Integrating Change Management and Project Management
Written by Tim Creasey
Updated: December 19, 2023
Published: March 1, 2022
The disciplines of change management and project management both contribute to the success of an organizational project or initiative. By integrating these disciplines, from the initiation of the project through to completion, we connect the people side and technical side of the change and ensure that the organizational benefits of the change are realized.
A Unified Value Proposition
Prosci's Unified Value Proposition model illustrates that project management and change management are complementary disciplines with a shared definition of success: to meet or exceed project objectives and realize organizational benefits.
The technical side of the change focuses on designing, developing and delivering the solution that solves a problem or addresses an opportunity. The discipline of project management provides the structure, processes and tools to make this happen.
The people side of the change focuses on engaging the people impacted by the solution and supporting them to adopt and use the change in their daily work. The discipline of change management provides the structure, processes and tools to accomplish this outcome.
Prosci Unified Value Proposition
A helpful analogy for understanding the Unified Value Proposition is to consider two strands of rope that are different colors. One strand of rope represents the technical side of a change, and the other strand represents the people side of the change. If you intertwine the two strands of rope, you will have a stronger rope. Similarly, if the individuals involved in addressing the technical and people sides of change work together collaboratively, they will deliver a more successful change.
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How Integration Creates Value
Prosci benchmarking research shows that 47% of participants who integrated project management and change management reported meeting or exceeding project objectives, which was 17% greater than those who did not integrate.
Integrating change management and project management contributes to increasing change success by:
- Creating a shared objective
When we integrate project management and change management, we enable both disciplines to focus on a shared objective: improving the organization’s performance by successfully implementing a change that delivers the intended results and outcomes.
- Enabling a more proactive approach
Integrating change management with the steps of project management enables us to proactively identify and mitigate risks, anticipate and address obstacles and resistance, and build commitment to and adoption of the change.
- Improving sequencing and alignment
When we integrate technical activities and people activities, the right actions can be taken at the right times in the project lifecycle to ensure people are ready and able to adopt the change and produce successful outcomes.
- Enhancing information exchange
Integrating change management and project management activities improves the flow of information over the lifecycle of a project. Early in the project lifecycle, the integrated approach helps ensure that impacted people receive the information they need to understand why the change is needed and the personal benefits of adopting the change. Later in the project lifecycle, the integrated approach helps ensure that the project team receives effective feedback on adoption, usage and functionality of the solution being implemented.
5 Dimensions of Integrating Change Management and Project Management
Prosci’s research reveals five dimensions that should be addressed when integrating change management and project management:
- Results and outcomes
Dimension 1: People
The people dimension of integration addresses who is performing the change management and project management roles and the team structure (also referred to as the governance model) that defines the relationship between these roles. In Prosci's Best Practices in Change Management research, 69% of participants had dedicated change management resources for the project on which they were reporting. At the most basic level, the change management resource(s) may be on the project team (Team structure A) or support the project team externally (Team structure B). Prosci's benchmarking data noted that 33% of participants used Team Structure A.
There is no right or wrong team structure, just differing advantages and challenges that you need to be aware of and prepared to address. For example, having the change management resources on the project team (Team Structure A) encourages more transparent communications and information flow between the team and the impacted groups. Other advantages include developing an integrated project approach that encourages teamwork and collaboration, and the creation of feedback loops to relay questions and concerns from impacted groups to the project team.
Having the change management resources separate from but supporting the project team externally (Team Structure B), promotes neutrality and enables them to offer an independent point of view. Other advantages include the ability to focus exclusively on change management and direct access to leadership.
The choice of integration approach is typically based on the nature of the project and norms of the organization. It’s important to acknowledge that many change practitioners do not have control over or major influence on the selection of the team structure used on a particular project. For example, the team structure may already be established before the change resources are selected.
Even if the team structure has already been established, there are actions you can take to support the effective integration of people and roles.
Action steps for integrating people and roles
- Ensure you have access to the sponsor
Regardless of the team structure being used, it is important for the change practitioner to have access to the primary sponsor of the change. Prosci’s research indicates that there is a strong correlation between sponsor access and meeting/exceeding objectives. Seventy-one percent of participants who reported having adequate or more than adequate access to their sponsors met or exceeded project objectives. In contrast, only 21% of participants with little or no access met or exceeded objectives.
- Clearly define roles, responsibilities and relationships
By clearly defining and agreeing on who does what—particularly when it comes to the project manager and change practitioner roles, and areas of overlap—you will establish common expectations and reduce the potential for role conflict. Maintaining transparency along with access to information also fosters better working relationships.
- Be present and involved
As the change management resource on the project, be sure you are aware of and involved in project activities so you have a good understanding of and involvement in how the solution will be designed, developed and deployed.
Dimension 2: Process
The process dimension addresses how the phases, stages and activities of project management and change management come together during the project lifecycle. Integrating the process dimension enables these complementary disciplines to more effectively exchange information, sequence work, and align the timing and desired outcomes for project milestone dates.
The image below illustrates, at a high level, the alignment of the project management phases for a sequential change and the Prosci 3-Phase Process for change management. The image also shows how we align ADKAR milestones to project management milestones. For example, we align Ability for members of impacted groups with the Go Live milestone date.
You can increase the opportunities for process integration by beginning change management activities early in the project lifecycle, ideally at the project initiation phase. The earlier change management is started, the more effective exchanging information, sequencing work, and alignment on project milestone dates will be.
Using a process-driven approach with distinct deliverables for change management further improves the potential for successful change. If the change management approach is not process-driven with specific deliverables and milestones, it is difficult to effectively integrate change management with project management.
Action steps for integrating process
- Be structured in your approach
The more rigorous, process-oriented and milestone-driven your change management approach, the more easily it can be integrated with the project management approach.
- Define your deliverables
As the change management resource, the more you can capture change management work in specific deliverables, the more effectively you can integrate your work with the project management approach.
- Actively identify key points in time for integrating activities
Throughout the project lifecycle, there are times when integrating activities is critical to the success of a change, such as at project milestone dates. Examples of milestones include project kickoff, solution testing, start of training, go live and outcomes. For some project milestones, there are associated ADKAR milestones that need to be met to ensure change success. For example, members of impacted groups should have strong Awareness of the need for a change and Desire to participate and support the change as a prerequisite to participating in training. Consequently, the K and A elements of ADKAR need to be in place prior to the start of training milestone date.
Dimension 3: Tools
The tools dimension focuses on identifying opportunities to integrate specific tools and the associated deliverables created by both the change management and project management disciplines. For example, communications plans and risk assessments are tools commonly used by both disciplines. Integrating commonly used tools creates opportunities for collaboration between the disciplines, reduces duplication of effort and promotes common understanding.
The following chart indicates which tools were most frequently integrated. Communications plans were integrated the most (91%), followed by project plans (81%) and training plans (79 %).
Action steps for integrating tools
- Identify specific tools that make sense for integration
As identified from our research, some of the more common tools you might integrate include the communications plan, training plan, stakeholder analysis, impact analysis, risk assessment and lessons learned. These common tools of project management can be adapted to include a change management perspective.
- Work with what the project team has already done
There is no sense in alienating a project team by telling them their communications plan is simply a “telling plan” and doesn’t answer the questions that impacted people care about, such as why change, why now, what if we don’t, how will I be impacted and what’s in it for me? Instead, your best approach is to explain how answering these questions will benefit the project and show how the communications plan can be modified to meet the needs of both the impacted groups and the project team.
- Ensure clear ownership
Integrating at the tools dimension carries the risk that project managers and change practitioners may inadvertently give up accountability when both are involved. Clarify, at the time of integration, which role is accountable for each integrated tool.
Dimension 4: Methodologies
While integration along the people, process and tools dimensions occurs at the project level, integration of methodologies occurs at the organizational level. This dimension involves creating a standard approach to project delivery by skillfully combining the organization's project management and change management methodologies.
Integrating methodologies involves decisions about when and how the methodologies interact and diverge. An integrated methodology is often part of a greater strategy for institutionalizing change management which Prosci defines as enterprise change management.
Action steps for integrating methodologies
- Select a common change management methodology
Before you can begin to integrate at a methodology level, you need to select an organizational standard change management methodology.
- Be mindful of the tradeoffs
When you integrate at the methodology dimension, there are some risks from removing the responsive nature of change management. Consider these risks and design your integrated methodology appropriately.
- Manage the change of introducing an integrated methodology
Many project managers in your organization may not be familiar or experienced with applying change management. They may have also been successful with, and are accustomed to, using their current project management methodology. When you introduce a new integrated methodology, ensure that change management continues to be effectively applied.
Dimension 5: Results and Outcomes
Integration on the results and outcomes dimension acknowledges that change management and project management are complementary disciplines with a shared definition of success. In the end, both project management and change management improve the organization’s performance by helping it realize the benefits of making a change. This dimension focuses on establishing a shared definition of the results and outcomes for a specific change and how each discipline contributes to the achievement of those results and outcomes.
In many ways, this dimension is where integration begins. When we can successfully integrate our view and definition of what we are trying to achieve, the rest of the integration elements begin to fall into place. Rather than an "us versus them" mentality, integration on the results and outcomes dimension drives a team approach.
Action steps for integrating results and outcomes
- Define success for change management and project management
The project team must focus on and be accountable for delivering results and outcomes in both change management and project management. If the project team is accountable only for hitting the go-live date, integration will not be successful. Change management must also define success in terms of achieving results and outcomes, rather than simply executing activities, such as the number of employees trained, or communications delivered.
- Gain buy-in from project leaders and teams
Buy-in and support for change management from the project team is critical to successful integration. Project leaders and project managers may not be aware of the value of change management, or they could perceive it as overhead that slows down the project and consumes budget. To explain the value of change management, the change practitioner needs to determine the percentage of overall results and outcomes for a project that depends on employee adoption and usage of the change. We call this percentage the people-dependent portion of the return on investment. The practitioner also needs to show how addressing the people side of the change will capture the people-dependent portion of the ROI.
Meet Project Objectives and Achieve Success
Projects and initiatives are more likely to be successful when we integrate the disciplines of change management and project management. An integrated approach increases the probability that project objectives will be achieved and that the outcomes of the change will be sustained. An integrated approach also enables project managers and change practitioners to work towards a shared definition of success, more effectively align and sequence activities, and avoid duplicating efforts by integrating common tools.