Role of Project Managers in Change Management

Because change is an organizational constant affecting everyone, we assume everyone knows about change management.  However change management requires more than the natural flow of change in an organization. Change management (emphasis on the management) begins with a desired behavioral outcome and works methodically toward that goal by re-shaping an organization’s culture or way of doing business.

Change management — it’s hard to do
If you have ever tried to change your own behavior—quit smoking, stick with a diet, exercise more, relax, spend more time with your family—you know is it a constant challenge even when the reasons to change are extremely persuasive. It is even harder by a factor of 10 when trying to change the behavior of an organization. But it can be done and project managers have a significant role to play in making the change successful.

Why is change so difficult?
“It involves overcoming initial resistance or inertia and shifting or dismantling the existing ‘mindset’. Defense mechanisms have to be bypassed, fears recognized and dealt with.”  (Article by: Joaquim P. Menezes in ITWorld Canada). Continuing in his article on Why Managing Change is Difficult, he reports that: “Last year, in an IBM survey of 765 CEOs, more than 80 per cent admitted their organizations haven’t been very successful at managing change in the past.” OK – so Why?

  • The known is comfortable
  • Change requires thought ; many behaviors are automatic and require no conscious effort
  • Some people resist change in principle
  • Change is scary—you don’t know what you will win or lose
  • You may fail in the new world order

How project managers can facilitate (manage) change
Your role will differ depending on whether the change is your idea or is coming from higher in the organization. What you can do and the most effective way to do it also depends on the nature of the change. Is it a change in process or a change in culture?

Process change lends itself to proof of concept and numerical evidence. If a new way to organize a team, define a project, or use a new tool set is the change you want to manage, you can develop persuasive documentation and examples to prod people along. You can also provide training and support to smooth the transition to a new way of doing business.

  • Gather data on before-and-after that is relevant to your project objectives
  • Provide a role model
  • Recognize and reward examples of the desired new behaviors
  • Be a teacher or mentor
  • Remember that learning new processes and tools takes time—practice patience

Changing corporate culture is more challenging. 
Folks who have been around project management for a long time—perhaps they even have a bit of gray in their hair 😉 have seen sweeping culture changes in both organizational management styles (Theory X, Theory Y, Theory Z) and organizations in general (more women and minorities in powerful positions, 24/7 availability, rising individualism, remote access to staff, services and training). Or, the need to change may reflect new economic or social realities or the requirements of new organizational leaders.

When organizational leaders want cultural change, they look to their key staff, such as project managers, to get onboard and support the change. Project managers become change managers, too. The Project manager’s role requires:

  • Understanding the required cultural change and its rationale
  • Learning how the success of the cultural change will be measured and sharing that information with your team
  • Developing a plan that includes objectives, explanations, communication, and measurable goals
  • Brainstorming with your staff on methods, techniques, and behaviors to come into compliance
  • Pushing gently in the new direction while acknowledging previous behaviors
  • Teaching and mentoring using encouragement, stories, and a sense of humor
  • Seeking assistance from change management experts either in your own HR department or asking for outside training
  • Balancing rewards and discipline—always remembering that change is difficult and frightening for some people
  • Giving feedback and being open to getting feedback

ITWorld Canada
Why Managing Change is Difficult by Joaquim P. Menezes
Managing Cultural Changes in Your Organization by Dr. Kenneth D. Shere, The Aerospace Corporation
Management: Theory X, Y, and Z

One Response to “Role of Project Managers in Change Management”

  1. Finding a Content Management System Solution – Part 2 « Fear No Project – A Project Management Blog Says:

    […] past I have talked about change management and you will find some helpful hints and practices here: Role of Project Managers in Change Management, Project Management PMBOK – Monitoring and Change Control, and Planning Your […]

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