Navigating project changes: What is it?

by Jan Schiller

Change management is essential from organizational, project, and product perspectives. Change management is not about preventing change; change management is about identifying and then properly handling changes in a transparent, consistent, well-understood manner. Every project manager should understand the basics of project change management process. 

Many types of change

Change management applies to both the project and the project’s product. Project change management ensures the path from idea to result is understood, remains in alignment with governance/best practices, and is predictable. Product change management ensures the project’s result is clearly defined, meets quality expectations, and delivers or contributes to the intended strategy. 

Organizational change management is the process by which changes introduced by a project’s product are adopted and consists of three milestones: identifying the change, making the transition from the current state, and achieving the desired future state. 

Distinguish between the types of change management for best results.

The project change management process done properly. 

A well-defined, high-quality project change management process has five steps:

  1. Establish a change management budget. 
  2. Initiate the change: the person desiring the change completes a standard intake form as a prerequisite for completing the remaining steps.
  3. Analyze the change for impacts.
  4. Present the change and impacts to decision-makers for approval. Set thresholds that distinguish who can make a decision.  
  5. Implement the change after it is approved.

Project change logs: a project manager’s best friend.

Capture the essential elements of a requested change in a solid project management change log, one entry per requested change, and completed by the change requestor: 

  • Full details of the requested change, 
  • Name of the requestor,  
  • Date requested, 
  • Change request status (remember to define status workflow),
  • The outcome of the change decision (approved, not approved, deferred), 
  • The schedule and budget impacts (which can be ‘none’ or be a positive impact–shorter schedule, less money). 

“Full details” of the requested change should answer questions like:

  • What is the current state?
  • What is the desired change?
  • Why is the change indicated now? 
  • What problem will go away if the change is implemented? 
  • What benefit will be realized if the change is implemented?
  • What would happen if the requested change was not implemented?
  • Who will have to let go of what?
  • What will be different?
  • What would the organization miss?
  • What would the organization have to give up?
  • What does the organization stand to lose if this change is made?
  • Who needs to be involved in making the change?

The project manager’s role in project change. 

The project manager is responsible for defining, gaining, and sustaining a commitment to and consistently applying the project’s change management process. Successfully managing change requires expertise in other project management areas to be successful: a thoughtful communication plan executed in alignment with a thorough stakeholder impact analysis and carried out by a well-developed organizational development training plan. Managing change requires skillful ‘what if’ analysis, which is made possible and easy when the work plan does more than just track progress

Proper management of changes requires a project manager to value and demonstrate open, honest, timely communication, to distinguish between early, late, and middle change adopters, and to gain their first followers. 

Proper change management benefits everyone. 

The project manager and team gain credibility and integrity in the eyes of stakeholders.  Team members are happier, more productive, and develop a better bond. Application support teams view the project team as reliable and compassionate. The organization benefits from the opportunity to make an informed decision about competing elements of a project in a timely manner at each change event.  

Stakeholders have a consistent view of all changes, making it possible to discuss and understand relative priority. After some initial resistance (mitigated by focusing on early adopters first), stakeholders realize more changes are delivered more quickly and with higher quality. Their perspective changed from a negative (“Will my change be implemented?) to a positive (“When will my change be delivered?”). 

A note about tools.

While I am tool agnostic, I am not functionality agnostic. The quality of the change management process and how consistently that process is applied matters much more than the chosen tool. Make sure the tool supports your process (and not the other way around). 

Change is inevitable in a project. Managing change is a process, not a single event and mastering this process establishes credibility.


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