Why care about change management?

Organizational Change

This is a very common question from many of our clients. Typically it comes up early in the project, right after the question, “what do you mean by change management?”

In the context of this discussion, change management is the activities you undertake during a project to minimize negative impacts of the project on stakeholders and maximize positive impacts. Why this is relevant to your project really boils down to the amount of risk and hidden costs you are willing to accept. A good change management program will take into account project risks (particularly as they impact the end users) and ensure that the stakeholders accept the new process/system, or whatever is the main output of your project. By having the stakeholders (typically end users) prepared for the change, and led through the process of accepting the change, negative impacts (most frequently lost productivity) can be minimized or mitigated. The lack of a change management program typically leads to slower adoption of the change, if at all, as well as a much more negative overall assessment of the project by the impacted stakeholders.

The Kubler-Ross model (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K%C3%BCbler-Ross_model) can be applied to changes in the workplace, resulting from the introduction of new processes or systems. This model provides a framework for the range of emotions that stakeholders will go through over time, as a result of dealing with the change (originally the model was applied to grief, though research has led it to be applied in the context of workplace change). The range of emotions felt over time and common statements reflecting the impact to workplace change include:

Emotion Impact Statement

  • Denial: This won’t impact what I do, just others.
  • Anger: Why is management doing this, it just makes my job more difficult?
  • Bargaining: Can we change the system so I can keep doing X, as I used to?
  • Depression: This new system is bad for me. I don’t like my job anymore.
  • Acceptance: Now that I am used to the new system, it is fine.

Interesting theory, though how does this apply to project management in any sort of quantifiable way? Let me give you an example. We completed two very similar projects for two different clients, in both cases implementing a project management system and related processes. Organization A worked with us to come up with a change management plan, and executed the plan throughout the duration of the project. Key project risks were communicated out to the impacted stakeholders and everyone that was to be impacted in the organization, knew what was coming and had the opportunity to have their questions and concerns openly addressed. (In fact, this process also identified a number of minor changes that were made to the system that improved the overall efficiency of the system). Training was tailored to job roles, with users receiving some general training, as well as customized training, based on how the system would change the way they were working. In contrast, Organization B didn’t have a good grasp of change management, or the value that it could provide in the project. There were plans for some end-user training, though the general attitude was “our staff is smart, they can figure it out when they have to use the system”. Undoubtedly, Organization B saved money in the early stage of the project by not investing in change management to the degree that Organization A did. However, this proved to be very short-sighted, and ended up costing the project more in the longer run.

In the early stages, both projects progressed satisfactorily, though there a lot of complaints within Organization B about the “new system”. At this point these comments and feedback were fueled by fear and uncertainly, as the stakeholders hadn’t seen the system or had a good understanding as to what the impacts would be. After the systems were in place, both organizations had impacts on productivity as staff adapted to the new system and processes. However, there was a notable difference in how quickly staff in each organization were able to adjust to the changes, as reflected in the graph below.


Organization A experienced less negative productivity impact, over a shorter period of time than Organization B (timescale above is in weeks, with the system live and training conducted at Week 1. Productivity was estimated by staff themselves, with data gathered over a sequence of weekly surveys). The area between the two lines represents the difference in productivity (and indirectly cost) that can be gained by incorporating effective change management into your project. In this case, the cost of the change management activities undertaken by Organization A, were judged to be substantially less than the cost of productivity loss for not taking these efforts (Organization B).

Coming back to the original question, “why should I care about change management”, the short answer is that it will ultimately reduce overall project cost through reducing productivity loss, and lead to more rapid adoption and acceptance of your project.

M. Treasure

Change Management Services

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