This post was submitted by Julie Peachey, a Summer Fellow at Leadership Beyond Boundaries.
Just over three years ago, I found myself in a developing country managing a project that would help about 350,000 poor people save money. The project was essentially an organizational transformation of a large microfinance institution. We’re winding the project down now and I’m reflecting on what we did well, not so well, or maybe not at all.
I often thought of my role as Project Manager like that of an air traffic controller. We had so many consultants on the project — from internal controls to financial risk management to marketing to human resources — I had to manage the runway and make sure there were no collisions in the comings and goings of the consultants or senior management. Not just physically, but emotionally. I spent a good bit of time that first year making sure that the work of each consultant would be seen as a success by the senior management and that they would embrace and implement the various recommendations. I made sure that everything was happening according to plan.
But there were a few line items on the project plan that just were not tangible to me, like:
1) Create the Change Management Roadmap – a set of actions that will be undertaken during the course of the project journey
2) Create change management aids
3) Hold 3 hour Change Management session with internal core team
Those items on the project plan got ignored for quite awhile because I didn’t really know what they were. Then finally I realized we were already doing them. I was initially thrown off because they were set up as tasks on the HR consultant’s project plan. But because everything in our project involved change, in fact I believe that every new initiative is a CHANGE initiative, it seemed funny to have these set out as separate activities.
Recently I read a couple great blogs that reinforced this sense I had that ‘change management’ shouldn’t be a separate line item on the project plan. Frank Sonnenberg argues here that “Change is as much a mind-set as an activity. It is not a special program or an event, but something that must be incorporated into everything you do.” . Ron Ashkenas says in his blog that “change management just became one more work-stream for every project, instead of a new way of thinking about how to get something accomplished….Everyone agrees that change management is important. Making it happen effectively, however, needs to be a core competence of managers and not something that they can pass off to others.”
What do you think? What has been your experience managing change on international development (or other!) types of projects? Is it good to call it out separately on the project plan? or should a change management approach be taken on all project activities?
[Julie Peachey is a cross-cultural team leader who has spent the past 3 years in the Philippines with Grameen Foundation helping a large microfinance institution develop appropriate savings products and education for the poor. She will be writing weekly for the next 2 months and invites feedback and discussion on the topic of change management in mission-driven organizations.]