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John Roberts3 min read

Key Project Management Questions for Managing Change

Project Management is often perceived as a technical, process type skill to help us deliver initiatives efficiently.  What is often missed is the important role that project management skills play in managing change initiatives.

We often think of change management as happening later in a project when we need to take people on a behaviour change journey, but really this  happens right at the start of a project and this is when project management skills can play a significant role.

The key to any change initiative process is to get alignment with the key stakeholders on the two questions, why and what; “why are we doing the initiative?” and “what will success look like?”

In order to align with your key stakeholders, it is really important to first identify and prioritise them. A simple approach to this is to brainstorm all the possible stakeholders you can think of and then assess each one based on two dimensions; their power/influence over the project and their interest in the outcomes of the project (see diagram). This prevents us from missing stakeholders but also gets us talking to the right ones first and not those who are good at consuming our time.

Having identified your key stakeholders, we need to get alignment on the ‘why’. It’s not easy to get this alignment and we all know that if you have two key stakeholders with two different views on why we are doing the change, they will pull the project in different directions. Try this short exercise with your team. Ask each one separately to articulate (or write down) the ‘why’ for the initiative they are working on and see how subtly different their responses  are. If we are not aligned, buy in will be low (Simon Sinek* has taught us this).

Next, the ‘what’ question. The question “what will success look like?” is saying ‘what are our objectives’. I find SMART objectives cumbersome and poorly applied, mainly because of the mis-use of the “R”. Most people think it should the Reaslistic but I think it should be “Relevant” and this means making our objectives relevant back to the ‘why’.

I therefore simplify SMART by just asking one key question; “What would be a good measure of success relevant to the why?” If our objectives are not aligned to the ‘why’, then we drive people’s behavior in the wrong direction. Let’s look at an example of this. A person decides she wants to run this year’s Sydney marathon. Her ‘why’ is to raise money for a charity close to her heart. She sets herself a good measurable objective to run the marathon in less than 4 hours. However, what behavior does it drive? She focusses in on training. A more relevant objective would be to raise $1000. This would drive her behaviour to fund raising.  We typically try to achieve objectives if we buy into them. We often end up disappointed with the outcome because we’ve focused on and been driven by the wrong behaviours.

In summary, at the start of a change initiative it is imperative to get alignment with our key stakeholders on the ‘why’ and the ‘what’ and then to set relevant objectives to drive the behaviours we want.  These are fundamental project management skills that should be applied to all change initiatives. 

Instead of calling in the change manager, call in the project manager first.

John has been running workshops in organisations for the past 10 years to grow project managers ability to get alignment with stakeholders.