Change Whisperer – Gail Severini, Symphini Change Management Inc.


Crack or Chasm between Project Management and Change Management?

Recently there seems to be an increase job ads that bundle some Change Management capabilities in with Project Management.  Many experienced Change Management specialists have expressed concern that a combination could detract from the value of both.  The drivers are different and there is a gap.  The risk is that the gap represents benefits realization.  The answer lies in understanding the particular project and client environment.

An exaggeration to make the point: PMs are fantastic at getting projects installed (triple constraint recognized as scope, time and budget per PMI) – all the lights blink and motors whir.  And for mechanical changes , this is an A+.  However, if the ROI requires changing discretionary behaviour that will be wildly insufficient.  Imagine that the objective is to ‘change’ a national team of order takers into professional sales people (say investment advisors).  And if the industry is highly specialized where the deep technical knowledge of the order takers is rare and valued and their relationships with clients are strong (i.e. clients follow advisors).  Installing new sales systems, even a compensation model and sales training will not be enough to propel the order takers into new behaviours that challenge their identity and overcome their fears of failure.  And, by the way, off-the-shelf CM tactics like “describe the vision” will likely also be vastly insufficient.

Different drivers – different trajectory

The difference between the drivers of Project Managers and Change Managers in such projects is not inconsequential – they determine trajectories which may not be as noticeable during the project as they are in the course of benefits realization:

  • Project (and Program) Managers are retained to keep projects on course as designed.  As noted, the drivers are the triple constraint usually through to successful installation, i.e. systems and processes are installed, users trained, beta and pilot run, roll outs executed.  The PM’s horizon begins on Day 1 of the project and ends with the contract completion (usually installation). This is a full time and complex role in and of itself.
  • People Change Managers are retained to optimize adoption, i.e. the drivers are to ensure that not only do the Change Targets understand and are competent at the new stuff but they are committed and it has become an integrated part of the new execution, i.e. that all benefits driven through behaviour change are being realized and are sustainable. Change Managers tend see the organization as a whole (as an employee does) and the project as a temporary subset, i.e. creating this project’s change can only happen within the larger context of the organization’s past and current realities.  Furthermore, understanding current change capability and capacity requires the horizon of a CM to extend back into the past.  And ensuring sustainability requires a perspective further into the future.

Traditionally, once the logistics of the project are successfully installed then projects are typically run off and closed (consider ERP and even the mechanics of M&A) and responsibility for benefits realization is passed back to the leadership.  However, as a new colleague at Conner Partners noted to me 2 weeks ago and it continues to resonate with me: “It’s what people do when you are not (or stop) watching”.

The reality is that PMs can fully satisfy their drivers without ensuring the sustainability of the transformation, and therefore full benefits realization.  This is not to presume that all PMs operate this way – many set a higher bar – merely that the criteria to which they are held does not support, or perhaps even permit, them to recommend expenses that go beyond the triple constraint.  Only Leaders are required to adhere to the bar of benefits realization.  PMs can play an important role in helping Leaders understand the value and complexity of Change Management.

 “How to determine how much CM will pay back?” 

Let’s say that the Project Team is open to considering Change Management – how much is appropriate?

Naturally not every project includes this degree of risk and complexity – so not every project benefits from comprehensive change management.  Surely a PM can run with developmental and perhaps even some transitional change (vs transformational).   As always the key is to use the right tools for the job.

However, determining “how much CM and what forms should it take” is not a scoping exercise for a PM.  This requires an experienced CM practitioner with an array of assessment tools (that analytical minds can relate to) and a truckload of integrity and communication skills (and an enlightened leader with long term commitment to the organization).  Many CMs are reluctant to disclose such tools because they look easy enough that anyone can do it (a bit like the difference between bareback pony rides on the beach and Grand Prix Show jumping) or so subjective as to resemble snake oil.  This is part of the reason why there are so many concurrent discussions about accreditation.

When employee discretion can impact ROI, i.e. you cannot drive 100% of the benefits through compliance but need employee commitment, then projects benefit from CM.

PMs serious about considering CM in a transformational change will provide for a professional CM Risk Assessment in the planning phase. This exercise will uncover current realities in the organizations and provide data to inform discussions and decision making.

The reality is that there is one shot at getting the ROI anchored and it is within the defined scope of the project.  Without adequate People Change Management, working shoulder-to-shoulder with Program Management from beginning through to evidence of anchoring, transformational projects are not actually “finished”.

For some organizations this requires a re-definition of roles to provide for PM and CM partnering and a tangible commitment to staying with the roll out long enough to ensure benefits realization.

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2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Good points Gail. This conversation is endless because, as you mentioned PM has a distinct beginning and end perspective while CM must look way back and far forward.

I have come to see that there is the big CM which endlessly connects horizontally, forward and backward, and the layered CM that addresses shorter time-frames and connection to hands on tasks.

But then we have the overlaps of task change and behavior change. Neither stands alone.

Here is my blog post about layering for anyone interested-http://horizontalchange.com/2010/07/change-management-layer-it-on-or-peel-it-off-to-the-side/.

Comment by Garrett Gitchell

This post fit right in with a couple Scoops I put together recently on the big task (implementation) and achievement / realization of the PM & CM roles.

Thanks for posting a meaty piece, as usual, on ‘the course of benefits realization.” ~ Deb

Comment by Deb Nystrom, Reveln (@RevelnConsults)




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