Project Management: Positive experiences of change

One of the core principles of Project Management is that change is the only constant.  As Project Manager’s we know that change is inevitable.  It must be. If a project or an organisation is not evolving, it’s a worrying sign of failure to adapt to circumstances and learn from experience.

Unfortunately, identifying the need for change isn’t the same as making change.  The simple fact is that many people don’t like change.  In our experience, when consulted many of the staff understand why a change is needed and agree a change is needed (and in fact are often the people lobbying for change).  But when the change process begins organisations meet with significant resistance.

We have found that despite this obvious mismatch (people say they want the change but then become resistant to it) many organisations still focus their change management efforts on convincing people of the need for change throughout the change process, in the belief that teams don’t see the change as necessary.

Project Managers generally by their very nature embrace change and see it as an opportunity but we tend to be in the minority.  So how do we help others to achieve positive experiences of change?

We have found that resistance to change frequently stems from the following, and suggested some steps you can take to change these from a threat to an opportunity:

Risk / Issue Mitigation Action Plan
People don’t feel consulted and as a result, they don’t feel involved in the change or personally responsible for helping to implement and embed it.  They feel they are being told how to do their jobs – and let’s be honest, no one likes this.  It can make them feel inadequate or inferior, and that their opinion is not valued, leading to resistance, negativity and lack of motivation and pride in their work.


Consult people! From the outset, ask people what improvements they would like to see, and their suggestions for how this could be done. Be transparent about how changes are made and who is involved in creating and managing change.  Provide feedback on suggestions and allow open discussion on suggestions.  We are not suggesting rule by committee but the people the change is most relevant to should have a say in what this looks like and will have useful insights and input into this.  At an organisational level, we are most interested in the impact of the change and the benefits we will derive from this.  The specifics of the change are open to negotiation unless they impact on these things.


People fear the risks created by the change.  All changes present new risks, and new opportunities.  But again, this creates uncertainty.  People perceive the risks to be higher than existing risks.


Be transparent about the pro’s and con’s.  Acknowledge people’s concerns and work with them to identify ways in which risks can be reduced, and to create clear plans for dealing with issues that may arise.  Be open about the current risks and demonstrate how the change will reduce or negate these.


People don’t feel fully informed.  They are uncertain about what is expected of them and what they need to do.  The typical reaction to uncertainty is fight or flight, so you will find some people refusing to accept the change and essentially ignoring it, or people up in arms, challenging the decision to change.


Communicate throughout the change process.  Give clear messages and timelines for implementation.  Ensure that supporting tools and training are in place to implement the change.  Make sure there is a quick and easy way in which people can ask questions and get answers if they are unsure of things or need more guidance. Specify who the change will impact and how.


People don’t have the time to make changes happen.  Successfully implementing change requires time.  This may be time creating new processes or systems, time learning the new way of doing things, time training and supporting others, and (initially) doing it the new way takes longer than doing it the old way, until it becomes familiar.  This is one of the most difficult obstacles, as you can’t magic up more hours in the day.  And yes, the change may create more time after it is implemented, but until then, if people are already working flat out, where does this time come from?


Make sure you have identified time and resources to implement the change, and that you factor in an increase in time taken to complete tasks where the change involves a new process or system.  If for example, someone was previously completing 20 client triages a day, recognise this may drop down to 15.  If someone has deadlines they must meet, discuss whether the change will impact upon these and how this can be managed.


People don’t trust the people/person making the decisions or making the change.  Lack of trust in decision makers or managers becomes most evident during a change process.  This can be because of many things, but is particularly strong when there is an organisational climate of ‘us and them’.  When people feel that decision makers (DM’s) don’t understand the day to day operations and environment and DM’s decisions do not, or will not, consider individuals – rather they are just sweeping changes not tailored to suit the environment and people working within it. Ensure you foster an environment that promotes trust in decision makers – trust that their decisions place people (not money), at the heart of what you do as an organisation.  Have people involved in day-to-day delivery as part of your focus groups and committees, involved in discussions and as part of the decision-making process. Make sure senior managers and board members have opportunities to meet with beneficiaries and to see day-to-day operations, so they understand what’s happening at the ‘coal-face’ and how decisions affect those working on the front-line.


PM3 – Project Management for the Third Sector offers a series of workshops, designed specifically for people managing projects in the Third Sector. Our next training session, Project Reporting and Evaluation Training, is taking place in Birmingham on Wednesday 20th September.

Find out more or book now

Nikki-Dee Haddleton is Director of PM3 – Project Management for the Third Sector.  Incorporating feedback from Third Sector organisations and Project Management professionals they have designed a framework specifically for Project Managers in the Third Sector.   PM3 – Project Management for the Third Sector delivers high quality, affordable Project Management consultancy and freelance services, training, support and more. 

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