Explore the Levels of Change Management

4 Steps for Building a Relationship with the Project Team

Written by Tim Creasey

6 Mins



As change management practitioners, we know that getting the project team on board with change management can make or break your efforts. To conclude this tutorial series on integrating project management and change management, this tutorial will focus on four tactics for practitioners to use to help build collaborative working relationships with project teams and ensure a unified effort on projects.

Many companies face challenges when dealing with cross-national or multi-cultural organizations. But you don't have to go far, perhaps just down the hall or even around the table at a project meeting, to interact with individuals following different value systems or ideas about what constitutes success on projects. Project management teams and change management teams use different measures of success and perform different activities to reach the end goals on projects. In previous blogs we've made the case for the joint value proposition of project management and change management. To ensure that joint value proposition is realized, it is essential that project teams and change management teams (even if this is just you, the sole change management resource on the project) build a collaborative working relationship.

A disconnect between change management and project management was cited as one of the greatest obstacles to the success of change management programs in the 2016 Best Practices in Change Management benchmarking report. This tutorial will outline four steps that change managers can take to ensure that what they know is true - that changes happen when people change how they do their work - is accounted for in the master project plan, milestones and ultimate objectives.

1. Your action: Connect change management to their successes and goals

Objective/goal: Get change management and project management "on the same team" with the goal of meeting project objectives.

Change management is not about managing resistance and putting out fires. If you want to ensure that your organization, in particular your project team, views change management as critical and of the highest priority, there are two steps. First, connect the dots between the change (in the form of a project or initiative) and the people (those whose jobs are impacted by that change). If people don't change the way they do their work, the change will not be realized. 

Below is an explanation of the "4 P's Exercisefor helping an audience see the connection between change management and achieving business and project results.


Second, show the relationship between change management and delivering results, on time and on budget. Change management is not the soft side of change - it is a tool for ensuring that ROI is achieved. Change management is the application of tools and processes to help individuals embrace, adopt and be proficient at a change in order to achieve the desired business outcomes. Data from Prosci's most recent study shows a direct correlation between change management effectiveness and meeting project objectives. Those who applied excellent change management were almost SIX TIMES more likely to meet project objectives than those with poor change management. These are powerful numbers that are hard to ignore.

Percent of respondents (1)With this graph, we see a direct connection between change management's value proposition - to achieve business results - and the outcomes of the project. When working to create a collaborative relationship with project managers and project teams, your first step is to show that the work you do in the change management space will ultimately make the project (and them) more successful.

2. Your action step: Put change management in their terms

Objective/goal: Make change management more real, familiar, comfortable and credible for project managers and project team members.

The field of change management has come a long way regarding the application of structure to manage the people side of change. Although sometimes perceived by project teams as the "soft" side of change used in an ad hoc manner, over the last decade change management practitioners have added intent, rigor and process to how the people side of change is managed. By following a structured and methodical approach, you make change management more "real" and tangible for the project team. You are able to move change management out of the realm of "just communication and training" and into the realm of a structured business process for delivering results. With a process driven, robust approach, you can share the process and deliverables that are part of your change management effort so it makes sense and is more palatable for project managers. Below are just a few of the concrete deliverables you can create to support a project:

  • Risk evaluation
  • Stakeholder analysis
  • Team and sponsor preparation
  • Change Management Strategy
  • Targeted communications plans
  • Targeted sponsor roadmaps
  • Targeted coaching plans
  • Targeted training plans
  • Targeted resistance management plans
  • Structured reinforcement and recognition mechanisms

Look for opportunities to embed your change management deliverables into the existing process or project plan. When you use a structured approach for change management, you create tangible outputs that are more easily incorporated into a project plan. When you define change management milestones, you can more easily align them with project milestones. When you are process-driven and rigorous in your approach to change management, you can more effectively sequence your activities within the project timeline.

In addition, you can leverage the work already done by the project team by integrating your work into what they already have in place. For example, if your project team already has a communication plan developed, then you can work to incorporate change management communications into their existing plan. You can infuse the existing communication plan with awareness building messages early on and reinforcement messages later on in the project lifecycle. This more robust approach ensures that the communication plan answers the questions employees have (What are the business reasons for the change? How does this affect me? What's in it for me?) while not having to reinvent the wheel or duplicate effort.

3. Your action step: Become a student of project management and your organization

Objective/goal: Make you more effective at speaking "their" language.

In order to earn a seat at the table, it is important to build an understanding of project management, specifically the project management within the culture of your organization. Learn to speak their language and learn what will speak to them the most when it comes to making your case for change management. When you are able to speak their language, you will be more successful in ensuring that your important change management action steps are included in the master project plan as key objectives. At a minimum, you should understand key project management terms and activities such as: deliverables, milestones, critical path, work breakdown structure. Knowing these will help you communicate effectively and make change management more real and tangible for the project team.

In addition, there is a people component to collaborative work that requires attention. Learning about the individuals on the project teams, learning how to work effectively with them, knowing a little about their history (their past successes and struggles on projects) will help you tailor your approach to building the collaborative working relationship.

Finally, learn what makes your leadership "tick." Depending on the structure and value systems of your organization, it may help in your efforts to integrate yourself with the project team if you can leverage support from the project sponsor or other key leaders. Building a good relationship with your sponsor will not only help with ensuring your voice is heard with the project team, but it will also ensure that you can call on your sponsor to be an effective change leader as well. So, learn the most effective way to engage and coach your sponsor (read a full tutorial on the importance and role of sponsors).

4. Your action step: Proactively address their concerns

Objective/goal: Prevent "face value" resistance to change management

There are two main concerns for project managers related to change management:

  1. Change management sounds good, but it will slow me down or cost me too much
  2. Change management sounds good, but I'm not sure who is going to do what

So, now that you can anticipate potential push back, how will you address these concerns? Change management does require time and resources, this is true. But, when making the case for change management, demonstrate how the initial costs and resources pay off when the project later faces less resistance, experiences fewer work-arounds, is introduced to an engaged employee base and is able to deliver results because employees are proficiently using the new processes or tool. In addition, initial investments of time and resources for change management prevents many of the barriers and impediments that can emerge near the go-live date and cause delays. Consider this as the concept of "pay now or pay later." Projects that lack the effective change management often face"the REs" (the re-working, re-scoping, re-doing, re-visiting that come about when the people side of change is not addressed up front, but instead at the end of the project). Contrary to the intuitive response that change management may put the budget or schedule at risk, benchmarking data actually shows that with effective change management projects are more likely to stay on budget and finish on time.

Be clear on roles and ensure that you have a plan in place for making the integration happen. One of the major obstacles to integrating with the project team from the 2009 study was that project teams or team leads were uncertain about their role, the role of a change manager and the role change management would play in the project. Be clear and set expectations upfront about what change management will do or create, how activities focused on the people side of change can be integrated into the project plan, and what the collaborative relationship will mean for the project team and the project.

Ultimately, the main goal here is to get that seat at the table as soon as possible. We have seen from the research that it is never too late to apply change management, but results are better if change management is incorporated sooner. Having that seat at the table also means that the project manager on your project sees the change manager (or change management team) as a partner in project success. This is accomplished by connecting change management to results and making it feel "like what we know already." The above steps provide some suggestions for building that collaborative working relationship with the project team and ultimately helping your organization realize the best possible results on projects.

For leading organizations pursuing Enterprise Change Management - institutionalizing change management and building organizational capabilities and competencies - the activities, outputs and deliverables of change management are woven into the project delivery process creating a seamless solution that addresses both the people side and technical side of change. Learn more about Prosci's Enterprise Change Management suite or request to speak with a Prosci Solution's Architect to discuss your change management needs and how Prosci's solutions enable you to build a true organizational capability. 


More resources for integrating project management and change management:

Individual and Organizational Change Management Integration