Why Is Change Management So Difficult?

A large part of every PMP®’s function is change management. Shepherding end users, sponsors, and executive teams through the process of change and all the impacts a project will have on the organization’s operations can be a complex undertaking. With each new project and each new group of stakeholders, PMP®s face a unique set of challenges.

But even when executing projects that enjoy wide support among all stakeholders groups, change management can still be surprisingly difficult. Why? The reasons are as varied as the people involved.

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First, change management isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it kind of effort. A stakeholder’s resistance to change may evolve as the project progresses. What seemed fine in the early stages could suddenly become a significant issue as activities ramp up. Likewise, initial pushback might give way to support once everyone sees how things are moving forward. Managing change through those waxing and waning periods takes skill, as well as the ability to quickly tweak how the project office works with stakeholders if a newly implemented change meets with opposition.

Also, stakeholders aren’t always driven by logic when dealing with change. Emotional responses may sometimes play a role. It’s possible stakeholders are worried that any potential impact on their productivity could lead to negative performance reviews, or that their role in the organization could be less important once the project is complete. These concerns can spark very personal responses. But because stakeholders don’t always acknowledge (or even recognize) that they’re reacting at an emotional level, it can be difficult for PMP®s to work with them to address concerns and create viable solutions.

Because different stakeholders possess varying levels of influence within the organization, the way PMP®s go about managing change may need to be adjusted in order to elicit the best response. End users, for example, are likely to be concerned about how their daily tasks will be impacted. The leadership team, on the other hand, may be more focused on how manufacturing levels will change and how long-term revenue streams can be protected. In each instance, the project team will need to find just the right approach.

Getting stakeholders on board is one thing, but PMP®s aren’t always big fans of change, either. There are any number of triggers behind this, from a lingering skepticism about the data used to sell the project to concerns that stakeholders might not be satisfied once the project is finished. Ensuring that everyone on the team understands the benefits the project will bring—while supporting the need to move beyond interim pain points to achieve that success—is crucial in overcoming internal hesitation.

Even if a PMP® anticipates the changes a project will bring and they’re confident they can bring sponsors and end users through the difficult phases, they may not have the training necessary to turn those good intentions into success. Managing strategic change requires skill and expertise, and without the right education the project team could discover that stakeholder usage of revised workflows or their adoption of new methodologies falls short of expectations. As a result, the success of the project could be diminished in the long run.

And just in case PMP®s aren’t getting heartburn from those other challenges, human nature often fills the void. Most people simply don’t like change. Even if their current workflows aren’t ideal, and even if they’re solidly on board with the project’s achievables, stakeholders may still be worried just because that’s what they’re wired to do. Solid change management practices can help move stakeholders beyond their inherent resistance, but project teams shouldn’t underestimate the power of human nature when planning their approach.

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