Project Management Vs Change Management


| Published: August 2018

What is the difference between Project Management and Change Management? On the surface there appears to be many similarities and overlaps. This article we will explore the differences and how the two complement each other.

Focus: to start, let’s consider the focus of each.

A project is all about implementing the thing, delivering the deliverable. A project starts and finishes with the scope. What are we delivering, what is in scope and what is out of scope? When complete, we get sign-off on the scope. Did we deliver what we said we would deliver? The project ends with implementation.

A change on the other hand is focused on, well, change. Change in attitudes and change in behaviours. Consider the project where the resulting product, the thing, was not used. We spent a great deal of time and money to build something that ended up gathering dust on a shelf. This is a classic example of a project with no change.

Now consider the scenario where we do not have a new thing, just a change in people’s behaviours. You see change is not about some great gadget, it is about using the gadget. When the shopping cart was first introduced it failed, no one used it. To solve this dilemma the inventor hired actors to walk through the stores pushing shopping carts. Initially, using a shopping cart was not acceptable, that is until people saw the behaviour being modeled and changed their attitudes.

Method: with a focus on product, PM’s methods are very prescriptive. Monitor and Control is the phrase of the day. Let’s plan what we are going to do, and then follow that plan. We know who will be where, when, doing what, precisely.

Change Management on the other hand, with its people focus, needs to be more flexible. While this sounds like Agile Project Management, it is not. While Agile is closer to change management than traditional project management, it is still product focused. There are some great elements in Agile that support the change aspects, but we are still focused on the product.

In true change management the focus is on people. Those lovely, complicated, variable and unique people. Whereas it makes sense to have a consistent project management methodology within an organization, a standard methodology for managing change does not work. Each individual is different, with different situations, different personalities and different reactions, needing a different approach to help them manage through the change.

Jane may need more time to process the coming change and want the hard data to back it up before changing her mind. Meanwhile, Joe is not as concerned about the data. He needs to talk things through and make sure that he has a place in the world. And unlike projects, a rigid timeline, force-it-through approach will only create resistance. “Pressure creates pressure.” – Tom Dorrance

Skills required: the separation of management and leadership is a good way to look at the skills required for each. Management is all about control. Are we on budget? Are we on schedule and what corrections can we make to get us back on track if we are not. It is all about measurable results.

Leadership, on the other hand is all about inspiration and vision. Where are we going? Why is the destination worthy of our energy? It is not about how we are going to get there. Martin Luther King famously said, “I have a dream,” not, “I have a five-step process.”

In managing projects, we need the skills to plan and track progress, in leading change we need the skills to inspire and motivate.

Complementary: you cannot have yin without yang. A project without change is a product that does not get used. A change without the project is doomed to fail as the inspired troops do not have the tools to support the new way of working. Imagine during the industrial revolution if we attempted to mechanize factories, with no machines.

Now imagine we are computerizing the office, we have the computers, but no one is willing to use them. In fact, they are working very hard to make it fail. My favourite story of this came from a colleague. When the firm she was at transitioned from desktops to laptops a partner in the firm, who had embraced the desktop computer, refused the laptop. Receiving his new laptop, he opened the top draw of his desk and filed the new computer. A year later, when it came time to replace his laptop on the standard cycle, he opened that drawer and exchanged his old laptop for the new one and again filed it. This went on for four years until he took early retirement. We had a product with no adoption.

On the flip side, a great success story also involved a computer upgrade. The team was primed, readied for the change. The equipment was delivered while the users were in training on how to use the new system. A series of stickers were proudly displayed on top of the monitors showing successful completion of the series of courses, starting with Windows, then Word and Excel, you get the picture.

There was a wait list for the classes as people competed to get the full series of stickers, symbols of accomplishment. By carefully coordinating the project with the change and vice versa, this upgrade not only went smoothly, but was actively supported by those most impacted by the change. There was great concern at first, after all this was a huge leap in technology. A monochrome text only environment was not only going colour, but also graphical. Most of these users had never seen or used a mouse before.

By effectively coordinating the project and the change aspects of this rollout it was managed at an holistic level that created award-winning results. Results that helped an organization-wide major initiative complete not only on time and on budget but one welcomed by the staff with lasting results.

When we recognize and manage both the project and the change we are not only creating the thing, but we are also adjusting the attitudes and behaviours needed to be able to embrace that thing and integrate it into daily life, thus effectively transitioning to the new normal. A transition that is the hallmark of effective change.