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StrategyJul 08, 2010

Effective Project Change Management

Brad Buhl

Based on an original article by Manish Limaye

Confession: I have never pre-judged Project Management quality by PMP certification, as much as the Project Management Institute might object. Not that there’s not inherent value in certification. Good certification (such as the PMP) is an obvious bar set for fundamentals of a given line of work. Quality Project Management, however, doesn’t rest on the fundamentals – it shines through relationship management, conflict resolution and negotiation skills. After all, everyone asks for a strong project manager – when they get one, they don’t want one.

Power to the People

More artists than scientists, good project managers excel at managing not only expectations, but also relationships. In the best cases, they can:

  • Lead and motivate to ensure that all team members move with purpose toward a common goal

  • Establish peer-like camaraderie with staff, thereby bridging power distance between supervisor and subordinate

  • Manage stakeholders, customer, and sponsor expectations to ensure success at every level

  • Recognize the power-alley (i.e. stakeholders, customers, and other individuals or groups with the most influence on the overall success or failure of the project) and take the actions required to secure and maintain sponsorship

Understanding how to talk to the right person at the right time to build consensus with the right people can be a challenge! And understanding not only a company’s, but a project’s culture can go a long way in mitigating project risk on the back end. After all, a project is one small step for the project sponsor, one giant leap for the project manager.

Negotiating Change

Goal setting, project planning, execution and monitoring are the hallmarks of an effective project manager. And those traits are often considered “commodity” skills in today’s environment.

Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in the case of change management. Changes to project scope are inevitable in any long-term initiative. Good project managers rely upon the standard mechanisms (i.e. change management processes, etc.) to facilitate the decision on whether to execute a change in the project. Unfortunately, competing agendas and differences of opinion often sidetrack and hamper the process — resulting in the potential for poor decisions that may do more harm than good.

Through skilled negotiation and influence, exceptional project managers are able to minimize conflicts. As a result, their decisions are more likely to be made for the benefit of the project and company as a whole. And in negotiations, always remember Eleanor Roosevelt’s advice to “Never allow a person to tell you ‘no’ who doesn’t have the power to say ‘yes.’” After all, if everything is going exactly to plan, something somewhere is going massively wrong.

Communication Breakdown – It’s Always the Same

Sometimes proactively addressing conflict is good! (I try to convince my wife of that as well). Proactively addressing conflict starts with putting issues on the table rather than trying to manage around or put off a frank discussion. And while Type-A personalities will definitely engage head on in any challenges or assertions, the passive-aggressive personalities are more difficult to proactively engage. If each personality type is properly engaged, your project has a much better chance of success. Below is a list of potential conflict topics:

  • Goals/Objectives

  • Priorities

  • Schedule

  • Costs

  • Features

  • Quality

  • Competitive Posture

  • Follow-ons

  • Flexibility

  • Extensions

  • Deliverables

  • Outcomes

  • Political Agenda

  • Attitude

  • Resources

  • Policies

  • Constraints

  • Urgency

Mapping the appropriate conflict against the right personality type and exhibited behavior can greatly assist in conflict management. As a side note, constructive conflict is always based on objective analysis, not subjective opinion. Behavior is objective. Personality traits are subjective. ‘Nuff said.

Ultimately, great Project Managers possess the uncanny ability to keep the project interests at heart — while at the same time making sure that every constituency stays satisfied. After all, anything that can be changed will be changed until there is no time left to change anything.

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