Making change happen, and making it stick

We define Project Management as the application of knowledge, skills, tools and techniques to project activities to achieve agreed deliverables. In isolation, a successful project would simply look like the completion of a said set of tasks (within schedules and budget of course!)

Change and Project Management are linked as they usually have a mutual business goal, however they are often confused. Make no mistake, they are different disciplines.

Whereas Project Management focuses on the processes and activities needed to complete a project, such as a new software application, Change Management focuses on the people affected by those projects. Change Management covers the processes, tools and techniques to manage the people side of change, to achieve a required business outcome.

Most successful projects should have a significant and lasting impact on the business and its stakeholders; project and change managers need to work hand-in-hand to ensure a project’s long-term success.

Most organisational change efforts take longer and cost more money than leaders and managers anticipate. In fact, research from McKinsey and Company shows that 70% of all transformation projects fail.

That stat is likely one that you have heard before – in fact, that failure rate may actually be increasing, according to recent research from IBM. In an increasingly connected world, which is moving faster than ever before, our need to change is growing – but our ability to do so effectively seems to be shrinking.

Nearly 60% of the executives and project managers surveyed in that study say changing mind-sets and attitudes is the biggest challenge to implementing change in the workplace, with Corporate culture second at 41%.

Therefore, it is fair to say that changing behaviours is hard, yet vital to the overall success of a project. This is the role of the Change Manager.

Changing mind-sets has been found to be difficult for a number of reasons – one of these is change fatigue – the result of past failures tormenting the attitudes of current employees and the sacrifices they have made during a previous, likely arduous, transformation project.

Another is that of “inertia” – pulling people back into their previous, more comfortable ways. This can be termed ‘homeostasis’ – the tendency for systems to maintain their current state.

Projects will often finish before the change is fully embedded and, because the overall project success rests on the change becoming the new normal, further investment may be required.

In our experience, one of the greatest contributors to success in change management is that of “active and visible sponsorship” from leaders – found at all levels of the business – enforcing the behaviours and processes aligned to the project goals and sharing successes along the way. Successful transformations must be led by ecosystems of leaders across the entire organisation.

The best way of achieving this is through an effective, consistently applied management operating system that encourages active management and visible sponsorship.

Changing behaviour is not a one-off task, but needs to be a continual effort until new habits are formed – it doesn’t end just because the Project Manager says we have got to the end of the project schedule.