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Change Management: How Project Managers Can Effectively Manage Change

Project managers play such an important role in an organization’s ongoing projects and implementations, and especially now more than ever before. Senior execs typically rely on their PM’s to be the eyes and ears for deliverables and continued business growth. Nine times out of ten, the failure to meet goals for a project will fall on the project manager's shoulders. So as new objectives  come in and projects forge ahead, the time and money spent are critical elements for a project manager to oversee.

The ultimate scenario is to pitch an idea, budget for it, and have it ready to go live on time and on budget with no hiccups. Unfortunately this isn’t always how things play out. More often than usual, a project has to change and when it does, that means it will probably affect the timelines and the budget.

This is where effective change management skills are critical for the PM at the helm. With the right skills, these roadblocks along the path to creation will be more like bumps in the road than gaping potholes. 

Here are 3 essential best practices worth considering for managing change:

Understand Needs vs. Wants

Ensure you and the entire team understand the true business need behind the change request. Be sure it's not just a want but a requirement to make the job successful. Sometimes changes from a client or other entity is just a ‘nice to have’ fix while others are necessary changes. As a project manager, you should hone in on asking the ‘Why’ and defining it from the start to ensure the request substantiates the change. 

A great way to go about this is to think in advance about all of the different departments and touch points in an organization that will at some point be a part of this change. Mentally check off the boxes on what each department will need as you are scoping out the project in the initial phases and as you go through the workflow. Think about, what is the validation impact? What deliverables and documents will be touched and impacted by the change? Will this affect our learning materials, operating procedures, guides & protocols? This avoids running into issues because something obvious was  missing when the project is presented and saves frustration from having to go back and reconfigure to make it work.

Look at the Big Picture

Once you have a clear idea of the business needs and have included all the departments in your plan, you need to look at the bigger scope in terms of financials AND the timeline for the project. If a change is needed, you should say to yourself, where are we in the project right now, how much time do we have to do this change and will we still able to meet the deadline?

Similarly in terms of the budget, you should think about what this change equates to in dollars and how you’ll go about getting approvals.

If the change will require resources, that could mean more time from people or even additional resources that need to be added to still complete the project in the same timeline.

Keep in mind too that some departments and projects may be tapped out of funding, leaving the project with no additional budget. At that point you’ll have to make the decision to either postpone the change after a go live, or stop a project entirely until the budget becomes available.

Never skip the Post-mortem

A project post-mortem is a necessary step for any project - successful or not. You should always do a post-mortem on projects with the client and internally. When you have projects that have had change requests, this can help you to gauge how you arrived at that change request and maybe how doing something different in the project process would have alleviated the need to make a change altogether. 

You should also take a closer look at any root causes for deviations that could have happened during a project. What key factors led to your projects veering off budget or off the timeline? Specifically where (at what phase) did the project go off course and what could have been done differently during that phase to prevent us from going off  track? Perhaps the addition of more resources, or better upfront scope gathering would have prevented the change request altogether. As a project manager you should go back and assess how this happened and find areas for improvement or changes for future projects. This can only serve to enhance your process going forward.

At Process Stream, our vision has always been to plan ahead and be as proactive as possible. Where necessary, we allot some extra time for changes in our initial project scoping plans. By reserving some time for when changes arise that you didn't account for and having contingency planning in advance, we minimize the “having to go back to the pot” scenario. This equates to much less disruption. And senior management will never argue with that.

Our Project managers have a great responsibility when it comes to leading businesses forward. Since the success of a product or service once it's introduced to the market is dependent on these individuals, finding the right person or team of project managers that stay on task and see projects through from idea to creation is one of the only constants, in a world of continual change.