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There is a lot of confusion out there as to what a change manager is (and does) and what a project manager is (and does). If we want to make the situation even more confusing we can add the program manager in the mix!

Change management is becoming very popular and, unfortunately, also very fashionable. The problem is that many managers and recruiters haven’t a clear idea and knowledge about the differences between these disciplines and what they entail. This is reflected in completely crazy job descriptions and requests  for individuals to perform activities that are typically linked to project management, even if the company is stating that they are looking for a change manager!

How come it is so messy? Well, let’s go back to the basics.

How do we define project management? There are many definitions out there. To keep things simple let’s start with the one provided by Wikipedia (I can see the “purists” going “are you crazy you should start with the definition by a, or b or c”). As I said, let’s keep things simple!

  • Project management is the discipline of planning, organising, securing and managing resources to bring about the successful completion of specific project goals and objectives.

Project management was created to deliver  projects in sectors such as construction, defence and engineering. The focus on adoption was not a big deal and was fundamentally ignored.

Its measures of success are focused on how well the project management team can deliver “on time, on budget and according to specifications”. You can see that in this basic form there is no reference to stakeholders’ adoption.

At the end of the 60s several associations were created with the aim of promoting project management as a discipline, most notably the APM in the UK and the PMI in the US. The PMI published the PMBOK Guide, which sets the standards for the discipline. This has the advantage of creating a common language amongst the  project management practitioners.

The project management life cycle consists in five process groups: initiating, planing, executing, controlling/monitoring and closing. The PMBOK makes a reference to the project human resources management, but it is not at the top of the list!

  • Nowadays organisations launch and run a multitude of projects at the same time and most of those projects have dependencies with one another. There is a requirement to manage them in a cohesive way. Here comes program management: the process of managing several related projects, often with the intention of improving an organisation’s performance.

Using a simplistic language the program manager oversees the overall program, where the program is made up of several dependent projects.

 

But, what about change management?

  • Change management was originally aimed at filling in for project management’s shortcomings and to support the achievement of project goals with a focus on the human and organisational components. In fact, giving the discipline of project management evolved in an environment that did not pay much attention to the “human side” (read -> adoption and usage), this factor ended up being mainly ignored with disastrous effects.

E.g.: what’s the point of having a super expensive and state of the art software that is delivered on time, within budget and according to the specs if the employees don’t know how to use it and put work around in place to go back to the old way of doing their job? You can see the reason why change management has its own place in the success of a project, and ultimately a program.

 

Unfortunately many organisations (managers and, sadly, recruiters) are unaware of the differences amongst project/program/change management and tend to go for a hodgepodge definition as they are fundamentally confused.

Other companies keep change management separate from project management and, as “it is linked to the human side of the project“, attach it to the human resources department. I consider this as a mistake.

Change management is strictly linked to project management (and program management) and companies should use methodologies that combine them. What commonly happens is that the project manager is in the driving seat and involves the change manager when all the decisions have been taken in order to get them embedded and adopted. Such a shame most of the time it’s too late.  And it is not unusual for the program manager not to be even aware that a change manager was involved!

If you wonder the reason why many organisations look for change managers with a scientific/engineering background – and not organisational, psychology and communication backgrounds – the lack of knowledge of what change management really entails explains it. Many companies think that a change manager is in fact a project manager that sometimes has to organise a focus group or send out something to communicate the change initiative to the employees to tick the “change management box” in the checklist.

As they lack the knowledge of what those disciplines really entail, they make mistakes not hiring the best suited talent and tend to relegate change management into being a small appendix of project management with a little bit of training and communication put in here and there. Even worse, some companies see change management as “HR fluff” that is not important or strategic – hence anyone can do it, right?

Such a shame as getting talent on board with the right skill set and mindset is key to lead a change initiative to successful completion. I am not a fan of what is fashionable and trendy and I hope the more managers and recruiters would take the time to understand how they can leverage the power of an integrated project and change management approach, instead of trying to create a sort of hybrid Frankenstein “discipline” as change management is the flavour of the month.

 

 

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