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Project Management vs. Change Management

feedback-speechI will probably incur the wrath of many a Project Manager with this post, but, hey, I have had that happen to me many times when working with them on various change initiatives.

Anyway here we go …

It never ceases to amaze me how the words Project Management and Change Management can be used in the same breath. In my experience (and this is not a criticism of PMs) Project Managers cannot execute Change Management because the two disciplines require a whole different set of skills and competencies. Unfortunately this seems to be something that is on the rise and it makes me wonder whether this contributes to so many change failures. Both disciplines aim for totally different outcomes:

  • Project Management is about installation. It focuses on a plan built around events and timelines with the aim of getting from a current state (no installation) to a future state (installation achieved).
  • Change Management is about adoption. It focuses on the people aspects of the change with the aim of getting a critical mass of people to be committed to the change involved, to learn new behaviours and to sustain them willingly.

Project Managers want to deliver on time, to quality and within budget whilst Change Managers ultimate aim is Adoption/Business Readiness … the two are sometimes in direct opposition e.g.:

Project Management role:

  • Drive solution delivery.
  • Communicate progress and impact on solution deliverables and project goals.
  • Implementation and technical risk management.
  • Focuses on project time, cost, quality, scope.
  • Follows project management lifecycle.
  • Steps and tools for managing the project from start to end.
  • Delivering project solution.

Change Management role:

  • Work towards change sustainability and integration.
  • Communicate progress and impact on people readiness.
  • People-side risk management.
  • Focuses on people-side strategies and planning for change adoption and timely benefits realisation.
  • Follows change management lifecycle.
  • Steps and tools for managing and motivating people who are experiencing change.
  • Concerned with the optimal ownership, use and benefit of the delivered solution

Reference: http://changestory.co.za/the-dangers-of-changing-without-change-management/

I believe what is needed is a collaborative effort between PMs and CMs where they both take responsibility for their own activities but work together to ensure that these activities are fully aligned. I started life as a PM and gained Fellowship of the Association for Project Management and then metamorphosed into CM. While my PM skills are used to good effect when planning CM activities I regard this as a secondary skill. For the most part planning CM activities is quite simple e.g. Communication… messages to be communicated, channels to be communicated through, stakeholder groups to be communicated to and frequency of communications. On the flip side I would argue that it is nigh on impossible trying to plan activities such as culture change and managing employee resistance especially the latter as this can crop up at any time and in any shape or form. Change initiatives invariably throw you several “curved balls” during their life-cycle which will not be on any plan and these have to be dealt with intuitively and in a timely manner to ensure thing do not go off track.

In previous assignments I have worked in partnership with a PM to deliver the solution required … each responsible for their own sections of the plan and deliverables but jointly responsible for the delivery of the overall solution. Of course there can be problems regarding deliver e.g. as a CM my view is that a project should not go live until the Adoption/Business Readiness tracking has achieved it’s intended target which may be at odds with a PM’s deliverables and potentially delay a project. Having said that if you can identify the “readiness” issue(s) that is/are causing the threat to go-live early enough and then talk them through with the PM so both of you instigate actions to bring the “readiness” back on track then this usually solves the problem.

For me CM and PM model of working in partnership is the way forward but unfortunately this is an overhead a lot of organisations will not want to bear. The PM with a responsibility for change or conversely the CM with a responsibility for PM just puts too much pressure on an individual and they may not necessarily have the right experience and skill-set to manage both elements.

Some additional supporting information for you:

  • A report published by ESI, a project management teaching provider, predicted that in 2013 many organisations will hold on to the belief that their Project Managers lack key leadership skills such as communications and negotiation skills. Yet companies will keep investing their training budgets in cultivating “hard” skills, instead of instilling leadership capabilities.
  • From Prosci:
    • Top change management obstacles 2012 Edition of Best Practices in Change Management by Prosci cites “Disconnect between project management and change management” being a major obstacle to success” … study respondents noted conflicting priorities and misalignment between project management and change management teams as a large obstacle to success. Respondents reported that a lack of consensus on how to integrate the two practices became a large challenge throughout the life of projects and often resulted in change management playing “second fiddle” to project management. Specifically, study participants cited difficulty involving and getting assistance from project managers.
    • 2012 benchmark study:
      • Projects with poor Change Management stay on schedule or meet desired outcomes only 16% of the time.
      • A Project stood a 95% chance of success (defined as meeting or exceeding project objectives) when using excellent Change Management.
      • Projects with excellent Change Management are on or ahead of schedule 72% of the time.
  • From a LinkedIn Survey by Beyond Strategy in 2012:
    • How important is Project Management to Business Change success?
      • Critical = 27%.
      • Necessary = 68%.
      • Nice to Have = 5%.
    • How important is Change Management to Project success?
      • Critical = 49%.
      • Necessary = 46%.
      • Nice to Have = 5%.

So there you have it. Don’t get me wrong I am all for some kind of alignment of both disciplines and there has to be a focus on getting the solution implemented. If that means either integrating both roles or having separate roles for a CM and PM then so be it. There is an old saying that goes “horses for courses” and that’s the way it should be.

About Ron Leeman

Ron Leeman has been involved in “change and process” work for more years than he cares to remember. He has worked extensively across the UK, Europe, and globally--and has an enviable track-record of delivering organisational change and process initiatives across a wide cross section of industry sectors. In 2012, Ron was bestowed with a “Change Leader of Tomorrow” award by the World HRD Congress “in recognition of my remarkable progress in initiating changes enough for others in the same industry to follow my example”. Ron is firm believer in knowledge transfer and now wants to share his vast knowledge with those who are considering getting into or at various stages of “change” and/or “process” work or those working on specific Projects wanting to gain practical insights into “how to” type situations. You can connect with Ron Leeman on LinkedIn here, where you can view his 85+ Recommendations and in excess of 800 Endorsements from clients and co-workers alike to give you an indication of the quality of service that he has provided and can offer. Ron is also a document author on Flevy. Browse his frameworks on Change Management, Process Analysis, and Program Management here: http://flevy.com/seller/highwayofchange.

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  • http://www.tbointl.com @terryholtz1

    Ron, coming from a similar PM background and having also morphed into change management, we agree on the problem not sure we agree on cause or solution. I’m not sure PMs lack the competency, what they lack is proper measures of success. Success for a PM should not be just delivery of the physical or technical, but delivery on the business case that justified the project in the first place. Two things make this hard if not totally problematic. First, we usually dismiss the project team before anything gets measured. Second, and even more frightening, most organizations never measure anything close to the business results of a project.

    So what can we do about this? First, every project should have a what and why connected in a business case or case for change with measurable outcomes. Second, the change required in the physical or technical need to be defined and given equal weight with changes required in people and process. Said another way expectations and execution of the stops, starts, and continues must be constantly monitored and executed. This applies to the project team and stakeholders. These need to be frequently revisited and kept in alignment through execution of the project plan. Finally, accountability must be retained until we know we have delivered the expected value and corrective action needs to be taken if delivery goes off course.

    Making this work requires PMs to step up to this greater responsibility and organizations through project sponsors understanding that project work doesn’t end with physical delivery.

  • http://www.processpmp.com/ Lisa Miller

    Firstly, congratulations Ron, for bridging what can be a very charged topic. But as someone who has served in both roles, I tend to agree with @terryholtz1:disqus , in that the scope of project management needs to be defined (redefined) as also including a measure of adoption. I think it overly simplistic to think that PMs count as success a project that hits a delivery date but no one ever adopts.

    In my mind, I think this is another case where trying to categorize work into strictly defined buckets does all a disservice. Projects are chartered with a tangible business result that usually involves adoption in order to be achieved. Regardless of whether a PM or a designated and dedicated resource does the work to make that happen is beside the point, in my opinion. It is not what I as an individual can deliver, but what we as a team can deliver, that is important.

    • http://www.bia.ca Michael Stanleigh

      Great article. Ron – I agree with your project definition. It aligns with definitions from PMI and other project management associations. “A project is a temporary endeavour undertaken to create a unique product, service or result”. A project’s outcome may be a requirement for a change strategy but this is not the project itself. Unless the project’s scope specifically stated that the project is to deliver, for example; a new structure or process or product, etc. and manage the changes required to ensure success. I must admit, I’ve never seen this inclusion. The time it takes to successfully manage change cannot be as clearly defined as the rest of the project.

      We do a lot of project reviews and audits. One of the reasons we’ve seen repeatedly, is the inability of the project manager to define project scope. So it becomes one of these projects that never really ends. They confuse the project end/conclusion with what happens after the project ends.

  • Ron Leeman

    @Lisa and @Terry many thanks for your input. I agree wholeheartedly with what both of you say especially about delivery vs adoption. This is the key aspect for me and whenever I have been able I have always implemented a Business Readiness/Adoption Measurement process to ensure that the project knows exactly where they are at with this critical aspect.

    It matters not whether people running projects are called PM’s or CM’s. What does matter is that they need to start expanding their tool-kit and embrace the fact that a project means a change to the business so needs to look at many different aspects that this entails.

  • Sylvester Ogbolu-Otutu

    Perhaps – ‘Project Managers’ need to also learn some ‘Program Management’ – since the ability to deliver a major program (which may include a couple of discrete projects) involves introducing and managing major organizational change. Take for instance – organizational (or enterprise) modernization which may involve many different projects (such as IT, HR strategic restructuring, BPR, Corporate Strategy, Facilities & Infrastructure, etc.) is all about change. In a nutshell, if Project Managers can handle Major Program Management based on integrative frameworks, then they can also handle (or lead) Change Management and become Change Managers at the same time. The point is that professionals involved in this type of work should be versatile and flexible enough to handle any type of assignment – be it Program Management, Project Management or Change Management. In spite of whatever may be nuanced, these are all rather closely related – involving many cross-disciplinary skills and transferable abilities to allow for any very discrete or meaningful compartmentalization or differentiation to occur. Even though Program Management is higher up in terms of hierarchy, I believe that with ample experience, people should be adaptable enough so as to enable them to easily switch roles in today’s workplace. Any Change Manager should be able to deliver on specific projects, and a Project Manager should also be able to handle a Change Management Program. I believe this is what @terryholtz1:disqus meant as the ability to ‘morph’ and what @ronleeman:disqus means by ‘expanding the tool-kit’. The ‘measure of adoption’ element which @processpmp:disqus has alluded to is also very important. In the IT field for instance, we have always known that the best designed, managed and implemented projects could falter if users fail to rapidly ‘adopt’ and use the new technology to ‘change’ their working methods so as to help boost corporate efficiency, effectiveness, service and customer satisfaction.

  • The Advisory Partnership

    Great article. Even better discussion! Thanks.

  • https://www.linkedin.com/in/kerrimcbride Kerri McBride

    The very best project and program managers are great change leaders! They must be to lead a team, and more and more often there is recognition that the project is not complete when the work breakdown has been executed, but instead when realization of the benefits occurs. I have a client who is so committed to this concept that the moment the project is approved the anticipated operational or financial business benefits promised by the Charter go into the financial plan/budget for the cycle following the change. That is a very good way to get project sponsors completely invested in adoption rather than viewing project success as simply as “on time, on budget, on scope.” I also see more and more PMOs requiring project charters to identify/commit to specific metrics that quantify the long-term business benefits the project promises to achieve. Change is slow, but change is happening.

    • Cynthia Marcotte Stamer


  • Alaa Aljunaidi

    Hi Ron,
    This is a well written post. I found it to be useful and in line with a similar post I wrote recently. Although my post is specific to the development of new facilities as opposed to general change management, I found both posts to be relevant. I even updated part of the article to reflect your line of thinking. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    Should you be interested, you can view my article on the following link: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/five-ps-you-should-keep-mind-when-developing-new-alaa-aljunaidi.

    Best regards,

  • Vince Bodsworth

    I think your interpretation of a project is very narrow. My view would be that leaning and adoption are simply a very critical activity within the project. After all what is the point of a successful installation if no-one is able to use it.

    You are right that the Change Management activity requires different skills and processes to achieve a good result but it is a poor project manager that does not see this activity as part of the project deliverables. (Unless, of course we are talking of multiple projects or a program where the change management process is run alongside a number of delivery oriented projects). For a small project the PM should also ensure that Change Management is covered in the plan, even if there is no explicit resource to execute otherwise the project may have a difficult transition to live operation or even fail.


  • IanJSutherland

    Ron, I value your insight, but beg to suggest the way forward is different. It is useful to think about the two aspects as you have laid them out and maybe the distinctions were clearer in the past, but I think they are necessarily blurring in today’s world. Having been involved in many changes I know that most issues happen at the boundaries between roles especially where visions and subtle understanding has to be transferred and shared. That is why I don’t like the partnership suggestion which feels like it is holding to older ways. As change agents we should embrace our own advice and look for new and better ways to achieve the change we seek through a hybrid approach.

    • Ron Leeman

      Thanks for your input Ian but I am still not convinced a hybrid role is the answer. There are just too many variables that need to be dealt with and they are at different ends of the spectrum. I still believe that a PM does not have the capacity to deal with both deliverables and change at the same time.

      • IanJSutherland

        Ron, I guess that we will agree to differ and maybe time will clarify matters. That said there are no silver bullets or one-size-fits-all solutions. At least being conscious of the problem we can take steps to mitigate it. When building change methodolgies I have long believed that it is important to find one that suits that organisation’s maturity, culture and current capabilities and this combination differs across the board. Idealism is rarely a successful way forward in these matters.

        Let’s keep encouraging the debate! 🙂

  • Brian Gorman

    Ron, thank you for this important article! Your insights–and the distinctions that you identify–are significant. I would add that we are on the verge of yet another critical element in the field: Strategy Execution. For the most significant changes: true transformations that are business imperatives and must move beyond installation to realization, change management and project management are necessary, but not sufficient. Strategy execution bridges the gap with an increased focus on intent, on leadership readiness and engagement, and on building an integrated (PM/CM/SE) realization infrastructure.

  • Srinivas Malapaka

    Even though there is a merit in saying (as
    per the article) that Project Managers shouldn’t execute Change Management as both require different
    skill-sets, in my opinion, both Project Management and Change Management compliment each other. So, it
    is essential for a Project Manager to also look at Change Management for the below reasons.

    1. Both Project and Change Management with have / start with an objective/problem statement and then
    move on to define measurable parameters, identify risks, dependencies, costs and benefits,take business
    / stakeholders sign-ff, manage communication,create awareness, develop training and up-skilling, manage
    resistance from Employees, Implement and control the plan.

    2. If the Project is of strategic in nature (For Example – Business Process Re-Engineering, Merger,
    Takeover, Spin-off or Split-up) in an organization, then Change Management will be a sub set of the
    strategic project but cannot be a superset.

    For the above two reasons, It would be prudent for an organization to deploy a resource who is skilled
    in both Project and Change Management so that H/She is in total control of things. Bringing a Change
    Manager into a strategic project where Change Management is a subset requires the Change Manager to
    first take download of overall project goals and objectives from Project Manager or other Peers and
    Colleagues to draft Change Management goals and objectives which can be a herculean task. And even
    after doing so, both the minds i.e., Project and Change Manager may not sync with each other as they
    may have different perspectives / view points. In the best interest of the Project in particular and
    the Organization in general, it is better to have one resource to perform both the activities.

  • Suomen

    The PMBOK specifically lists OCM or Change Management as a element of PM and for PMP. I was part of the original Carnegie Melon work at a selected (high tech) company where we covered it. I am an OCM (independent) consultant and it seems that PMP or non-PMP managers still do not develop nor deliver a true OCM strategy for the adoption portion. It’s starts very early with the different steps and deliverables of OCM. I believe there is so my weight and basic installation expectations that they can only do a few portions that cross over (like blue printing, requirements, testing, and training). The OCM network and the laborious communications, process gap analysis and change readiness pieces are way too much and thus… the OCM lead and team role(s).

  • Cynthia Marcotte Stamer

    Actually, what this discussion highlights is common deficiencies that undermine the success of both processes, which in my experience are diminished by technical definitions distinguishing the two job titles.

    Change management inherently requires an understanding change management inherently requires understanding and use of effective project management both to define and determine the desired change and then to manage the implementation of the changes.

    Likewise, project management inherently assumes some change that the project is intended to manage. Otherwise, the process is a simple proje likewise, project management inherently assumes some change that the project is intended to achieve. Otherwise, the action is mere administration.

    Moreover, in any effective organization or activity, The two processes are running continuously in tandem. Good project managers monitor for feedback that may require adjustment. Good change managers or change organizations minimize the need for massive change by continuously monitoring and managing these adjustments throughout the process
    The two processes are running continuously in tandem. Good project managers monitor for feedback that may require adjustment. Good change managers or change organizations minimize the need for massive change by continuously monitoring and managing these adjustments throughout the process.

    As a management lawyer for the past 30+ years, I have been blessed work with organizations that effectively utilize these activities and ongoing process and see the successful results. I also have worked with public and private organizations, change and project management and other consultants, bankruptcy trustees, creditor committees, and even foreign nations and their leaders to define and implement large scale restructuring, cultural changes and a host of other redirections. in all cases, the failure to keep the project management/change planning and implementation dynamic continuously running played a large role in the need for these massive and highly disruptive changes. Furthermore, the effectiveness of these massive changes often times was diminished by a failure to take into account and devote sufficient attention and resources for appropriate project management.

    The bottom line, good leaders and advisers doing project management or change management need to be fully wellrounded and apply seamlessly both disciplines and skills. They reality is that the combined process is the essence of effective management.

  • Andy Lim

    If it’s hard for you to find Project Management comparison sites, then maybe I can help.

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