Organizational Change Management in Projects

Professional Project Managers are experts in change management. Project Change Management. Changes in scope, budget and schedule are identified, analyzed, approved and woven into the project plan.

But Organizational Change Management (OCM) is a different concept which is just as critical to the success of the project. What impact will the project product have on the organization? Is the organization ready to accept the product of the project? Are users ready for the new system? How do you measure acceptance of the new system?

OCM needs to be part of any modern project plan. There needs to be specific attention paid to the impact the project will have on the organization. User training is just one element of organizational change management. Successful project managers need to go several steps further. They need to identify the different communications avenues and key stakeholders throughout the organization that can have an impact on the acceptance of the new system. Are they in the loop? What are their concerns?

Different departments will have different concerns regarding the project product. One department may be concerned about having adequate training for its users, but another department may be more concerned with the impact on data flows, and another department may be more concerned with the impact on organizational processes. A great project manager will uncover the specific impacts on each of the key stakeholders and their groups, and have a plan to address each one individually.

In addition to training, things like requirements sessions to allow for user input, lunch and learns, and the design of specific impact statements to measure the impact of the project product in a quantifiable way. If you can’t measure it, you can’t see it. The use of surveys and other customer feedback collection methods are a key component of any effective OCM strategy.

As with every other project management discipline, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. There are several OCM methods and practices that have been proven successful in the past and are taught as a business discipline. There is one developed by an organization called Prosci.  It is the called the ADKAR model: Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability, and Reinforcements. This model has been used successfully by many organizations and has a well-defined training and delivery mechanism. There are other models as well, so there is no need for Project Managers to reinvent the wheel when deciding how to handle OCM in their projects.

Organizational Change Management is a critical success factor for modern projects. A good project manager will be mindful of it. A great project manager will apply proven OCM principles and engage OCM savvy resources as part of their effort. Project success is more than finishing the project on budget and on schedule. It also includes making sure your organization is ready for the change your project brings and embraces it to its fullest.

The PMO as an Agent of Change

Project Management Offices (PMOs) are uniquely positioned to be agents of change within an organization.

Change is hard.  And change is everywhere. Change is one of the most difficult things businesses do.  Project Managers can plan for the change, they can execute the science of the change, but there can be a missing element for business change to be truly successful.  It is the “art” of change, and it has to do with people.

People need to accept the change.  And there are plenty of change methodologies and books and training about how to go about executing successful change.  However, within an organization, you need skilled people to implement change.  A Change Manager or a Change Management Organization is ideal.  A PMO can also be an agent of change.

Think about it.  A PMO is staffed with professional Project Managers.  These are people who get things done for a living.  If the PMO is not taking an active role in implementing change, change will fail.  But a PMO is not, by default, equipped to lead effective change initiatives.  I mean, the science of change, yes.  But not the art.  There are soft skills and leadership skills needed to sell change, to lead people through change, to help an organization embrace and accept change.  And while senior leadership is ultimately responsible, the PMO can help “where the rubber meets the road”.  The PMO is uniquely positioned on the front line of change, and can help implement a successful change initiative.  You just need to make it part of its charter.

The charter of a PMO defines what it does.  If playing an active role in change initiatives is part of the charter, the PMO will then endeavor to hire and train its Project Managers on the skills necessary to support change.  Most of those are already in the DNA of a good Project Manager.  But in most cases you have to build on that.  You have to provide the skills and training needed to be a successful change agent.  These soft skills can be taught and improved with training and practice.

Effective change management can be taught to all levels of an organization’s leadership.  But there is one group that is uniquely positioned to have the greatest impact.  And that group is the PMO.  All major initiatives should run through this group, and a member of this group should be assigned to lead them.  Making sure this group accepts its responsibility for the success of change, above and beyond the key performance indicators of their project, is a critical success factor.  Implementing the new system is not enough.  Adoption and acceptance of the change are also key.  The PMO needs to expand its scope to include these.  And PMO Project Managers are well qualified to lead change.