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Introducing change management to the project manager

Elissa Farrow
December 10, 2012

We have heard about this concept of change management, we know there is a range of courses and tool sets available, but who really is the change manager and what can they do to assist projects to become successful?

A change manager is a professional that may come from a variety of backgrounds including human resources, psychology, behavioural science, social science, business and/or project management. A change manager typically works in a project context where there is a business change that needs to be managed involving a change to people’s hearts and minds.

A change manager differs from a project manager as they focus predominantly on managing people side of change, that is, communication, build ownership, managing resistance, learning and development, stakeholder engagement. A change manager typically complements a project manager and brings people-orientated risks, issues and quality considerations into the project lifecycle. The change manager is typically part of the project team, but remains with the business after the broader project team has been disbanded to embed the change activities into business as usual.

Best practice models vary. I personally prefer to have the change manager in the project team so that right from the early start-up stages of a project change considerations are factored into the overarching plan and schedule.

One of the worst-case scenarios (which is thankfully starting to change) is where the change manager is diluted to the role of just training and brought in at the very end of the project. This just-in-time model typically never works from my experience and often the project outputs are not fully accepted by stakeholders and training is not a complete product when readiness and impact assessments have not been conducted throughout the project lifecycle.

In small projects where there are no resources for change management, I personally promote that the project manager in these circumstances needs to wear two hats. The first question I would ask as a project manager is: who is looking after the people change aspects of this project to ensure that the end users accept project outputs? The answer will depend on your approach; there may be a central HR unit you can leverage, or you as the project manager may need to befriend a change manager to ensure your approach to change will be suitable for the complexity of your project.

Change and project managers are on the same side. The better the working relationship and acceptance and respect of the unique professional differences and responsibilities, the more successful the overall project will be.

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Elissa Farrow
Elissa is a founder and lead consultant for About Your Transition and has extensive experience in strategic organisational adaptation design, facilitation and delivery. Elissa has supported organisations to define positive futures and then successfully transform to bring lasting benefits. She has proven adaptative capacity and can successfully transfer her skills to different contexts. In 2018, Elissa commenced her doctoral studies through the University of the Sunshine Coast. Her published research is exploring organisational adaptation to the evolving field of artificial intelligence using qualitative and participatory research methodologies. Elissa is an experienced board director and considered a thought leader in her field having won a number of national and local awards for contributing to Women in Project Management and for Change Management Research.
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