The only constant in life is change. Even the most successful projects can be tweaked or evolved to become even better. That’s why the idea of change management in project management is so important. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, it’s simply any context changes to a project that alters tasks, processes or the overall structure.

It can also impact the roles and responsibilities in project management. Overall, change management is the tools and processes used to affect change on a project and the steps you need to take to get your team to effectively make these changes.

Easier said than done. But with the right frameworks and some strategic planning you can implement on-going project optimization through change management more simply than you might think.

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Benefits of change management

Change management in project management has several benefits that not only impact project management but help drive overall business success.

1. Drives strategic project improvements

This might sound a bit obvious, but change management directly creates adaptations that are ultimately better for the project. The more process-based tweaks you make, the better outcomes you’ll get in achieving your objectives.

2. Makes teams more adaptable to regular change

Change happens all the time in organizations (whether you want it to or not) and you have to adopt. The more your team practices staying ahead of the curve and adding proactive change management in project management the better they’ll be at reacting to competitors, market conditions and changes in company structure. It’s a natural way to make your employees more resilient and adaptable.

3. Creates more accurate budgets

Budgets are set in project management, but circumstances throughout projects shift around. Failing to readjust the budget or reconfigure a project to stay on budget is a surefire path to overall failure and lost revenue. Even worse, inaccurate budgets lead to confusion amongst the project team and you could lose buy-in from key senior stakeholders.

4. Utilizes team member strength better

At the beginning of a project, you should hold a meeting and gather all the team experts needed for the project. While this is a great starting point, directions often shift on a project and unexpected tasks pop up. This is very normal and you want your team to be ready for it. By having a change management communication plan in place, you can easily see which team members make the most sense to pick up these new tasks as a project’s needs shifts.

5. Boosts employee relations

Change management builds better communication across the company and helps solidify a solid company culture. Many times projects fail because employees are scared to voice concerns — usually, these concerns or issues are valid and problems become worse when they’re not addressed at the moment of discovery. By integrating change management in project management, it will help empower all team members to voice issues as they arise. Then you’re better prepared to stop potential problems before they grow into full-blown crises.

Change management process steps

Now that you know why change management in project management is useful, it’s important to know how to effectively employ it. Here’s a change management framework that will bring you maximum results.

1. Define the purpose of the change

Although this sounds simple, it’s more complex than it seems. Yes, you want to clarify the change, but you also need to weigh how this change will affect your objectives and if carrying it out will move you in a better direction than where you’re heading now. Define not only the change but also why you’re making it and how you’ll measure its success.

2. Determine who and what will be affected

Your change management plan next includes what and who is affected by your change. For example, will deadlines shift or will you need to hire an outside expert for new tasks? You’ll also want to consider the project management team and how a change could impact workload and timelines. And don’t forget perception — for all stakeholders involved, how will they take this change you are planning to make? How will you prove to them it’s for the best and get them on your side?

3. Create a change management communication plan

Next, you’ll need to communicate the changes to the team. Make sure you include anyone who is directly affected as well as anyone whose buy-in you need to ensure success for the change. Figure out the best way to let everyone know about the change, whether it’s a sit-down meeting or a written communication plan. Then, you’ll need to include a new timeline, added tasks and the channels you’ll use to let everyone know about the change. Also, consider how you’ll handle the feedback given. Know in advance how you’ll address any critical feedback so you stay one step ahead of the change management game.

4. Roll out any needed training

Does your team already have the change management skills they need to flawlessly make this shift in direction? If not, you’ll need to add training to the mix. When it comes to training, there are several methods that are effective. For example, you could offer face-to-face, online learning or even make it fun by adding gamification elements to teach these needed skills. It’s important to consider all change management activities for learning and how best to deliver these so that they’re taught effectively.

5. Add change management tools for extra support

Let’s face it, change is hard for anyone so you’ll need to provide tools to support your team members. When you’re asking for new skills or behaviors, additional training, like mentorship by senior staff or professional outside coaching, can be helpful.

6. Analyze and measure the change

After you roll out the changes, it’s time to evaluate how effective they are. By measuring how well your team is reacting to these changes and if your objectives are being met you’ll know if there are further tweaks that need to be made. And once the change is completed, measure again so you have more conclusive sets of data. Ask questions to determine is all your goals were met and if you learned anything unexpected you could use to optimize future projects even further. The answers you gather will help your next change management plan run even more smoothly.

Photo by Ross Findon on Unsplash

Change management best practices

Before you’re ready to roll out a change management plan, it’s smart to keep some best practices in mind. Here are some tips, tools and activities that will make your plan effective right from the start.

Change management software

Change management software helps to monitor and optimize the process of managing changes. Even some simple project management software have these capabilities built-in. The goal is to manage changes to tasks, team members or any other requirements.

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Change management models

Lewin’s model

There are several change management models you can look at. One of the more popular is Lewin’s model, where change management is divided into three stages: unfreeze, make changes and refreeze. Basically, you unfreeze your current plan and notice there needs to be a shift in direction. Then you make the necessary changes to your overall plan, and finally, you refreeze your plan with the new changes in place.

Kotter model

Another popular change management model is the Kotter method. This method shifts direction from the change itself to the people needed to make the change. The goal is to create excitement with your team about the change at hand. Then you’ll need to get everyone’s buy-in about the change. 

Next, you create a vision for the change, and after that you get buy-in from the rest of the organization and remove any obstacles from that buy-in. Once you roll out the changes, you’ll want to give praise to the employees along the way who implemented these changes. 

Finally, once the project is complete, you want your changes to become standard protocol for upcoming projects so you make sure your process becomes a case study for future change management within your organization.

Change management activities

When you are ready to start change management in project management, it’s a good idea to get your team in the mindset. A great way to do this is with change management activities. Gather your team together and participate in a few exercises that promote change. Some of these change management examples include asking your employees to cross their arms and then cross them the other direction, viewing an object from different seats in a room and bouncing a rubber ball to each other. All these games promote change and make the team think differently which is the end goal of change management.

What’s your change management framework?

Change is hard for individuals and businesses alike, but the bottom line is it’s effective and shifts in direction can create better outcomes than originally anticipated. Start using change management in project management and watch your team and company grow.