Change Whisperer – Gail Severini, Symphini Change Management Inc.

Innovating Project and Change Management to generate better results—Book Review

Few organizations have figured out how to do strategy execution well.  One of the enigmas of implementation continues to be the gap between project management and change management.  This post is a review of a new book that tackles this very challenge. The Next Evolution—Enhancing and Unifying Project and Change Management: The Emergence One Method for Total Project Success is by Thomas Jarocki (Brown & Williams Publishing LLC, NJ, USA, 2011).

First off, this is a book by a consulting and training firm about its methodology.  In many respects it is a sales tool.  However, it also offers solid reviews of both project and change management and a view on how they can be integrated for better results.  It is a great read for any leader or practitioner who thinks he or she knows either subject well or who is looking for ways to improve integration and overall Strategy Execution.

Jarocki does have his biases and they are well described and generally well defended.  There are many places where I disagree or would expand.  However, in my mind, that is a wonderful thing.  Books such as this provide a platform, a level plateau, for all of us to take footing on, to challenge our own biases and to potentially expand our own approaches.

This book is actually quite reminiscent of “Project Change Management: Applying Change Management to Improvement Projects” (1) co-written by Daryl Conner, which Jarocki references. However, he further details a structured PM-driven methodology.

Why should we care?

Jarocki clearly defines the case for innovation. Many of the phrases in the preface really resonated with me:

  • “… total project success is not only about delivering on time, within budget and according to spec.  Total project success also means ensuring that the fruits of the effort are fully adopted by the organization, and that the business value realization is achieved promptly and decisively.” So true—many PMs seem to believe that the triple constraint will lead to realization and it does not automatically do so.  In fact, most often the business results don’t start to materialize until after the project team is disassembled.
  • “Rather than complement each other, these two critical project disciplines often wind up competing with each other over roles and responsibilities …” This feels very déjà vu.  In my own experience, most relatively mature organizations have implemented project management capability in some form or another; very few have organized change management capability and fewer still have integrated these or innovated beyond integration.
  • “many assumptions, models and approaches that project managers and change managers rely on are actually decades old and are simply not well matched for many of today’s faster-paced companies.” Yes.  There is much opportunity for innovation.

To the degree that execution still leaves ROI on the table every leader and practitioner must be diligent in finding better ways to deliver change.

Great debate

Experienced business leaders, change management and project management practitioners will recognize many of the core challenges that Jarocki discusses.  Three caught my attention: the differences between theory and practice, which discipline should lead, and what is the current state of change management and where is it going.

Theory and Practice:

A charge is often leveled against change management that it is too theoretical—too difficult to apply broad concepts.  Jarocki notes that “John Kotter’s eight-step model is an excellent model for executives involved in leading transformation change.  But for a standard, incremental change project such as an IT upgrade, the model offers little concrete guidance on the specific change management activities project team members would need to engage in conjunction with other project activities.” (p61). I would go a step further to say that even, or perhaps particularly, transformational change requires “concrete guidance” and that few strategy execution approaches can satisfy.

Jarocki’s combined method is very tactical, very focused on implementation. It offers a single process, modified to blend project management and change management together. It is a highly structured, “how to” process that draws heavily from Jarocki’s EFP implementation experience. (This is not the only structured approach to change management by the way—Prosci has offered a well-documented methodology for years that is great for transitional change and integrates fairly easily into projects.)

Who leads:

The “Project Triad” (the role governance between sponsor, project manager, and change leader) is an interesting discussion on the dynamics between the three (p116). There is a strong bias to project management as the dominant discipline, “leading,” which has friction for me. A quote from Seth Godin rings in my head: “As usual, when confronted with two obvious choices, it’s the third choice that pays.” (“Trading in your pain”).

In my world, the only legitimate “leader” is the business. All implementation resources serve the business (the leader in whose division the results will accrue, not necessarily the division with the budget). We do not lead, we serve. Notwithstanding this, Jarocki does provide some great insights as to the challenges in getting the business to lead well.

State and direction of change management:

In the sections “Current Trends in Change Management” (p57) and “Why Change Management has failed to deliver” (p60), Jarocki makes some very caustic remarks about change management. Some are legitimate and some I take issue with.

  • My own point of departure is the paragraph that most resonates with me: “Change management is a less mature discipline than is project management, and there are no widely recognized governing bodies, nor is there even much clarity about what actually constitutes “change management.” Therefore, the field of change management is paradoxically evolving and “devolving” simultaneously” (p57). This is a fair assessment.
  • True, there are no currently “widely recognized governing bodies” but this underestimates the emergence of two organizations gaining global traction extraordinarily quickly: The Association of Change Management Practitioners and the Change Management Institute (with an excellent Competency Model, by the way).
  • The difference in maturity between the disciplines, in my opinion, is partly due to longevity and partly due to the fact that change management deals with far more complexity than does project management. Project management deals with the quantitative mechanics of implementation—those relatively more measureable and predictable tasks. Change management, on the other hand, addresses the very dynamic intangibles (usually labeled innocuously as “adoption”) that actually encompass complex individual and organizational motivations. This is the reason why we all, even Jarocki (p40), write our own definitions of change management, to contextualize what we are trying to accomplish. Jarocki’s agenda, though, is given away in his first line “To help project management…”
  • Jarocki’s bias to project management as the dominant discipline takes on full steam in these sections. Further to my thoughts on “Who Leads” above, in an ideal world I disagree—it is not project management. Actually, neither project management nor change management should drive—both must serve. Only the business leader whose department is responsible for accruing the benefits of the change has the legitimate right to lead. This requires different mindsets—realization focused not installation focused. And, by the way, neither PM or CM is sufficient—patching them together still leaves gaping holes.
  • We have moved our own methodology further—to focus on Strategy Execution and incorporate additional capabilities. In application, we meet organizations where they are. Sometimes we are retained to build execution capability, sometimes to run transformational change and sometimes to remediate failing programs. An organization facing transformational change does not always have bandwidth to renovate its approach to execution. We make execution recommendations, with full disclosure as to the implications we foresee, and fully support the executive’s decisions.

Summary—read the book

This is an important discussion. I recommend this book to practitioners in both fields. We all think we know what the other does, but Jarocki provides us with a level playing field to discuss against. No one will agree with all of the points, but this is where the real opportunities lie for all of us to explore and expand our capability.


(1)    “Project Change Management: Applying Change Management to Improvement Projects”, H. James Harrington, Daryl R. Conner, Nicholas L. Horney, McGraw-Hill, New York, 2000

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2 Comments so far
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What a thorough and fair (I personally would have had a hard time there) critique of this book.

I have approached this PM/CM issue many times in my blog (in fact I, like Thomas, have called CM immature, but for entirely different reasons). Two things I have noticed, one you covered in your direction section- PM is clear, measurable and “easy” to manage, CM is not (and because it deals with people cannot be… completely). The uncovered thing is that packaging CM, in the same ways that PM is packaged, sells.

It sells because it tends to follow along with the way things are done process-wise. It layers right over what is being done already. It only rocks the boat a little.

True transformational change that requires big process, structure and behavioral movement must tip the boat over and re-right it.

I liked your use of the word caustic. CM can be an irritation for project managers, and anyone with a project management focus, to the point of causticity. This may be turf defense vs. future orientation. That’s a shame. it can be an easy partnership.

One other point that I think is worth considering- PM’s like to lead; CM’s like to guide. If that is true then CM likely needs to be placed higher and broader than PM- no one needs to “report” to anyone.

Then PM’s get to lead the charge with tactics and CM’s can manage long and short term strategy and logistics. And we will hope leaders are ready and willing to participate.

Comment by Garrett Gitchell

Hey Garrett, thanks for your comments. Anyone who is paying attention here will find your blog in my blog roll and it’s there for a reason. Much of what you have written and we have talked about (on this subject and others) keeps me thinking and I really appreciate that. I especially respect that you say what you think.

For anyone who wants more on this subject, look up “Change Management Models” on Garrett’s blog:

Comment by Gail Severini ©

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