Project management: The change challenge

3 steps you can take today to make change more acceptable (if not easier to bear)

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by Ty Kiisel, @task - Change is hard. We humans are creatures of habit and we don't like it when someone upsets the apple cart. That being said, projects often react like living, changing creatures. Sometimes it only takes a few hours for a successful project to morph into something spiraling down the vortex to disaster. With that in mind, project management might sound like a counter instinctual career choice, but I tend to look at it the same way some cultures look at their dream lives. By overcoming their fears in their dreams, it makes them stronger in their waking lives. Change might be hard for us to face, but the more often we face our fear (of change), the better we get at adapting and overcoming.

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Because projects change, knowing (and then educating everyone involved with the change) what to expect can make changes a little easier to deal with. When the change becomes more than something minor, the "fear of change" in most cases is simply a fear of the unknown. Here are some of the most common fears that organizations face as they try to change or implement new methodologies:

1. It's Different: Realizing that there are some people who thrive on change, but most people don't, is important. You may get pushback simply because it's a change.

2. Some People are Uncomfortable with Additional Scrutiny: Projects that might be important to one senior manager may not be as important to others. This could make some managers a little nervous that their projects might not stand up to peer review.

3. Some Projects are More Important than Others: Implementing a sound work management methodology will mean that only those projects that provide the most value will get pushed forward -- not the "pet" projects of influential stakeholders. Because this might negatively impact some projects, those stakeholders may try to block the process.

4. There are Tough Decisions to be Made: Best practice requires that some projects will get funded and others will not. It's important that senior managers understand that they have a responsibility to the organization -- not just their individual departments.

5. Implementation Takes Time: Implementing a new methodology for project-based work takes time. Because it doesn't happen overnight, there will be those who will say they don't have time for this, but it's necessary to take the time to be successful.

Like any organizational culture change, there will be those who embrace the change and others who don't. That being said, let me suggest a few approaches that will make change more acceptable (if not easier to bear):

Be Sensitive: Realizing that change is had for many people to accept, be aware that a heavy-handed approach to change is never well received. If your approach to making change is threatening, it will be received threateningly by project teams, and what's more could negatively impact team productivity and project success.

Make Data-Driven Decisions: Formalizing the project selection process with pre-determined criteria for evaluating potential projects and selecting those that will be pursued is a great first step to creating a culture where project decisions aren't personal (or fearful). When everyone understands how decisions are made, it makes decisions about change much easier for everyone to accept.

Be Patient: The time devoted to implementing change is well worth the effort. Don't give up if the people in your organization don't immediately respond. Positive change will be accepted and embraced as the positive fruits of the change become apparent.

What are some of the challenges you have successfully faced when implementing a major change like a new project management methodology? What did you do to help your project teams embrace the change?

Ty Kiisel writes about project management issues and best practices for @task Project Management Software. Follow Ty on Twitter: @tykiisel

For more project management tips, see:
Project management: Scrapping a doomed project
Project Management: 4 Questions To Ask Before Starting Any Project
Project management: 4 tips for dealing with problem stakeholders

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