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Progressive, agile projects need change management


Melanie Franklin

Co-Chair, Change Management Institute UK


Gillian Perry

Co-Chair, Change Management Institute UK

Intentionally managing change is key to reducing the risk that a project investment is wasted. Benefits come from using the project deliverables to work in a better way.

Projects are now being evaluated on a wider range of metrics than in the past. Clients have moved from success metrics such as the project being on-time, on-budget and meeting quality criteria to a set of metrics that reflect what has been achieved as a result of the project, not just the final output that the project achieved.

The new metrics include:

  • improved customer satisfaction
  • improved employee engagement
  • lower costs
  • higher revenue

To achieve this, project managers (PMs) have a wider responsibility than just the ‘go-live’ date. It is what happens once the project has launched that matters to clients.

Have things improved? How so? Are things easier? Are they selling more? Have their costs reduced? Change management fills the gap between project launch and realisation of benefits.

Project managers must embrace change management

Change management techniques and activities can benefit PMs by:

Enabling easier implementation of outputs from agile projects. PMs can plan the launch of products from each completed sprint as a well-run routine, with everyone clear on exactly how to hand-over products to users.

Improving risk management for any type of project, as the management of change specifically addresses the risk that the benefits from the original investment will not be realised.

Increasing the relationship building ability of the PM as it is the change that clients are trying to achieve, so PMs who share this objective are on the same page as their clients. PMs who can help achieve this new way of working are more valuable than those who just hand over the project deliverables. Projects provide the business with the tangible elements of change. They create outputs, which are the means to change, but on their own they do not generate change. Change management, however, delivers new ways of working. It encourages motivated staff who are willing to work differently. Thus, project management plus change management creates real change.

Agile project management is changing the game

Agile project management means more change is being created, more frequently throughout the project lifecycle. We no longer have a single launch date, with plenty of time to prepare. To avoid getting left behind we must help our customers create new ways of working at the same pace that agile projects deliver.

Change management is risk management

Too many projects are deemed to have failed, even when they delivered on time and to budget, as the investment has not generated the expected payback. There is an urgent need to close the gap between the value promised in the business case and the benefits realised. Integrating change management activities into the project plan is a risk mitigation strategy.

As one of our thought leaders passionately argued: “Resistance to change is the biggest risk to benefits realisation.” Change management activities reduce this ‘benefits risk’ by ensuring that the project deliverables become a valuable part of organisational change.

Change management makes projects better

Change management is not more work for the PM. Change management is a series of carefully curated conversations that generate awareness of the need for change, understanding the benefits of the change and creating the desire to make the change happen. Effective PMs already have these conversations, but this emphasis on creating new ways of working must be captured in the project plan so it can be tracked, just like any other deliverable.

Change management increases credibility of PMs

PMs may worry about whether or not they have the credibility and authority to suggest the actions needed for changing business as usual. Working together, PMs and change managers can help the business understand what steps in the current process will no longer be needed, as well as giving them a description of the new capabilities and constraints that help them re-imagine how they will work. 

By overseeing the process of change, the PM becomes a trusted partner to the business, appreciated for their knowledge of how the business can get the best out of the new features.

The trusted PM can hear first-hand if there are difficulties in incorporating the project deliverables into business processes. This provides significant support to anyone in the business who is being asked to create change alongside their overwhelming list of business-as-usual responsibilities.

One integrated project and change management plan

The team need an integrated project and change plan with activities to encourage people to practice new ways of working, build a sense of acceptance for change and participate in opportunities to review and redesign their ways of working.

Measure outcomes not outputs

Performance measures need to change. Existing project measures are:

  • Creation of deliverables listed in business case
  • Achieving deadlines and budgets
  • Meeting quality criteria

In future, there should be a focus on questioning business impact as a design criterion when developing and testing project deliverables. PMs must ensure that measures that relate to benefits predicted in the business case are part of the everyday conversation of how the project is performing.

Resources for managing change

As a closer alignment between project management and change management develops, resources from the Change Management Institute, who are committed to providing practical guidance on how to manage change, can help to bring these two branches of management together for successful, benefit-realised projects.

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