Change Management for Project Managers

02 October, 2014

Project Management Professional (PMP)® exam students will be familiar with the concept of change management. They will recall the Integration knowledge area from their PMP® training and the Perform Integrated Change Control process that is part of monitoring and controlling.

To get project management certification, you need to understand that any changes to the baseline scope, schedule or budget have repercussions across the project and must be carefully considered before allowing the change into the system (see our previous article). A cut to the project’s budget for instance might mean that new staff cannot be hired and the project will take longer to complete. Additional scope requirements will definitely affect the schedule and often the budget.

However, take a step back for a moment and look at your project as an entity. You might be producing a unique product, service or result that transforms the organization in some way. After all, day-to-day operations maintain the status quo, but projects are the instruments that effect change.

Project Managers can help to ensure that their projects are successful by shrewd stakeholder management. For instance, your company might be used to producing large, bespoke products that are largely hand-built. If your project is tasked with creating a small, consumer good, then the whole manufacturing mind-set will have to change. Similarly, if you are creating an IT system that will automate several manual office processes, the administration staff may not welcome this change to their routines.

In general, people are afraid of, or at least reluctant to, change. The organizational behaviour guru, Edgar Schein, describes two types of fear: survival anxiety and learning anxiety. Survival anxiety is what makes us willing to change. If we think that we cannot go on with the status quo, then we become receptive to alternatives. If our product is losing market share at an alarming rate, then we will have to accept that it needs to be updated in some way. Similarly, if low-skilled jobs are hard to find, a person may be more willing to explore training options.

Unfortunately, enthusiasm for change is tempered by learning anxiety. This is particularly true of experts, who are at the top of their game in the current set up. If I am a whizz at Microsoft’s Office package, I will be reluctant to move to Apple’s equivalent, because I will have to return to novice status. Old mechanics often become enchanted with classic cars, because they recall the days when they knew what was going on and mysterious electronic control units were unheard of.

For change to be successful, Schein argues that survival anxiety must exceed learning anxiety. However, he also makes the point that the change agent – or you, the Project Manager – should focus on reducing learning anxiety, than on ratcheting up the survival anxiety. If your project has been approved, it means that the company has reacted to some form of survival anxiety and has set about doing something about it. However, the Project Manager needs to be aware of the learning anxiety aspect and should budget for some training and support activities to facilitate a smooth transition into operations.

It helps to be aware of the change process. Another scholar, Kurt Lewin, describes three distinct stages to making a change:

  • Unfreezing. To get people amenable to change, the Project Manager needs to create and communicate a vision. S/he also needs to establish a sense of urgency – this change must happen. It helps to get supporters behind the change – enthusiasm for the project creates its own momentum.
  • Movement: The Project Manager needs to map out the steps to make the transition and guide the people concerned through the stages. Taking small steps – just like the incremental and iterative project management techniques – allows the people making the change to experience small wins along the way, reducing learning anxiety.
  • Refreezing: Once the transition has occurred, it needs to be institutionalized. There is a tendency for people to try a new thing out and decide to revert to the previous way of doing things. Follow up support is vital to make this new product or process the people’s comfort zone from now on. A Project Manager can help this process by holding post-mortem meetings with stakeholders. Are those affected by the change aware of the benefits of the new process? Are they experiencing less drudgery in their roles? Do they feel that the new way has improved their lives?

Of course, any wise Project Manager will be aware that this sort of thinking needs to be in place from the start of the project. The stakeholders should have a contribution to the requirements and the product should reflect their concerns. Because, while we know that people fear change, we also know that they hate surprises. If a new process is suddenly imposed on a group, they will push back against it. However, if they have had an input into the project and can reflect on the coming change during the project’s lifecycle, there is a much better chance that the change process will be successful.

So, before you immerse yourself in the triple constraint, ask yourself what change is my project making and what stakeholders will be affected? Taking steps to prepare them for the change will make the difference between a successful project and a group of unhappy stakeholders.

Stakeholder management is covered in Velopi’s PMP® exam preparation courses. If this is of interest to you, please visit our training page or contact us directly. For your convenience, our PMP® training is carried out in Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway.

By Velopi Seamus Collins

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