Managing change on projects: James T. Brown at Synergy 2014


“We have to get them to want what we have to deliver,” said Dr. James T. Brown at the PMI UK Chapter event Synergy earlier this month. “We have to go through this process to prove you are a good person and to make them anticipate the deliverable.”

He was talking about wooing.

It’s what project managers have to do to get stakeholders on side for their projects and to make change successful. “Wooing,” he continued, “is not a step function. You don’t implement it and you get it.” It takes time and effort to build relationships that result in stakeholders getting excited about your project and prepared to deal with the work it takes to change.

The three steps of change management

James said that there were many change models but he subscribes to Kurt Lewin’s Freeze Phases:

  1. Unfreeze: recognise the need for change
  2. Do the change: deploy project, deliver change, transition to new way of working
  3. Refreeze: fix everyone in the new way of doing things.

It’s an easy model but one that you have to apply if you want your project deliverables to really stick.

“There’s no magic here,” he said. “It’s not complex. Project management is not difficult. The difficulty is in applying the discipline of common sense.”

Communicate aggressively with stakeholders

Wherever you have unknowns, people will imagine the worst and will act as if the worst is going to happen, he explained. People don’t care if the change is for the good of the organisation: when something big is happening they only care about what it means for them. James stressed the importance of communication: “Communicate aggressively,” he said. “Provide continual reassurance.”

Stakeholder communication should be:

  • Regular: planned in the diary already
  • Personal: take the time to meet every stakeholder while the project is going well so that if something does go wrong you aren’t meeting them for the first time to share bad news
  • Balanced: don’t only communicate bad news; share successes as well.

Getting stakeholders ready for the journey

Think about how you are going to help your project stakeholders on the journey. They will need training on the new deliverables or solution you are implementing but how about also:

  • Training them on the project methodology
  • Talking to them about requirements creation and management
  • Making organisational roles and responsibilities clear
  • Working through changing business processes.

These all make them feel more comfortable about how they are going to get to their new state. That helps them feel more secure about the change and how it will be achieved.

He also recommended listening to everything, especially the things you can’t change or control as sometimes people just want to be heard.

Plan for success

Finally, James talked about concrete steps to take to bring people along with the change, ending with planning for acceptance. This final stage on the change management journey helps people see that you have reached then end and that the new ways of working are finally here.

Set up a mentoring programme and ensure they have all had their training on the deliverables and are ready to use them. It’s also important to acknowledge what the end of the project is going to look like and how you’ll know if you have been successful. Set and communicate project success criteria to measure yourself against (read more about how to define project success criteria here).

Whatever you are doing, ensuring good stakeholder communication and change management on your project will help you be more successful. As James said, there is plenty of theory and practice to draw from but “nothing beats knowledge and judgement.” Apply these wisely and your project stakeholders will thank you for it.

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