Project Chaos and Change Management

In my last blog I proposed increasing your project success through stakeholder engagement and the use of SIMSCoM. This week I would like to take a look at the application of change management theory.

You always hear people talking about change management, but rarely do you see anyone applying change management in practice. Let’s take a look at change management principles and how to apply them to project management.

In reality, project management and change management are inseparable. Think about it. Projects are by definition, unique endeavors with a start and end date, and exist solely to create change. Change management exists solely to manage change.
If that’s true, what are some of the basics that you can apply to project management? Well, a good place to start is with something called the change curve. The change curve suggests that when someone is faced with change, they respond with a relatively predictable sequence of reactions and emotions. The general sequence runs something like this:
In response to change you would experience:

  1. Denial– I simply deny the proposed change altogether
  2. Anger– I start to show anger towards the proposed change
  3. Bargaining– I move from anger to a new phase where I try to bargain for trade-offs between the proposed change and what I want to keep
  4. Depression– I typically realize that the change is going to happen and become depressed and potentially inactive altogether
  5. Acceptance– I finally accept the change and start to hopefully embrace it and move forward

If this is generally true, then we need to incorporate this transition into the project plans. You can do that in many ways.

First of all, align your communications plan with this change curve. Try to select appropriate communication for people at different points in the change curve. A celebration of new technology when the majority of the people involved are in the depression phase will backfire every time.

Secondly, plan events around the change curve. At each point in the change curve do something that will help progress people to the next phase with as little pain as possible. At the same time, recognize that people need time for change. Allow them to grieve. Console them with active listening and an open feedback and communication. When the time is right to implement, provide the necessary training and support needed to ensure a seamless transition. This may require skilled coaching and mentoring. You can do this yourself, or facilitate it through others. Either way, you will need to enable people with appropriate support through the transition. When you reach the end, take time to celebrate success and acknowledge the achievements of everyone involved.

So, on your next project, before you complete your planning, try to incorporate the change curve into you plans. It will make a huge difference in the transition and implementation of your project. Remember, without people, your projects will fail. Build people into the plan and communicate, communicate, communicate.

Larry T. Barnard

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