There are various reasons why projects fail. It could simply be the result of insufficient project requirements, high complexity, unrealistic project expectations, even poor leadership, among many others. What many Project Managers (PM) underestimate is the social factor in project management—an inherent risk to any project. This social risk could correspond to a certain level of internal resistance towards the change within the organization. This inevitably occurs as a direct result of the project, particularly in IT projects where outputs can considerably change the existing company’s business processes and technological tools. Such a scenario might cause some uncertainty among people directly affected by the project, which could negatively impact the project’s overall performance. Therefore, PMs should adopt a more flexible and holistic approach when managing change to increase project stakeholders’ participation and motivation.
While examining change at an organizational level, business practitioner and famous author John Kotter, introduced a valuable and practicable model that covers good change management practices, commonly known as the “8-Step Change Model.” Despite its primary focus on organizational change management, Kotter’s 8-Step Change Model still provides an excellent overview of what PMs should reflect upon when creating effective strategies:
Step 1 – Create a Sense of Urgency
The first step describes the importance of creating a sense of urgency toward change. From a project management’s viewpoint, the PM should ensure that the project team, including any individual affected by the project, has a shared understanding of its importance to the business, i.e., its benefits and the consequences if the project isn’t pursued or implemented. At this stage, PMs have the opportunity to engage with project stakeholders more actively and emphasize the importance of their contribution to the project’s success.
Step 2 – Build a Coalition Team
The second step highlights the value of having a leading team on the project that brings appropriate skills and knowledge in different areas. The PM should form an alliance with a team of experts who could assist her/him in managing stakeholders and enable communication at a more detailed level. Depending on the project’s complexity level, the PM may decide to develop a work-stream centered around change or delegate a dedicated “change manager” for the project.
Step 3 – Create a Vision
The third step refers to the vision for change. In a project, such a vision must be created in the early phase of the project and reinforced throughout. It should provide a clear, yet simple picture of what the project seeks to achieve, what is necessary to achieve such results, and finally, what the organization’s future scenario will be once the project is completed.
Step 4 – Communicate the Vision
The fourth step focuses on reinforcing and communicating that vision among project stakeholders to ensure they have a mutual understanding of the project. At this stage, PMs can benefit from workshops with key stakeholders or any other communication mediums tailored to the audience and communicated on a regular basis.
Step 5 – Remove Obstacles
The fifth step covers the obstacles and barriers against change. By having efficient and effective controls in place, PMs identify and overcome obstacles during project implementation. As a result, PMs may decide to reevaluate the project’s resources, processes, and procedures currently in place to increase the project success rate.
Step 6 – Generate Short-term Wins
The sixth step describes the importance of acknowledging short-term wins in the project. In short, PMs should consider celebrating short-term accomplishments as a method to boost the project team’s morale and stakeholder’s perception towards the project that is being executed.
Step 7 – Build on the Change
Although short-term wins are beneficial for the project, it is essential to keep the momentum going to achieve long-term results. With the contribution of project stakeholders, PMs should review previous project achievements and identify an opportunity for improvement to be documented and used for future reference.
Step 8 – Institute Change
After successful project implementation, old habits, systems, and processes may emerge across the organization. At this point, it is important to ensure the regular use of the employed solution (the changes made) by the assigned users. This can be accomplished by ongoing user training and support. Finally, ensure that the team’s efforts for the project completion are recognized and rewarded.
Regardless of the project’s size and complexity, PMs should not limit themselves with the use of a single methodology in change management. To broaden the possibilities of a solution, they should look for creative approaches according to specific needs and case scenarios. Ultimately, the success of any given project will greatly depend on the adherence and acceptance level of stakeholders.