Explore the Levels of Change Management

Interview: Defining A Project's True Finish Line


6 Mins

Following a keynote speech at the 2019 PMI China Congress entitled, "How to Use Change Management to Achieve Project Success," Prosci's Mark Dorsett talked with Project Management Review Magazine (PMR) to offer insights on the keys to project success. PMR reports on the latest advances in project management research across China and internationally, paying special attention to companies that are expanding their global reach. As EVP of Global Business, Mark leads Prosci's efforts to build global strategic partnerships and has helped clients in more than 40 countries achieve greater success with change.   

The following is an interview excerpt originally entitled, "The Finish Line of a Project is its Intended Results" and published in Project Management Review Magazine. It is republished here with permission. 

A Project is Successful
When the Intended Goal is Achieved

mark-dorsett-roundMark Dorsett, EVP Global Business

Mark, you’ve worked across the globe. In terms of measuring project success,
have you met differences in different countries?

The answer is both yes and no. For example, there are geographies that frequently focus more on technical projects such as software development and implementation. Whether I am in China, India, Eastern Europe or anywhere else, I see that managing these projects is done quite similarly, and the focus tends to mostly be on meeting requirements and completing work on time and within scope.

But there are definitely some markets that incorporate how people will adopt and use the new ways of working more into their project plans and management approach. In these markets, project success tends to be measured on whether the business objectives were met, as opposed to how tightly the scope, budget and schedule were managed. 

In your opinion, what is the finish line of a project? Would you please make distinctions
between requirements and results, outputs and outcomes, specifications and sustainment,
installation and realization, solution and benefits? 

I love the question. First, I want to come back to the question on why we have projects. The reason why we initiate and sponsor projects is to attain organizational or business benefits. The reasons might be financial, such as increased revenue or decreased cost. They might be to meet a new regulatory requirement. They might be to improve customer success or employee engagement or many other reasons. So, the finish line of a project is to achieve the intended benefit.
With that in mind, I challenge people to look at what is being measured: is it that we meet functional and nonfunctional requirements or that we actually attain the desired results? Obviously, the results matter more. Similarly, are we looking at the quality of the things we create, the outputs, or actually measuring the outcomes? Definitely, the organizational outcomes are what we are after. A similar concept applies to the differences between specifications and sustainment, installation and realization, solution and benefits in that if we only focus on the first word in the pair, we miss the greater benefits. 
I am not saying that things like requirements, outputs, specifications and installation are not important; they are very critical. But they are not the finish line because we don’t declare a project successful unless we are able to say the intended goal has been achieved.

Talking about benefits realization, would you please
go further to explain value realization?

Value realization techniques, methods and tools are helping organizations understand the benefits a project actually provided, as well as when and how this occurred. I sometimes make the analogy to a basic principle of physics. A rock which is stationary on top of a hill has potential energy. Once it's pushed and starts gaining momentum as it goes downhill, we call that kinetic energy. If it's a large rock going down a steep hill, it's very hard to stop.
Similarly, our projects have potential value when they are initiated and as the solution is being developed. It is only when people use the new way of working that kinetic or realized value is attained. When using value realization techniques, we should be better able to understand when the momentum begins and when results are being attained.

Based on your research, what are the top contributors to project success?

We have a database with over 7,000 projects from six continents and over a 20-year period of time, which gives us a lot of data to analyze. As I answer this question, I want to remind everyone of the previous question, “What is the finish line and how do we declare a project successful?” With this in mind, my response is far greater than how we stay on time, on scope and on budget; it's how we obtain the intended business or organizational benefits. We have found that the top contributors to success are:
  • Effective sponsorship, which is much more than approving budgets and assigning people. It includes being active throughout the project, building coalitions of sponsors throughout the impacted organization, and communicating directly with impacted groups, which we call “the ABCs of sponsorship.”
  • Focusing on how people will adopt and use the solution by having dedicated and trained change management professionals assigned.
  • Using a structured approach for applying change management.
  • Focusing on the impacted groups and seeking their engagement and participation early.
  • Frequent and open communication on why the project is being undertaken as well as what it means to those who are impacted.
  • An integrated technical side and people side of managing the project.
  • Early and effective engagement with people managers.

Successful Change Requires Both
the Technical and People Side

In this VUCA era, how do you understand the importance of change management?
Do you think it’s necessary to establish a CMO (Change Management Office) in organizations?

VUCA is a fascinating concept that generates a lot of dialogue and discussion. Whatever your view of each of the components—Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity—the reality is that organizations initiate and go through change much more rapidly and frequently than they did in the past.

That being the case, more and more organizations are establishing a CMO to develop this capability across the organization for the same reasons that PMOs have been put in place over the past 20 years or so. Do I think it is necessary? I have to say yes. However, the more important question for organizational leaders is, with the increasing frequency of change, do you think you can prepare and support your people without a core capability to focus on adoption and usage? Can it be done without some form of organizing structure? Our experience and research shows that it is much more effective with a CMO.

Because CMOs are so important, what do you suggest are the steps of building a CMO? 

There are many similarities to establishing a Project Management Office (PMO) in the organization. The first step is to decide who is the sponsor and where in the organization is the best fit. The reality is that there is no one answer as to who is the best sponsor. I have seen it be the COO, the head of transformation or strategy, the CIO, the chief human resource officer, or even the CEO. Based on Prosci’s research and my own experience, the most important factor is to determine who has the passion for the discipline, the influence to engage with others, and the authority to make things happen.
After determining the sponsor and the placement in the organization, it is important to determine whether it will be a central, shared services CMO, completely distributed among the operating units, or some form of hybrid. Many organizations choose a hybrid because it initially seems like the easiest answer. But I caution on choosing this option too quickly because this form also leaves room for the most confusion if not thought out carefully.
The third step is to develop a group of certified practitioners who know how to help each other and provide the needed expertise. 

Why did Prosci develop a 3-phase process to help manage change?
What are the three phases in the process?

We developed the Prosci 3-Phase Process for a few reasons. First, it allows project teams to plan for and manage the work in a predictable way. By using a repeatable process with standard work, we can estimate and manage the things to be done.

Second, it makes it very easy to integrate the people-side adoption work with the technical side of developing and delivering the solution. We know that the value derived from our projects is often very dependent on whether people effectively adopt and use the solution. By developing a methodology to focus on this, we are in a much better position to ensure this occurs.
The Prosci 3-Phase Process [is a structured, repeatable and adaptable approach for managing the people side of change.]  Each phase has specific activities that are performed as well as common deliverables. The beauty, just like with the PMI standard, is that the practitioner uses his or her judgment to decide how much detail is required for each, based on the size and complexity of the initiative. And we have developed a tool to guide the practitioner to assess what is the most appropriate level of depth and breadth to work at.

In order to manage change, what qualities does the project leader/manager
in digital transformation need to have?

In addition to the assumed PM skills, I recommend the following [attributes of a change manager]:

  • Does he or she have the business context to know why the project is being undertaken and what the organizational goals are? If not, find someone who can describe it.
  • The project leader/manager needs to be able to communicate effectively with many roles in the organization including upper management, the project team, as well as those being impacted. This requires the ability to speak at a business level, a technical level, and with an empathetic ear when talking to the people being impacted.
  • It helps to have some level of proficiency in the technical domain, but it is not mandatory unless the team is very small.
  • I recommend that they should be very well connected in the organization as there are many stakeholders who need to be interacted with.

Change Management and Project Management

Project management provides the structure, processes and tools to manage the technical side of any initiative while change management addresses the people-side issues associated with adoption and usage. Project success is more likely when the two disciplines work together from the project's outset, integrating the disciplines to form a unified value proposition.




Founded in 1994, Prosci is a global leader in change management. We enable organizations around the world to achieve change outcomes and grow change capability through change management solutions based on holistic, research-based, easy-to-use tools, methodologies and services.

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