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Using change management skills in project management

Using Change Management Skills in Project Management

Published: December 2, 2022
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In business, we often think of ‘change management’ as something that happens on a high level. Change managers focus on facilitating strategic change and making sure things are going to plan while giving teams everything they need to succeed.

A lot of these responsibilities can overlap with those of a project manager. They have a similar focus on performance and progress milestones and must be similarly aware of alterations to the general business environment, stakeholder expectations, and so on.

Of course, while there are some similarities, they are not the same thing. Project managers have clear goals to achieve, while change management is more about ensuring an organization has the capabilities to achieve its goals. But are there areas where the skills of a change manager can enhance projects?

In this article, explore when and how to utilize change management skills in project management.

What is the difference between change management and project management?

Change and project management serve similar functions. However, they are also distinct:

  • Project management – This is about achieving a defined end goal and delivering the required results. It is applied within a project team.
  • Change management – This is more about making sure everyone has the tools and capabilities required to accomplish changes. It is generally applied throughout a transformation program.

It can be best summarized as such: project management is about reaching the finish line, and change management is about keeping the vehicle running. While their purposes are different, the skills and information required for each can be extremely similar.

Where do change and project management overlap?

There are a number of overlapping areas to take into account:

  • Context – Change and project managers both benefit immensely from keeping an awareness of the wider context of their work. This can include market conditions, stakeholder expectations, and so on. 
  • Capabilities – For a project to succeed, managers must understand the means they have to achieve targets and how to apply them. This can include looking at alternative resources if necessary. A change manager will act similarly to ensure project teams have the resources they require to reach milestones.
  • Planning – Projects and change programs both have goals and milestones. This helps establish progress timelines while also helping define how to measure performance incrementally. 
  • Governance – Project managers focus on the business justification or ‘business case’ of their project, making sure it is justifiable in relation to organizational strategy. This requires strategic awareness and knowing when to raise issues with different parties. Change managers require a similar level of focus and must be able to step in to ensure targets are achieved.
  • Communication – Change and project managers must both build and prioritize communication with team members, stakeholders, program managers, suppliers, and other audiences. This helps them maintain their awareness and ensure potential problems can be escalated to the right people.
  • Roles and responsibilities – Defining roles and responsibilities is a key part of establishing the parameters of a project. These can also change over time, and project managers must be capable of adapting in order to still meet project goals. Change managers must be prepared to do this across an entire program.

We can also see a number of similarities between change and project management when looking at the types of transformation that occur within an organization:

  • Strategic – These changes occur on a large scale and are widely impactful. Projects fall within them, and managers must build and maintain their awareness of the wider strategy.
  • Reactive – This occurs in response to sudden or unforeseen changes or challenges. Managers often have little time to react but must be capable of amending projects and strategies as necessary. This can require a high degree of enterprise agility.
  • Anticipatory – This involves planning changes in advance, such as in response to upcoming developments and emerging trends. Projects are defined early, and managers must remain aware of the long-term context. This not only helps maintain progress but also builds momentum if the benefits of a project are not immediately apparent.
  • Incremental – This involves a management approach that focuses on short-term targets and deliverables. This suits project-level awareness but is also being applied on a larger scale with frameworks like AgilePgM and AgileSHIFT. Both project managers and change managers must be prepared to amend targets based on short-term results and immediate feedback.

Conclusion

When it comes to the question of how to apply change management skills to a project, it is important to remember exactly why there is so much overlap. Change and project management occur under the same umbrella, with both ultimately contributing to transforming the capabilities of an organization (albeit at different scales).

They also do not necessarily occur separately. A company may not have dedicated change managers, with associated functions instead being carried out by project and program leaders. Project managers may also be expected to help facilitate change by providing stakeholders with insight and communication. They may raise concerns and will be expected to understand the wider strategic context when carrying out their own work.

Within a collaborative business environment, it is often a given that project and change managers must understand each other’s roles and priorities. A project manager may even pursue this to take on more high-level responsibilities over time, gradually moving more into strategic program management.

Studying project management and change management

Good e-Learning is an award-winning online training provider. We offer fully accredited courses across a number of topics, including project and program management, business and digital transformation, and more.

Our in-house e-learning team works with subject matter experts to deliver courses that not only help candidates get certified but also provide practical advice for applying training in practice. Our courses also come with a variety of assets, including instructor-led videos, free exam vouchers, free downloadable resources, and regular knowledge checks.

Want to find out more about how our training can help build your skills in project, program, and change management? Try a free course trial, or contact a member of our team today!