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Project Managers Can Make Change Stick
By Kiron D. Bondale

Organizational change management (OCM), while not a new discipline, is receiving more air time than it used to when the focus used to be on “just do it”. Whether this is the outcome of well publicized changes which didn’t get implemented as well as planned, brainwashing by consulting firms, or an evolution in thinking on the part of leadership teams, it is a positive step.

So what does this mean for a project manager?

In most organizations, the project manager’s role begin once some financial justification has been provided to initiate a change and will end once the deliverables required to implement the change have been completed and transitioned to operational team. Viewed through that lens, a project manager might feel that OCM takes place before and after their involvement.

While this is partially true, it doesn’t mean that a project manager can’t take a leadership role in setting the organization up for change success.

Here are a few of the ways in which this can happen:

  • Reminding the change leadership team of the importance of an easy-to-understand end state. Change champions might have a crystal clear vision of what they are trying to accomplish, but if that same vision is not consistently shared by those expected to adopt and sustain the change, it will become very difficult to get commitment and alignment towards the same goals. Through regular stakeholder analysis, a project manager can identify gaps in understanding and buy-in and can help to focus communication efforts from the change leadership team.
  • Ensuring that adoption and sustainment deliverables are not given a lower priority. If the project falls behind schedule or runs over budget, it might be tempting to cut back on the scope on key OCM work packages. In such cases, the project manager should engage appropriate stakeholders to identify and quantify the risks of such short cuts to avoid the “operation was a success but the patient died” syndrome.

  • Helping the change lead develop a detailed plan for delivering OCM work packages. While a high-level change plan should exist in advance of the project’s initiation, that will not be at the right level of detail to identify timing risks with key communication or procedural deliverables.

  • Ensuring an appropriate level of involvement by those affected by the change in key activities. Whether it is in requirements elicitation, user interface prototyping, desk-level procedures development, or communication messaging, active participation from those who are expected to adopt the change is a recognized good practice but may not be given the attention it needs due to competing operational or project priorities. The project manager can help to reinforce the importance of this involvement and should escalate through their defined governance escalation path if end users are not being engaged at expected levels.

Project managers are expected to go beyond just meeting the triple constraint by helping the business to realize the expected outcomes of the investments made in projects. Active involvement and support for sustainable organizational change practices is one path for them to meet those expectations.

Kiron D. Bondale, PMP, PMI-RMP has managed multiple mid-to-large-sized technology and change management projects, and has worked in both internal and professional services project management capacities. He has setup and managed Project Management Offices (PMO) and has provided project portfolio management and project management consulting services to clients across multiple industries.

Kiron is an active member of the Project Management Institute (PMI) and served as a volunteer director on the Board of the PMI Lakeshore Chapter for six years.

Kiron has published articles on Project and Project Portfolio Management in both project management-specific journals (PM Network, PMI-ISSIG journal, Projects & Profits) as well as industry-specific journals (ILTA Peer-to-peer). He has delivered almost a hundred webinar presentations on a variety of PPM and PM topics and has presented at multiple industry conferences including HIMSS, MISA and ProjectWorld. In addition to this blog, Kiron contributes articles on a monthly basis to ProjectTimes.com.

Kiron is a firm believer that a pragmatic approach to organization change that addresses process & technology, but most important, people will maximize your chances for success. You can reach Kiron at kiron_bondale@yahoo.ca

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