The one thing we know is consistent about project management is that it delivers a change, but as much as project managers may try, with good planning and execution, many projects don’t come to fruition until customers are happy. Trying to decipher viewpoints and people's resistance at a time when you're trying to keep your attention on delivering the scope within a set timeline can be difficult. But opinions matter as they may determine the outcome of your project, good or bad. And that’s why sharpening your change management skills to handle these relationships helps.
For a change to occur, we need to engage with people at various levels like customers or the organisation as a whole, before, during and after the implementation of the project. This means managing the impacted groups so they benefit from having the right skills and resources to embed change into their daily operations. Remember, change management is an approach that includes engaging and collaborating with people who are affected by organisational change.
Why project benefits matter
According to the APM Body of Knowledge 7th edition, ‘Organisational change is introduced through projects, programmes and portfolios to deliver business value.' The business value is accrued through the realisation of benefits. Benefits are part of ensuring that investments are made to deliver value to an organisation.
As project managers, we know projects are designed to meet a business need so if you have a project without the purpose of a clear benefit, it likely becomes a cost to your organisation. For instance, failure shouldn’t be solely measured based on a single project’s budget and time, benefits need to be a factor. If several projects or programmes snowball over time without improvements, it creates a ripple in an organisation's budget since the benefits from each, failed to contribute to the organisation's strategic goal.
These could be:
- Increasing profits to support wages and infrastructure
- Reducing expenditure to protect jobs
- Lowering carbon emissions to support climate change
- Gaining a competitive advantage
- Increasing market share
- Better productivity
- Streamlining processes
- Maximising on-going investments
- Strengthening brand awareness
- Improving the corporate culture
The cost of failure
For organisational change to occur, individual change needs to happen first when individuals move away from the current conditions to a new and improved one. So as project managers, we should explore project risks in greater depth, of how people can be a potential point of failure versus the cost of failure to the organisation.
When project outcomes don’t deliver as intended, they can impact an organisation in a variety of ways that may not be obvious at a project level.
Here are some examples of project failure causing organisational impact:
- If technical adoption and usage rates are poor to improve productivity, financial milestones seeking organisational opportunities are missed.
- If there are no defined measures of project benefits, growing operational costs become untenable so cost reductions take place.
- If uninspired employees are not understood to achieve their best, new ways of working aligned with commercial benefits fail to emerge.
- If unhappy employees risk the success of the project, reputational damage to the organisation's image becomes expensive to correct.
- If change fatigue raises tensions or burnout, staff turnover increases and top talent is expensive to replace.
- If skewed communication fuels employee dissatisfaction, low morale dilutes commitment to the culture and the ability to innovate.
If the people side of change is overlooked to support strategic goals, missed benefits can impact an organisation’s agility to compete, and ability to recover, improve or progress which is a price few businesses can afford. This means change management is an enabler in reaching strategic goals.
For example, when an organisation's strategy seeks to lower operational costs and deliver better investments, project change will inevitably impact roles and responsibilities. Merging, streamlining or removing processes will require a shift in behaviours with some degree of change. With a likely transition that’s reliant on having people's participation to make it happen.
Remember change doesn’t happen because it was sold as a good idea, it happens when each individual buys into its value of it. If we follow Prosci’s ADKAR model when every individual is aware of the change, desires it, and knows how to achieve it, with the ability to reinforce it, that’s when the magic happens and transformational change occurs.
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