Project Management vs Change Management – Do you need both?

According to the Project Management Institute’s PMBOK® Guide, project management is the application of knowledge, skills, tools and techniques to project activities to meet project requirements. A project is a series of tasks that are required to be completed in order to reach a certain desired outcome. A project will usually have a project manager who is assigned with the task of working with the project sponsor and other stakeholders to reach that outcome. At this stage a project charter is created which establishes the partnership, defines stakeholder’s expectations, outlines the requirements of the project and the roles and responsibilities of the project team. The project charter is important as it sets the vision for the project. Successful projects involve effective planning, implementation and closing processes at every stage of the project. 

Prosci defines change management as the application of a structured process and set of tools for leading the people side of change to achieve a desired outcome. A change is a process, initiative or solution that is introduced in an organization to improve how work get done on a day-to-day basis and it can impact employees in many ways. Changes can take place in the processes, tools, job roles, attitudes, and compensation just to name a few. Change managers help employees transition smoothly by planning for change, managing and reinforcing change. They have the responsibility of communicating the reason for the change and will work with different stakeholders in helping them understand the impact of that change and how to move forward effectively and efficiently. Although project management and change management are distinct disciplines, they should be implemented in conjunction with each other to achieve organizational changes.    

While a project is a temporary undertaking, which has a specific beginning and end, change is ongoing and doesn’t necessarily have a specific end. Both are undertaken by an organization to meet a certain need or goal and the organization commits to the project by allotting time, money and other resources to it. An organization’s regular core business is an ongoing repetitive activity which brings in direct revenue and has expenses connected to it. A project or change initiative also has expenses, but these expenses are capitalized and the value might not be direct in the form of revenue. For an accounting firm, accounting is its core business. If it decides to change the accounting software it is using, then that will become the project that will begin when all the conditions are met and will end when the set objectives are achieved. Training staff members to successfully adopt and use the new system is the prerogative of change management. The firm will reap the benefit of having a better more efficient software, and staff who know how to use it, which will save time and expenses in the long run. 

A project involves taking risks whereas in operations, managers strive to mitigate the risk associated with their activities as far as possible.  Operations may identify an area for change and the project is undertaken to bring about that change.  

So, what is a risk and how can it affect the project outcome? 

 A risk is a probability or a potential issue that has not yet happened but can happen, which can positively or negatively affect a project. A risk is an issue that could happen in the future and is noted in the future tense. It is important to consider risk in the context of its impact on the project and the strategic response required to deal with it. Risks need to be managed and thus the plan to manage it is vital. Risk is different from an Issue and the difference needs to be understood. A quality issue is an issue that has already occurred and is logged in the issue register. The register contains a description of the issue, how it was handled and what the consequences were.  Issues provide us with a learning curve, because it has already happened, we need to be able to fix it right away or lessen its impact on the project, and take the necessary steps to ensure it does not occur again. For example, there is always a risk of key project managers or stakeholders leaving or changing a project. But that is a risk that can be mitigated by providing incentives and clear project outlines. But it becomes an issue when a project manager actually leaves or a stakeholder requests a change that might be difficult to implement. Then the issue needs to be resolved by hiring new people or assessing how feasible the change actually is and how it will or has impacted the project. 

When initiating a project, it is very important for organizations to implement both disciplines to ensure that the project outcomes and objectives are met. Change managers can ensure that the project manager understand how people are reacting to the change that is being introduced, what is working and what isn’t. For this to happen, there needs to be open communication between the project management and change management teams, who must meet regularly to discuss the initiate. A clearly defined process of communication, structured plan for meeting the various objectives and timeline of the project along with clearly defined roles and responsibilities can prevent delays and improve the effectiveness of the team. For any organization this is well worth the expense of having a project manager as well as a change manager on board the project management team. 

About the Author

About the Author

Jessica Samson, MBA, CHRP, C. Mgr.

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