Change Management is More than a Few Lines on a Project Plan

This post was submitted by Julie Peachey, a Summer Fellow at Leadership Beyond Boundaries.

Change ManagementJust 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. 
Saving Mobilization Project
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.]

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3 Responses to Change Management is More than a Few Lines on a Project Plan

  1. marcela3072 says:

    Hi Julie:
    I don’t think change management should be a separate line on the project plan because it is what you do on a daily basis when you are trying to do something new or improve on something already taking place. I am weary of new terms that come and go and create confusion in the practititioner community, creating the notion that this is a new task you need to check off. You knew what you had to do and were already doing it, you just had not given it the “catchy” new name. As a Monitoring and Evaluation consultant, I was much more interested in what you said about making sure the consultant recommendations were implemented by the management team. The question this raises for me is: if funders are willing to invest so much time planning the new project, doing needs assessment, developing its theory of change, etc., why aren’t they willing to put in the time at the end to implement the recommendations of all the experts they hire? I think this critical task is perhaps the one that needs to be a different line on the work plan. Should we call it “results management”? What do you think?

    Marcela Gutierrez
    Gutierrez Consulting Partnerships

    • Julie Peachey says:

      Hi Marcela, Thanks for your comment and sorry for my extremely delayed response. I struggled with the question you raise about why invest all the time upfront, if recommendations might not end up being implemented. It’s frustrating as an outside project manager to have responsibility for a project’s deliverables and outcomes, but not the authority to actually implement.

      It seems there is a belief among TA providers and consultants that just because we make a recommendation that it SHOULD be implemented. We have good reasons for thinking this way, but it may not always fit according to the orgs we work with. In the case of my project, it wasn’t about anyone not investing the time to implement the recommendations. It was more about whether the recommendations from our various project consultants were indeed appropriate to the context of this organization – to its culture, priorities, and it’s people’s capacities. In the beginning, we spent quite a bit of time building trust with the organization, and understanding what would and wouldn’t work. Over time, this helped speed up the adoption of recommendations made later in the project, probably. because our recommendations were becoming more appropriate to them over time. When consultants fly in for a couple weeks here and there, I think it’s much more difficult for them to leave behind recommendations and tools (and most importantly, the knowledge transfer) that the organization is able to implement.

      I think this is an overlooked area of development projects and that there probably is a better way to upfront get clarification and understanding around what an org thinks they should implement, what they are capable of implementing and whether they have the time and resources to do so. I think it’s a worthy investment to make. Maybe it could be called something like ‘results contextualization’, but then we’d get accused of creating another catchy name for something that we should be doing as a core part of our work anyway!

  2. Joe Rafter says:

    It’s a combination of specific activities like the traditional communication and training, but it also includes other tasks like creating coalitions and designing buy-in to the solution with individual, small team, or large group tasks.

    I agree that change is more complex than a few lines in a project plan, but change should be included in the project plan, if only to emphasize the fact that delivering change is a task that needs to be executed with milestones, owners, and a logical sequence.

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