AXELOS ProPath, the world's most powerful project, programme and portfolio best practice certifications

Dissatisfaction and the role of the project manager

Adeline Teoh ed.
May 23, 2013

At an early age we are taught the difference between needs and wants. This lesson, however, does not prepare us for the reality of change, which is that people must both need and want it for successful transition.

I’ve been thinking more and more about change and how most projects are probably best regarded as ‘change with tangible outputs’. I think of projects as anything outside of business-as-usual but which eventually evolves into a new business-as-usual paradigm, one that is better, I hope.

The change from old to new doesn’t happen without spending an incredible amount of emotional capital. ‘Emotional’ is the key word here. Anyone can intellectually recognise a ‘need’ for change but it is the ‘want’—or lack thereof—which will drive buy-in or resistance to change.

In her keynote presentation on project surveillance at the recent PMI Australia conference, Lisa Wolf of global consultancy Booz Allen Hamilton mentioned something about change that has stuck in my mind since. Change, she noted, requires sufficient dissatisfaction to work. It’s an interesting type of emotional capital, perhaps more realist compared to the touchy-feely Obama-style change rallying for which change practitioner stereotypes are renowned.

Largely because we are creatures of habit, we will doggedly stick with a way of doing things even though another way may prove to be better. We don’t need to know that another way is better, we need to know that the energy we expend to implement and learn the new way will not be wasted. The only guaranteed way of making that leap is if the old way of doing things becomes too difficult, or at least more difficult than embracing the new.

Wolf admitted she sometimes helped this process along by sabotaging the old system to create sufficient dissatisfaction. What tricks do you use to build enough emotional capital for change in your or your client’s organisation?

Adeline Teoh ed.
Adeline Teoh is the editor of She has more than a decade of publishing experience in the fields of business and education, and has specialised in writing about project management since 2007.
Read more