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13 Best Practices for Successful Change Management

Maggie Tully
|
June 3, 2023
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The goal of projects is to deliver on objectives that create meaningful change for a client. But what happens when the project itself suddenly encounters unexpected changes? 

Well, that’s where change management comes in. With the right change management skills, project managers are able to help their teams adapt to unforeseen adjustments while still delivering their projects on time, within budget, and in scope. 

In this article, we’ll dive into everything you need to know, along with 13 change management best practices.

What is change management? 

Change management is the process of seeing adjustments to company processes, technology, or structure from idea to implementation. 

This can happen at three different levels within a company: the enterprise level, project level, or individual level. An enterprise-level change might involve a new direction and mission statement, whereas a project-level alternation might be changing standard project team sizes from 10 employees to 8, for instance. 

Not all changes are equal in importance, but change management is the best way to ensure a smooth transition with as little friction as possible. 

The types of changes that change management deals with are typically either adaptive or transformational. Adaptive changes are smaller, more gradual changes that are made to things like products, workflows, or processes over time. 

Transformational changes are the exact opposite, as they’re significantly larger in scale and scope and lead to very sudden changes in processes. For example, deciding to enter a new international market is a type of transformational change that would require immediate attention. Sometimes, organizations set up entire projects focused on implementing transformational changes. 

However, in this blog, we’ll be specifically focusing on change management through a project management lens, which we’ll get into below. 

Illustration of scope changes

Change management in projects 

Any project manager knows that projects are super susceptible to change. “Change” in this case relates to anything that alters either your project goals or the way that you go about conducting work for the project. That might include changes to job functions, organizational structure, tasks, or even scope changes

Change management is the way that you handle that change to prevent it from negatively impacting your project outcomes. This is typically done by introducing new processes or tools that make the change easier to navigate. 

In terms of who oversees change management in a project setting, that might depend on the size of your team. A smaller team might rely on the project manager to implement a change management strategy, while a team with more resources might have a change manager or a dedicated change control board

If your organization is already undergoing a large change, having a team dedicated to managing the transition will increase your likelihood of project success by making that change occur faster and more cost-efficiently. 

13 change management best practices within project management 

As we’ve discussed, there are many different types of change management. While organizational change is one part of it, it can also be related to changes made to your project requirements or changes to your workflows. 

Regardless of the type of project change management you’re dealing with, these 13 change management best practices will point you in the right direction. 

1. Determine the type of change management you’re dealing with

When handling change management in projects, you’ll want to begin by diagnosing the type of change you’re dealing with. This will make it easier to create a plan of action for implementation. 

Here are the four main types of change management: 

  • Anticipatory: These are changes that are expected, which allows you to plan for them in advance. An example of this might be the retirement of a senior project manager. 
  • Reactive: This type of change management is used to respond to an unforeseen change when there is little time to plan in advance. Crisis situations often call for reactive change management since they’re usually sudden and call for a fast response. 
  • Incremental: This type of change management involves introducing small changes over a longer period of time. This might happen when the client asks for additional deliverables when the project is already underway — commonly known as scope creep.
  • Strategic: These changes are substantially larger than the categories above, and they tend to impact the organization’s direction more broadly. For example, if a marketing agency decides to implement an AI to write all content, entire project plans may need to be rewritten. 

As you might’ve guessed, the work involved in each type of change management varies considerably, which is why it’s important to categorize your change at the start of your process. 

2. Identify which areas of your project will be impacted by the change

Before you make a plan of action, take the time to assess the severity of the change at hand. To what extent does the change impact the project? Is it contained in a particular project phase? Does it only impact the work of certain team members? 

Asking these questions can help you understand how robust your change management planning needs to be based on who or what will be impacted. 

3. Make your team aware of the change early on

Transparency is an important part of successful change management. You don’t want your team to feel blindsided or unhappy dealing with change, and the best way to avoid this is by being upfront about the change management process early on. Let them know what to expect, how it will work, and field any questions they may have. 

Related: 12 Ways to Improve Team Accountability [Remote & Onsite]

4. Assess your team’s change readiness

For changes that are larger in scope, it’s important to assess your team’s change readiness before proceeding with implementation. In essence, change readiness is an examination of how prepared your team is for the planned change. 

This includes looking at things like the adaptability and willingness to change of all employees. You’ll also want to consider if your business’s finances can handle such a change, and if the technology your team is currently using will be able to withstand the upcoming adjustments. 

5. Create a roadmap for change implementation

Change can be scary. Luckily, having a change implementation roadmap can demystify what lies ahead. 

We’ve already discussed how change can vary significantly. In some cases, it might mean consolidating team roles and taking on more responsibility should a team member have to suddenly leave the project. Other times, it might mean shifting to a new project management software. 

Regardless of the details, your roadmap should include a glimpse into the timeline for implementation and what adjustments need to be made at each stage of the change process. 

Project roadmap

6. Devise a risk management plan 

The reason so many organizations invest significant time and funding into change management is that it can be an inherently risky process. If not executed correctly, changes that were supposed to improve organizational workflows can actually have the opposite effect. 

This is why developing a risk management plan is an absolute must as part of your change management processes. For example, when considering changing to a new software tool, assessing the risks associated with poor implementation is a valuable part of planning. By having some awareness of what could go wrong, you’ll be better prepared to enact your plan B, should you need it. 

7. Gain stakeholder or client buy-in

When it comes to organizational change management, it’s most important to gain the approval and buy-in of executives and other business leaders. But when it comes to projects, you’ll want to make sure the client and various stakeholders approve of the proposed changes before you make them. 

Before you present these changes to them, make sure you have a clear understanding of how the proposed changes will impact their interests. For example, will you still be able to deliver the project on time and within budget? Will there be any changes to the quality of your team’s work? Attempt to anticipate any questions they might have. 

8. Craft a communication strategy

Because change management involves a shift in the status quo, it’s important to keep communication clear and direct to avoid confusion among the project team. 

When creating a communication plan, keep in mind that many people don’t like change, as people tend to be more comfortable sticking to what they know. Account for this by keeping regular communication with everyone involved and using the group’s preferred communication channel, whether that be email or frequent meetings. 

9. Collect feedback as the change implementation is underway

Sometimes you find out during the implementation process that the proposed changes just don’t work. But without sufficient feedback from everyone involved, you’ll have a difficult time coming to this realization. 

Gathering your team’s opinions is an extremely valuable exercise, and in addition to showing you what you can improve, it also ensures everyone on your team feels heard. 

10. Make adjustments as you go

Your roadmap, risk assessment, and communication plans might not be perfect the first time around. If you find your team struggling to keep up with their project work while also shifting to a new way of working, it might be time to make some slight adjustments. 

This is one of the benefits of having a dedicated change manager, as they can monitor these adjustments more closely than a project manager might have time for. 

11. Gather data on the implementation performance

One of the best ways to see if your change management was successful is by comparing your past project data to your current metrics. For example, if you just implemented a new time tracking tool, did that have a measurable impact on the number of billable hours your team recorded?

Another way to measure your change management performance is with a goal-setting framework like OKRs or KPIs. With KPIs specifically, you’ll set numeric goals on where your project performance should be after the change, and then you can see how your actual data compares to those KPIs as the project unfolds. 

Project data

12. Utilize a project management tool

Staying organized is one of the most important things you can do when balancing change management. When undergoing changes related to team responsibilities, using a project management software tool can make your life a million times easier. 

Some software solutions, like Rodeo Drive, can serve as a single source of truth for your projects. This means all of your critical project functions — whether that be budgeting, time tracking, invoicing, or reporting — can all occur in just one place. 

Adding a project activity in Rodeo Drive's planner

So, for example, if you’re dealing with a change in team structure, it’s easier than ever to view what everyone’s working on and avoid assigning them more tasks than they have the capacity for. 

This is just one use case, though. Schedule a demo with a Rodeo Drive expert to learn how the platform can improve your change management practices. 

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13. Prevent a reversion to the previous way of doing things 

Change management is an ongoing process — especially for changes that take some getting used to. The last thing you want is for your project team to grow frustrated with the new processes in place and revert to their old system or tools. 

Seasoned change managers know the importance of creating reinforcement strategies for this very reason. Team members should feel comfortable voicing their concerns to whoever’s at the forefront of the change management process because making adjustments is much more productive than undoing the progress you’ve worked toward altogether. 

After all, there’s a reason why a decision was made to pursue this change. It’s in your team’s best interest to stick to it. 

Takeaway

Even project managers who’ve never heard the term “change management” before have likely already experienced it to some degree. For instance, if you’ve ever dealt with scope creep, you already know what it’s like. 

We hope these 13 change management best practices have left you feeling more prepared to guide your team through potential changes as smoothly as possible. After all, it doesn’t have to be a painful process! 

Don’t forget — if you’re looking for a software solution to keep your projects organized as you undergo this process, Rodeo Drive can help. Sign up for free today.