A crossroad sign that reads future and past at an intersection - change management meets project management
PHOTO: Shutterstock

Change is running rampant in the enterprise, especially with regards to technology. With enterprise solutions, for example, there are so many different cloud applications available that many business teams are going rogue and implementing these apps without involving IT, which only leads to more headaches. And focusing exclusively on the technology aspect without considering the people involved and organizational change that comes with it is an all too common mistake.

Project Management and Change Management

When faced with the kind of rapid change that comes with digital transformation, organizations must realize there are two main constituents involved: upper management and end-user employees. While senior managers need to understand how the proposed change will directly affect their specific business challenges, end users must also feel included in the overall process. Often, organizations will introduce new technology without first consulting with the end users, which can leave them feeling excluded and overwhelmed at the prospect of having to learn a new tool while also keeping up with their day job.

Project management tools can make this easier, however, it is important to understand the difference between project management and change management in order to optimize the use of both. Lisa Barrington, a workplace and employee engagement strategist, defines each as follows:

1. Change Management

Change management, she said, is about managing people's reactions and buy-in to change. When done correctly, all the stakeholders have been identified, the manner in which the change will affect them is identified, anticipated reactions are explored (and plans to mitigate negative reactions are put in place), a plan for communication is created to ensure all are made aware of forthcoming changes within appropriate time frames, communication about the plan is cascaded and the plan is implemented and measured for effectiveness.

Change management should occur not only with projects, but with all initiatives or changes that affect stakeholders (whether that's employees, customers, shareholders or the public).

2. Project Management

Further down the chain is project management. Project management is about breaking down the who, what, when and how, and the (budget allotment) of a project. Then setting up plans, goals, and measures for the what, when and how much, and managing to those agreements. “Using techniques not only to measure, but to communicate progress, leverage resources effectively, and ensure timelines and budgets are adhered to are earmarks of good project management,” she said.

Related Article: How to Approach Change Management in the Digital Workplace

Project/Change Management Differences

Stephen Hart, CEO of Cardswitcher, said the problem for many is that the difference between project management and change management is relatively subtle so it's not really surprising that people confuse the two. At its most basic, project management refers to the act of organizing, supervising and carrying out particular projects. Change management refers to the process of carrying out particular projects that are designed to have a long-term, structural impact on the way a business functions.

Perhaps some of the difficulties with distinguishing between the two comes from the fact that you can't have change management without project management. Well, technically you can have change management (admittedly, not very good change management) processes without project management.

Practical Enterprise Applications

In sum, change management puts focus on people and the impact a certain process will have on them or on the business. Each activity brings changes that need adaptation and the purpose of this type of management is to track those things.

Project management focuses on planning, initiating, executing and monitoring certain activities to meet the goals of the organization. Although it involves people, the main priority is a concrete process and all of the steps necessary to make it happen.

In practical terms, according to Raj Vardhman of online digital marketing agency 99Firms, this breaks down as follows:

Change management

  • Main focus on people and the impact certain process has on them.
  • Broader standards and less specific monitoring criteria.
  • No strict timeline.
  • Fewer stages in the process.

Project management

  • Main focus on the activities and processes.
  • Strict guidelines and monitoring criteria.
  • Clear milestones and timelines.
  • Concrete steps in each phase of the process.

“These two types of management can and should be used together in order to efficiently meet organization’s goals. This way, concrete activities will be executed and their impact on people and important stakeholders will be followed through on time,” Vardhman said.

Related Article: How to Win at Change Management: Lessons From the Masters Tournament

Projects as Part of Change Management

Even if the two are quite different, most digital workers see project management as a necessary component of change management. Without project management, change is just an idea. Project management is a discipline of managing resources, stakeholders and deadlines to lead a project through completion.

Change management, on the other hand, typically involves leading a company through change at a more cultural level — even if it's just changing a process for the way people normally do their jobs. Change management usually requires a champion, or a leader that has power within the organization to affect others' mindsets. “The position level needed (director, VP, etc.) depends on the level of change being enacted,” said Marcus Wadell of SoundEmblem.com. “Positional power is also not the only way for champions to enact change. Some project managers, team leads, or other positions may also have enough respect in the organization to lead the change (even if they need to borrow positional power from someone else as a sponsor).”

Where the two areas relate is in the implementation. For example, change management could be standardizing our sales process across all 30 national branches. What that change initiative may require is a project manager to run the implementation of a CRM software and train all the branches.

Without project management, it gets stuck as an idea. Without change management, even a successful project may never be fully adopted by members of the organization. 

An organization requires strong project management and change management to reinvent and grow. Both are crucial for success of an organization. Without strong project management organizations will not be able to release new products in the market or bring about internal changes. Without strong change management organization cannot survive in the ever-changing competitive business world.