“The bigger the project and the more profound the change, the more important change management is.” Today, this view is as widely accepted by research scholars as it is by managers responsible for company projects. Nevertheless, project reality looks different in many ways – with negative consequences for the success of the project.
Why is that? A look at the actual project development phase points to an answer. When a major new project is set up, the main focus is usually on project organization: Who can lead the project? What sub-projects should there be? Who is on the steering committee? Once these questions have been clarified, the content planning starts immediately, followed by the kickoff and the start of the project work.
Project organization, staffing and scheduling attract most of the attention of the leadership involved at the outset. The topic of change management is only addressed when communication deficits become visible in the context of project work after the kickoff, personal demands are formulated, and friction becomes apparent.
A change approach emerging in this way is problematic for various reasons. Informal communication within a company begins with the very first information that a major new project is being set up. What is the project about? What is supposed to achieve? Does management have a hidden agenda? These and many other questions are the subject of many rumors and half-truths long before the actual work begins with the kickoff. Once a distorted picture of the project has been established among stakeholders, change management must counter it and can no longer act freely. The resulting loss of effectiveness – and often credibility – is difficult to compensate as the process continues.
It is much more effective to address change management during the entire project life cycle parallel to the classic, “hard” topics of project management. Since communication and opinion-forming about the project starts the moment it emerges, a correctly understood change management should also begin at this time.
An approach that has proven successful in practice is an integrated Project & Change Management Office (PCMO), which unites both fields of action from the very first moment. This enables a realistic, fact-based picture to be conveyed to stakeholders and the broader corporate public right from the start of the project. This also allows the activities and milestones of change management to by synchronized and harmonized with the sequence of project work. Integrated project and change management thus enables effective communication in all phases of the project and ensures that its work is supported on a larger scale. In summary, the statement mentioned at the beginning can therefore be broadened as follows: “The larger the project and more profound the change, the more important change management is – interconnected in terms of content and right from the start”.