IPMA International Project Management Association
16 March 2016 / 1:09

Change and Project Management – Two sides of the same medal

Recently a participant of a workshop asked me how change and project management differ. My answer came as a surprise to that person, because I see rather similarities and synergies instead of differentiating factors. In fact, I foresee the two disciplines growing together. What is change management? According to Wikipedia Change management “refers to any approach to transitioning individuals, teams, and organizations using methods intended to re-direct the use of resources, business process, budget allocations, or other modes of operation that significantly reshape a company or organization.” This is very similar to some definitions for project management. Both disciplines are rather two sides of the same medal. The main focus of project management is getting something done, achieving ambitious objectives and delivering value to the various stakeholders. Due to its history in the aerospace and defence sector, project management was in the past rather focusing on “hard” aspects such as planning and controlling of engineering or construction projects. Nowadays, we see projects spreading in all sectors, private, public and even the not-for-profit organisations use projects and thus project management to achieve their objectives. In the past decades, the “soft” aspects are gaining more and more recognition in project management, focusing on team collaboration, stakeholder engagement, micro politics and – not surprisingly – the transition of individuals, teams and organisations.

Winter and Szcepanek highlight the change perspective in their famous book “Images of Projects” as a “framework for seeing projects as change processes, covering aspects such as the context and rationale for change, the perceived scope and content, and the different phases of planned change from the ´up-stream´ phase through the ´downstream´ phase.” Every project has a change component, even the often purely seen technical projects have it. For example, developing a new car means to change behaviour and culture to be innovative, to change existing routines for bringing the invention to the market and so on. Implementing an ERP system encompasses change, as it requires employees to work differently, with different partners and so on. This is the main reason why the 4th Version of the IPMA Individual Competence Baseline introduced the competence element “change and transformation” for managers of projects and programmes. The description for this competence elements reads as follows: “Newly developed capabilities only deliver benefits when they are put to use and when they are supported by the organisations and the people receiving them.”

How can change management benefit from project management? Changing individuals, teams and organisations require SMART objectives, planning and controlling as well as other approached predominantly used in our domain. A project manager may support the organisation and realisation of change, they make it fly… The change management discipline may call a plan an “intervention architecture” and use many other terms, but it is time to recognise for both disciplines that we should start collaborating more and trying to find synergies. A good opportunity for finding commonalities are the upcoming Baltic PM Days at Riga  focusing on “The Art of Embracing Changes”. During my keynote I will also introduce the third side of the medal, the edge. It stands for strategy. Both, projects and change are intended to achieving strategic objectives. The strategy acts like an umbrella or a framing narrative. I strongly believe, that both disciplines will converge in the upcoming years, and that´s beneficial for all of us!



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Reinhard Wagner

Author of this post

Reinhard Wagner has been active for more than 30 years in the field of project- related leadership, in such diverse sectors as Air Defense, Automotive Engineering, and Machinery, as well as various not-for-profit organizations. As a Certified Projects Director (IPMA Level A), he has proven experience in managing projects, programmes and project portfolios in complex and dynamic contexts. He is also an IPMA Certified Programme and Portfolio Management Consultant, and as such supports senior executives in developing and improving their organizational competence in managing projects. For more than 15 years, he has been actively involved in the development of project, programme and portfolio management standards, for example as Convenor of the ISO 21500 “Guidance on Project Management” and the ISO 21503 “Guidance on Programme Management”. Reinhard Wagner is Past President of IPMA and Chairman of the Council, Honorary Chairman of GPM (the German Project Management Association), as well as Managing Director of Tiba Managementberatung GmbH.