Forget Everything You've Learnt About Project Delivery, Part 7: Change Management

Forget Everything You've Learnt About Project Delivery, Part 7: Change Management

People often resist change that they don’t understand, but when they can see the benefits people can — and do — change without resistance

If you plan change effectively, with clear, understandable 'desired business outcomes', then you can generate a momentum FOR change

Change management is like the weather — everyone talks about it, but no one does anything about it!

Few areas of project delivery are hindered by so many theories and so little understanding.

Change management involves people. Ugh! They're not like computers or software; they're recalcitrant, have their own ideas, don't learn like they should, and so on.

Then the theoreticians get involved and paint pictures of 'burning decks' and even adapt the grieving process as a guide to change management. The principal underlying theory of these approaches is that 'people resist change' — but this is not necessarily true.

People resist change that they don't understand, is poorly thought through, poorly planned, poorly communicated, poorly implemented or is seen as unnecessary. And rightly so!

But, where people see the benefits, the value or even just a rational basis they can and do change without resistance.

Few people had to be taken through a 'change program' to decide to adopt a mobile phone. People saw the value and changed.

Resistance to change is created, not innate. If you plan your change management process around resistance to change, it will happen. Surprise, surprise. Indeed, I recently saw a change manager's road-show presentation of which 46 of the 56 slides were about 'resistance to change'. This manager had just trained the staff to resist!

However, if you plan change effectively with clear, understandable 'desired business outcomes' and benefits that are clearly communicated and effectively implemented, then you can generate a momentum FOR change.

But change is also poorly implemented. The actual change transition step is often fudged by the project teams.

Nearly every change management approach I've seen skips the "and this is what you do to make change happen" step. The excuse is that this step is too variable and situation specific. Certainly the specific tasks involved will be situation specific, but the change transition process is the same.

To illustrate, one major consultancy's "Change strategy" for a client was 37 pages long. In only one paragraph on page 25 did this document talk about change transition. The rest of the document was about theories of change, causes of resistance of change, approaches to change, and so on. But change is all about transition from the current to the future state.

The lack of a change transition process, how you move from here to there, is part of the problem — poor implementation causes resistance that makes change management a no-go zone.

We need to go back and learn how to make change happen, well.

Change is not difficult if you've done the previous steps right. However, if you have defined only systems needs and project deliverables, then you're in trouble. But if you've defined desired business outcomes and the activities required to achieve each of them, then you'll have a change management orientation and will be able to relate every change activity to the delivery of a desired outcome and its benefits.

It's time to wrest change management away from the 'change resistance' gurus.

For further information on Change Planning go to "Transformation Management" at

Click here for the introduction to the series "Forget Everything You've Learnt About Project Delivery"

Click here for the last article in this series "Forget Everything You've Learnt About Project Delivery, Part 6: Outcomes/Benefits Delivery Planning"

Jed Simms is CIO magazine's weekly project management columnist. Simms, founder of projects and benefits delivery research firm Capability Management, is also the developer of specialized project management and project governance Web site

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