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Author  John Edmonds – Senior PPM Architect, PeopleCert

October 9, 2023 |

 8 min read

  • Blog

In recent years, the level of professionalism amongst project managers has increased markedly. Organizations have adopted recognized best practice frameworks, and practitioners have benefited from accredited project management training courses in record numbers. This is of course good news, but it is not sufficient on its own.

Whilst the hard skills of project management remain important – balancing time, cost and quality, managing resources and producing reports – soft skills have never been more vital. Foremost among these is change management. Change management is not to be confused with ‘change control’, which is a vital tool in any project manager’s toolbox for managing scope creep and keeping a handle on issues that arise. Change management can best be described as “the means by which an organization transitions from the current state to the desired target state”.

Why is this relevant for project managers? In essence, the purpose of any project is to introduce change to one or more organizations. Though you, as project manager, may not be a part of the desired future state, you are a catalyst for it. Many people may look to you for guidance, ideas, expertise and advice about that transition, and you will need to develop the necessary leadership and communication skills for guiding stakeholders through organizational change.

The challenge of change

Whereas project management is a series of relatively well-defined processes and concepts, the ideas behind change management are rather less clear. For project managers who thrive on certainty, the uncertainty and ambiguity of change can be a challenge. However, it is impossible for those who aspire to be great project managers to ignore these people-centric aspects of change.

Project managers must be role models throughout the organization: embracing and advocating change, to win over colleagues and gain buy-in from what can often be a wide variety of stakeholders, each with competing motivations. Modelling the change is crucial when trying to influence senior and middle managers, who can sometimes be challenging to win over. In doing so, project managers can encourage their senior stakeholders and sponsors to get behind the change and help drive it forward.

Stakeholder engagement is often the weak link of a project and can be neglected if taking a process-led, ‘by the numbers’ approach. One survey showed that 75% of organizations polled admitted to taking a ‘top-down’ approach to communication, with only 10% encouraging dialogue and genuine engagement around change initiatives. Without clear, persuasive and ongoing communication to stakeholders on the reasons for and expected benefits of the proposed change, that change may fail. Stakeholders need answers to the following questions:

  • How does the change benefit me?
  • How does it benefit my team/the wider organization?
  • How does it benefit customers?

Ultimately, it is within the organization that change happens. Projects ‘simply’ deliver the products that allow it to happen. Therefore, the need to empower others is paramount. Change leaders at all levels in an organization need to be recognized, equipped and supported so that they are empowered to play their part in successful change.

PRINCE2® 7 and change management

The pace of change continues to increase, and the challenges this poses to organizations are ever more complex. The so-called ‘soft skills’ that help project managers to influence culture, emotions and motivations are not soft at all. They are downright hard! Given that change management is now an indispensable skill set for project managers, PRINCE2® 7 – the latest edition of the method – has been updated in response to these challenges. The new content on ‘leading successful change’ covers:

  • The change management approach that supports the project team.
  • Skills and capabilities required during and after the transition.
  • Areas of the organizational ecosystem that are likely to be impacted by the project.
  •  Key relationships to consider.
  •  The evolving culture.
  • How best to transition, for example through learning or upskilling, transitioning knowledge from the project team, or recruiting new people into the business.

In its new ‘people’ chapter, PRINCE2® 7 considers these various aspects of change management, including a section simply yet powerfully titled, “projects require change management”.

So, are you ready and equipped to pick up the challenge of change?