Project management and change management are inextricably linked—every project changes the status quo—and PMs often find themselves managing the effects of change as much as the implementation of change itself. Use these tips to embrace your role as a change agent.
1 – Understand the impact of change. You’re changing how people work and/or interact with their environment, and you shouldn’t assume that you know how changes will affect others. Instead, talk at length with end users to be sure you truly understand their concerns. You’ll move on to other things once the project is complete, but your end users will be living with your changes for a long time.
2 – Acknowledge the impact of change. End users frequently need time to assimilate to changes in systems or processes. They may attend training sessions, deal with downtime during cutovers, and cope with a learning curve. These are real and tangible issues for your users, and ignoring or dismissing them will quickly sap your credibility. Consider incorporating additional implementation support into your project, and provide whatever help you can to ensure a smooth transition.
3 – Take responsibility for change and its impact. Blaming the executive team for foisting difficult change on an organization will quickly infuriate end users, senior staff, and your boss. Instead, address concerns head on. Explain why change is needed, and be prepared to tactfully defend your reasoning. Some people don’t accept change easily—you may have some difficult conversations to endure, but remember that your team is experienced and capable, and your project will result in long-term benefits.
4 – Own your problems. Things won’t always go your way, so don’t pretend otherwise. By acknowledging glitches and issues, others will see that you’re logical, diligent, and realistic. This helps to ensure good teamwork when problems arise, and you’ll be more likely to overcome obstacles with your reputation (and project deliverables) intact. It’s more important to learn from your mistakes than to hide from them.
5 – Believe in the changes you’re making. If you can’t envision a positive post-change landscape, then no one else involved in your project—fellow team members, stakeholders, or end users—will, either. Your commitment to implementing positive change, and your ability to successfully defend your long-term vision, will be necessary to see you through the questions and challenges that others may throw at you.
6 – Paint a clear picture of the post-change world. People outside your team may not understand all the positive changes your project will make. Take the time to demonstrate the benefits your end users and stakeholders will reap once your project has changed their environment. Improved working conditions, better efficiency, and lower costs might all be long-term plusses. Scour the landscape for potential benefits, and be sure you let others know about them.
7 – Remember that change isn’t always necessary. Don’t undertake a project simply because it’s there. If current systems and processes are efficient and effective, then selling others on the benefits of change will be difficult. Your credibility will suffer if you embrace every opportunity for change that comes along, or—even worse—force change where none is needed.
8 – Accept the status quo if changes can’t be made. Changes might not be feasible right here, right now. If that’s the case, then keep any negative comments to yourself. You’ll be seen as a team player and gain more respect if you take on challenges you’re likely to win, and learn to make the most of those you aren’t. Griping about situations you can’t change will only undermine morale, both your team’s as well as your own.