Project Management and Organizational Change

The Project Management Institute has published Managing Change in Organizations: A Practice Guide. This guide, which a staff member at a client organization brought to my attention applies project, program, and portfolio management practices to change management in organizations.

The goal of the guide is to increase the effectiveness of change management in organizations. Of course, coming from the Project Management Institute, the Guide makes certain assumptions. Although the guide introduces well known organizational change models (Bridges, Kotter, etc.) the framework is embedded in project management (control). Organizational project management is central to successful organizational change in this model.

Organizational change projects can certainly benefit from a certain level of project management such as mapping out the project schedule including critical path, defining tasks and resources, and tracking progress. However, approaching organizational change as a project, program, or portfolio that can be controlled and managed through the application of project management techniques puts the cart before the horse.

As the guide points out, project management and change management domains are separate but overlapping in what they emphasize. It is valuable for practitioners in each field to be aware of the other domain and what it can offer. While the discipline of project management can add value to an organizational change project, the constant need for responsiveness in today’s world that the guide discusses is better addressed by being adaptive.

The jazz metaphor Frank Barrett described in his book Yes to the Mess: Surprising Leadership Lessons from Jazz is a more realistic approach to organizational change, which is inherently unpredictable, than a method that emphasizes control. The Practice Guide is worth a read, in part because change management professionals may encounter project managers who are attempting to use the Guide in their organizational change efforts. Familiarity with the framework presented in the Guide may help keep channels of communication open between the two domains to achieve a balance between control and tolerance for mess.

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