Explore the Levels of Change Management

Building Successful Partnerships with Project Teams

Written by Tim Creasey

5 Mins


Successful change happens when there is a focus on both the technical side of change and the people side of change.

The technical side of change ensures that a solution is designed, developed and delivered effectively. The discipline of project management supports this effort. The people side of change ensures that the solution is embraced, adopted and utilized by employees in the organization. The discipline of change management supports this effort.

While both elements are essential for success, many change management practitioners face challenges when working with project teams. Rather than forge a partnership, project managers and change managers diverge and their relationship can sometimes become contentious. This tutorial presents some frameworks and tips for creating a successful, collaborative relationship between the project team and the change management resource or team.

Complementary Disciplines With a Common Objective

How do you communicate the relationship between project management and change management? The heading of this section is a phrase Prosci has used in numerous tutorials and webinars to describe the relationship: complementary disciplines with a common objective. This phrase provides two key clauses that can help illustrate how project management and change management interact.

A common objective - improving the organization

Creating a shared vision or goal "with a common objective" is an important starting point for forming a working relationship between the project team and the change management resource or team. Both groups have a singular focus - to improve the performance of the organization. Organizations undertake projects and initiatives to solve a problem or seize an opportunity - to create a situation where performance in the "future state" is better than performance in the "current state". There are numerous drivers in the current state that result in the need for change, and there are numerous objectives the project or initiative is looking to deliver. Clearly establishing this ultimate and shared goal - improving performance - as the objective of both project management and change management provides a common platform and shared sense of purpose.

Complementary disciplines - people side + technical side

The concept of "complimentary disciplines" is an effective way to position the technical and the people sides of change as unique but necessary for driving successful change. As stated in the introduction, project management brings a process and tools for ensuring that a solution is designed, developed and delivered effectively. To draw on the terminology of Daryl Conner, a leading thinker in change management and author of Managing at the Speed of Change, this discipline is essential for the installation of change. Change management, by comparison, focuses on ensuring that employees embrace, adopt and utilize the solution. A solution that no one uses delivers no value to the organization. Again, to draw on Daryl Conner's language, the people side of change is essential for benefit realization. This dichotomy of installation and realization helps to differentiate the two disciplines, but also provides language for showing the value added by applying change management. Change management does not attempt to replace project management, but rather adds value by encouraging and enabling the individual transitions required by a project or initiative.


Below are three tips to remember when engaging a project team in the application of change management:

  1. Work collaboratively
  2. Be formal - approach and deliverables
  3. Demonstrate the value of change management

Work collaboratively

Neither project management nor change management can be successful if they are operating in a vacuum. Both the project team and the change management team have important information to share with the other that will improve the chance of reaching the common objective - improving the performance of the organization. To the extent that it is possible, each group should participate and be represented in the work that the other is doing. Working collaboratively was the top suggestion regarding engaging project teams by study participants in the  Best Practices in Change Management benchmarking report, and below are some excerpts of specific actions for this collaboration.

  • Actions for the project team included getting the project team involved in change management tasks, reviews and decisions, getting the project team to sign off on change management work, and participating in workshops on the people side issues of the project.
  • Actions for the change management team included taking part in project meetings, providing one-on-one coaching and mentoring to project team members, being involved in the development and planning work on the project, providing information to the project team from change management assessments and stakeholder evaluations and participating in decision making.
  • A number of participants also cited the importance of team building and relationships so that the two groups worked as a single, cross-functional team sharing accountability and responsibility for project outcomes.

Working collaboratively improves the relationship and increases the likelihood of delivering the results and outcomes expected from the project.

Be formal

One of the reasons change management has emerged in the last several years is that more structure is being applied to the people side of change. When asked if they used a particular methodology, only 34% of participants answered "yes" in Prosci's 2003 study. Eight years later in Prosci's 2011 study, that number has risen to 72%. As change management practitioners become more formalized and systematic in their approach, they are gaining more ground with the project teams they support.

Being formal includes two distinct aspects. The first is being formal in the approach used to manage the people side of change. Moving from an ad hoc, unstructured approach to a process-driven approach with a full toolset is essential. This puts the people side of change into a format that makes sense to project teams. Second, be formal in the deliverables that support change management. Prosci's 3-Phase Process for organizational change management has numerous deliverables including: change management strategy, communications plan, sponsor roadmap, coaching plan, training plan, resistance management plan, feedback and measurement report, etc. When created as formal deliverables, these plans and documents constitute physical outputs of the work aimed at encouraging employee adoption and can be more easily integrated into the project plan.

Demonstrate the value of change management

The final tip is to make a compelling case for why change management is necessary. The case for change management must be linked to the "common objective" - improving the performance of the organization by ensuring that projects and initiatives deliver the intended results and outcomes. This may represent a shift for change management practitioners - moving from what they are comfortable talking about (e.g. communications, resistance, engagement, etc.) to an area that is less comfortable (e.g. financial outcomes, performance, metrics, etc.). Although this shift is uncomfortable, it is necessary.

Tutorial who does CMIn Prosci's 2007 and 2009 benchmarking studies, a greater recognition of the need for change management was identified as the top trend. However, many change management practitioners must still work to make the case. Below is data from Prosci's 2009 edition of the benchmarking report, Best Practices in Change Management. Over 40% of participants felt that the project teams they worked with still viewed change management as "just another activity to do" or "little value - nuisance with no value".

For more help demonstrating the value of change management, read our blog series on building the case for change management. These five articles present frameworks, data and approaches for communicating and demonstrating the value of change management. Module 3 in particular provides data showing the direct correlation between effective change management and three dimensions of success that project leaders care about: meeting objectives, staying on schedule and staying on budget.


Successful change requires an appropriate technical solution that is adopted and utilized by employees in the organization. Project management and change management are complementary disciplines with a common objective - to improve the performance of the organization through a project or initiative. When the two come together solutions are: designed, developed and delivered (from the project management work stream) and embraced, adopted and utilized (from the change management work stream). Forging an effective partnership makes the project team, the change management team and, ultimately, the organization more successful as more and more projects and initiatives deliver the intended results and outcomes.

Core Roles in Change Management download article