postings.
Factor 8 – Review and Evaluate
Review and evaluation throughout the change process is vital. Continually check objectives and achievement against them. Celebrate ongoing success with the team and identify where you can improve.
Factor 9 – Know What You’re Up Against
Change fails most often due to lack of understanding of the need for change, setting unrealistic goals, poor planning, and insufficient communication. Failure to properly manage change leads to problems with trust in change in the future.
Factor 10 – Don’t Forget PM Tools
Great project managers use good tools to achieve outcomes. Tools such as SWOT, Gantt charts, Risk Assessment, Communications Planning and a realistic schedule will be useful in planning and delivering the smooth transition to success.
Change is all around us, and is happening every day. To some, this is exciting; they find it thrilling to be part of the action and to keep up with trends. But, to others, it can be threatening or even frightening.
As greater focus is placed on achieving business success and as projects are becoming more complex, project managers need to adopt the principles of change management in order to deliver the desired outcomes. If done right, change can be a force for ongoing innovation, growth and success. Implementing the right factors to manage change successfully gives teams and organisations new skills that set them up to be change ready in the future.