Treat Your Change As a Project

Jun 26, 2011 4 Comments by

Sometimes the work of Change Agents gets labeled as being “soft” stuff.

I agree that the best Change Agents have great “soft skills” in the areas of communication, adult learning, facilitation and problem-solving. But another set of skills that are often associated with project management are equally critical to a successful change effort.

I encourage Change Agents to consider their work in project terms and cover these four execution responsibilities to avoid having all of their “soft” work go for naught:

  1. Define and manage change activities
  2. Define and execute the right change timing
  3. Ensure the change is given proper resources
  4. Ensure Change Agents have appropriate access

In today’s post, I’ll dig into the first of these four critical requirements that Change Agents can borrow from the field of project management.

1. Define and Manage Change Activities: List all the activities needed to accomplish the work of guiding your change. Consider the work needed to do these important tasks:

  • Ensure change alignment at all levels from the business sponsors and executive team through the various levels of department managers and location managers who will be impacted or involved in the change. Also consider verifying alignment with at least a representative sample of the working-level stakeholders who will be a part of rolling out the change.
  • Communicate with stakeholders and team members about the change. Building awareness early is critical to gaining people’s interest and attention. If you wait too long to build momentum, it will be hard to fit your change into their priorities when the time comes for stakeholders to attend training or participate in other activities that build their readiness to adopt the change.
  • Training is one of the primary means by which stakeholders get ready to adopt a change. This is especially true in the case of technology-based changes or those that involve significant adjustment to business processes, policies or performance expectations. Your change initiative may need to leverage online training, help desk support, hands-on labs or even classroom training events. In each case, make sure the change-related activities make it into the project plan or they will probably not get the resources or attention they need.

Break it Down Now: Split each activity down into manageable tasks using a technique called “activity decomposition” to create a “work breakdown structure“.  Project Managers use these techniques to make sure that the work is defined at a level of granularity which allows it to be tracked.

PM’s also use these processes to verify that the people working on a given set of activities will have an adequate shared understanding of the tasks and the expected outcomes of the effort. Change Agents who focus on activity definition will benefit from this clarity in exactly the same way.

Summary: Guiding change is hard enough when project execution factors are well-covered.  It can be downright impossible if these items are not diligently addressed from the early planning stage of your change project through the post-change transition.

In my next article, I’ll address the need to set up a workable schedule for your change activities.


Questions for Chatter (Use the “Leave a Comment link or the Leave a Reply” box below to share your thoughts on these questions.)

  1. What can go wrong when a Change Agent with great “soft skills” struggles to execute the “leg work” needed to drive home a big change?
  2. In your experience, what other project execution factors need to be covered in order to ensure successful change?

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Change Agent Skills, Change Communication, Change Execution, Change Leadership, Stakeholder Readiness, Team Dynamics

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I help people and teams succeed with big changes... never a dull moment!

4 Responses to “Treat Your Change As a Project”

  1. Steve says:

    Great points Jim and Good Question E,
    It has been my experience that many of the groups that teach formal project management tend to focus so much on the execution of the “project work” that the people side gets left in the dust. Not that they don’t mention how important it is – just that their instruction often stops short of how to really implement change.
    On the other hand, many of my clients and friends on the business side have said that some OCM folks are so soft-skills focused that the business gets frustrated with their lack of execution – hence the article.

  2. E Muniz says:

    Why isn’t considered Managing Change part of Project Management?

  3. Jim Yates says:

    Excellent post Steve,

    I thoroughly agree that these two related disciplines can learn a lot from each other. Your comments on the structure that Project Management gives to the process of Change Management is very valid.

    I’d go on to say that Project Managers could learn a lot from the process of Change Management, particualrly in teasing out the real objectives of the project and their implications in the scoping phase.

    My experience is that insufficient attention is given to the impact of projects, particualrly capital and software, on working practices and relationships. The focus is usually on delivering the “asset”. Focusing more attention on the people involved would help ensure that the organisation can reap the benefits of the investment more quickly and with less stress.

    The two disciplines need to work in harmony!

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