Why a top-notch Project Manager should first and foremost be an effective Change Manager
Over the past several decades, project management as a discipline has gained a lot of attention. While first developed specifically for use in the construction industry, project management as a methodology has become valued within any and every industry where a task is involved, from graphic design to finance and healthcare.
Due to the accepted value of the role in companies, project managers are in high demand. According to the Project Management Institute, in the United States alone there will be an estimated 6.2 million project manager jobs between 2010 and 2020. As the job title “Project Manager” becomes increasingly common in organizations, it will become increasingly competitive, demanding PMs to increase their skill sets.
So, what makes for a top-notch project manager, one who stands out above all the others? Is it a sharp suit, or fancy tie? Is it one who hosts colleagues over at their home for beer and pizza when the game is on?
The best performing project managers are those that can wield the power to be effective change managers. Change management is different from but related to project management, in the sense that eating utensils are related to a plate; they are distinct from one another, and can help on their lonesome with reducing mess during mealtime, but when used in tandem they provide the greatest success when dining.
You are now probably asking yourself Isn’t management just telling people what to do, so what’s the difference between change management and project management?
Project management in a nutshell
Project managers are responsible for planning, assigning, monitoring and delivering completed projects to a client, usually by dividing tasks to team members and deciding which tools should be used to execute the project.
The project manager is responsible for the installation of plans, procedures, standards and the like to see a project completed with success. Essentially, PMs are supposed to design the structure of and handle how tasks are going to help a project be completed.
Change management in a nutshell
Change management is the personal implementation of the practices required for an organizational shift to see a project through, with as little a challenge presented to team members.
Basically, whereas project management addresses the ideas and planning aspect of organizational roles and deciding the means necessary for completing a project, change management addresses the human aspect of communicating duties and monitoring how well personnel are performing their tasks, supporting the individual team members.
Can and should PMs also be effective change managers?
Quick answer: yes and yes. But, why would this even be a point worth making?
Well, besides the expense of hiring separate managers for each organizational role, the most effective project manager can and should be able to handle both the responsibilities of managing a company’s resources to see a project through, while paying attention to and addressing how the team members are handling new tasks.
Any new project involves change to a degree. Whether it is a repetition of similar past duties for a new client, or an entirely novel campaign, things need to be done differently each time a new project is underway. Change is an organizational constant.
An experienced PM is already well versed in the delegation of duties and communicating planned processes to their team. They are the ones steering the ship. So, it should logically follow that the better they manage the performance of their team, the better they are doing their job. This is where the integration of change management as a practice turns an ordinary project manager into a superstar.
Change management in project management is when a manager doesn’t just know what to tell who to do, but maintaining that personnel are abreast of upcoming plans, and are prepared to take on new tasks before execution.
As Susanne Madsen, the author of the book “The Power of Project Leadership” states: “A good project manager isn’t just someone who can deliver a new product to the client, but someone who ensures that the client embraces the new product and uses it as intended. This entails building the new product with the end user in mind and to continually engage the end user throughout the process.”
According to the Project Management Institute in last year’s Pulse of the Profession study, only 64% of organizational projects are successful, i.e. are completed both on time and within the planned budget. That leaves over one third of projects failing to complete as planned!
This suggests that a sizeable chunk of project managers can benefit from integrating as many project-helpful practices as possible into their management schemes, and integrating change management allows for PMs to have a holistic handle on their project resources.
Integrating change management into project management
Any management professional should be in some shape or form a “people person” because they need to communicate tasks, SOPs and company culture (amongst other duties) to their subordinates, and need to relay performance updates and reports to executives. Change management is essentially ensuring that the manager is truly being a people person, in the sense that stellar task completion and personal satisfaction for each team member is a top priority.
Change management is already practically inherent to organizational management as a whole, as managers should care about their personnel’s adaptability and overall happiness when undergoing a change in the organization, such as a fresh project. However, incorporating change management is a deliberate step toward taking the concept of employee well-being seriously.
Being a change manager as a PM isn’t just about monitoring employee satisfaction, though that is a huge component. If employees are unhappy at work, turnover rates are going to soar, which of course is a huge threat to deadline and planned project budget. Everyone is different, and some employees that are struggling with organizational change may not voice their concerns.
A PM that has integrated change management practices keeps their finger on the personal pulses of their personnel, and will be regularly identifying where pain points exist and take steps to solve them.
Change management: for the health of your future projects
Consider this: your team are people first, employees second, and research shows that most people are fundamentally resistant to change, or plainly slow to adapt – which is natural. A skilled PM should be well versed in not only communicating the what, when, how and who for project planning, but also communicating to staff the why tasks are being assigned, and provide guidance when staff struggle or determine to change task assignments between personnel.
Again, Susanne Madsen suggests an effective way to overcome resistance to change: “The best way to do so is to listen to employees and to make them feel safe and open-minded about the proposed changes. Sometimes project managers also need to slow down the rate of change in order to win people over.”
In this infographic, you can see that the barriers to organizational change are almost equally shared between management and employees. A PM that first pursues change management before all else will be tackling both ends.
When it comes to approaching change management as a project manager, think of it in this way – a project manager is a director; a change manager is a leader. Through harnessing both direction and leadership qualities, your project manager will have greater odds of delivering projects on time and under budget. Your people are just as important as the process.
There is a wealth of information online for how to incorporate the principles of change management into project management. However, there are three simple steps a PM should take to begin the journey of becoming an effective change manager:
1. Coherently communicating company vision changes to personnel
2. Focusing on critical success factors of personnel – paying attention to performance changes
Change can be challenging, but it should never be impossible, or lead to staff getting burnt out. While a PM should always have organizational success in mind, they should understand that the organization is made up of people, and during transitions people can become confused or frustrated if it is new territory.
However, as an effective change manager, the PM will know what to look for in employee performance and how to guide them through an organizational shift.
Pavel is a doctor who happens to have an MBA degree and a strong passion for writing. "I am a do-it-all kind of person: When I am not writing, I am busy curing people, when I am not curing people, I tend to kill WCG competitions. Life is fun, and full of wonders: Do what you enjoy most, even if it’s everything at once."