Every change initiative is a project — “a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique … result” according to the Project Management Institute.
Because it is limited by a deadline and a budget, with expected outcomes of an acceptable level of quality, a project isn’t really manageable by the same methods one might apply in day-to-day business operations. Keeping deadlines, costs and quality of work synchronized is challenging, and when a technical project forces a change in people’s work habits, human issues can derail the technology.
Project management, often thought of as a highly technical discipline, offers several tools to implement organizational change.
Stakeholder analysis: Before planning, budgeting or scheduling comes one all-important step: determining who will be affected by the change project. Some stakeholders are obvious: the people leading the change, those paying for it, as well as the end-user of the technology being implemented. Project managers look for others who may be impacted and if overlooked may become a source of resistance, and then plan how to deal with everyone who may be affected by a change process or outcomes. Individuals and groups outside the organization may be stakeholders, such as vendors, customers or members of the community.
Scope definition and management: Clarity about what’s in and outside of a planned change can reduce resistance and keep the initiative on schedule. Project management practitioners rely on early and complete initiative scoping to level-set expectations and prevent conflict and disappointment. They create work breakdown structures, a tool to identify all of the tasks in the project and uncover which ones are most important to attack first. This keeps subsequent planning and scheduling realistic. A scope approved by the executives overseeing the project also gives the team working on the initiative the ability to say no to plan alterations that may cause the project to go over schedule or over budget.
Project planning and schedule monitoring: The ability to stay on schedule directly correlates with change management effectiveness, according to Prosci, a business process engineering research firm based in Colorado. According to its 2009 study, initiatives that stayed on schedule were nearly three times more likely to be well received by participants in the change program than those that ran past the original deadline.
Communications planning: Advance planning to communicate a change to all stakeholders — as well as the timing and mode of delivery for messages — is a best practice, according to change management guru Chip Bell, who said leaders can “Overcommunicate to stop rumors before they start.”
“Scope facilitation, communications planning and stakeholder management represent the art of project management,” said Deborah B. Crawford, president of project management training firm PM College and a former executive director of the Project Management Institute. “While the science side of the discipline — cost and schedule analysis — can seem daunting to the beginner, these skills are accessible and quickly implemented to make an immediate impact on the project at hand.”
A 2011 PM College study on the value of project management training underscores that impact: Companies surveyed indicated that training improved stakeholder satisfaction by 29 percent, and schedule performance by 27 percent. Training a change initiative team in project management skills as a first step can lay the groundwork for a successful implementation.
Jeannette Cabanis-Brewin is editor-in-chief of PM Solutions Research, the research arm of project management consulting and training firm PM Solutions, and the editor and co-author of numerous books, including Optimizing Human Capital. She can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.