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Why change management is critical for project success

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The following excerpt is taken from the APM publication Introduction to Managing Change and is designed to give readers an overview of change management and why it’s important.

Alternatively, you can read more about change management.

All projects and programmes are ultimately created to deliver change of one form or another.  Whether it be delivery of a new asset, process, structure or system, until it has actually been adopted and is used in the way it was intended, the change is not complete and the full benefits will not be realised.  A recent Change Pulse survey indicated that over 90 per cent of organisations have had planned and managed change within the last three years. Key drivers of this change include strategic direction, new products and services, technology, regulatory requirements and the need to deliver efficiencies. Yet there are many well publicised examples where change has not been successfully delivered and similar challenges can be found in almost any organisation. Research findings have not always been consistent but often demonstrate that the majority of projects and programmes do not fully succeed in achieving what they set out to do.
This is illustrated by the following diagram:

Change management is an evolving discipline which has developed significantly over the last 20 years.  It recognises the specific challenges to implementing and embedding change and addresses these through leading, engaging and supporting people through change at both the individual and organisational level. Managing change well can help address resistance and reduce performance impacts and secure sustainable benefits more rapidly.

Drawing on fields such as HR and psychology and recognising the innate variability and emotional nature of human response, change management does not always sit comfortably with the more formal technical processes of project and programme management. However, at its heart is a series of approaches which when applied appropriately will significantly increase the chances of successful adoption and embedding of change affecting people and culture, processes, organisations or technology. Fundamentally, it is about delivering change in a way which works with the people involved and brings them along on the journey, rather than simply presenting them with a fait accompli and expecting them to accept it. It is ‘working with’ rather than ‘doing to’.

Understanding change management
The book says that managing change effectively requires much more than knowledge of the technical P3 disciplines.

When approached in a structured yet flexible manner, change management activities can be effectively integrated with other project or programme activities and contribute significantly to success, increasing sustainability and minimising any negative impact on business performance. In fact, some programme management methodologies explicitly recognise the importance of change management (or ‘business change’) in converting installed project outputs into programme outcomes which are fully implemented and embedded with the people involved. It is only then that the benefits can be fully realised. Change management should therefore be seen as a critical requirement for project and programme success.
Depending on the nature and scale of change involved, project professionals may find themselves directly undertaking change management activities where they have the capacity and appropriate skills. Alternatively, they may need to draw on specialist resources to help manage and facilitate change management (much as they call on engineering or technical specialists to fulfil their roles within the project team). Either way it is essential that project professionals have sufficient awareness and understanding of change management to recognise its importance in successfully managing change and be able to plan appropriately to undertake it. 

  • Why not get involved in the APM Enabling Change SIG – our mission is to improve the change capability of organisations, teams and individuals.

Twitter: @apmecsig  #apmchange


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  1. Judd Norton
    Judd Norton 13 March 2019, 09:50 PM

    Great article Donna!