Change is the new norm
The business landscape looks very different now compared to ten years ago. Continued advances in technology and changing consumer demands are bringing major disruption to the way most sectors and industries operate. In addition, there has been a shift in the workforce with an influx of tech-savvy millennials entering the job market with fresh expectations and often disruptive thinking around how things should work. More than ever, business leaders face a constant challenge to sustain and evolve their business to remain relevant, profitable and ahead of the competition.
Organisations are awash with projects – be it developing or adopting new technologies, upgrading systems and processes, creating new products and services to meet changing customer expectations or just planning for changes in regulations (GDPR and Brexit come to mind). Take a step back from it, you quickly realise that implementing a project and then letting things settle down for a sustained period just doesn’t happen anymore. In other words – change is the new norm.
Considering this, it is no surprise that clients often come to us asking for support in setting up a Project Management Office (PMO). They usually have many competing projects and requirements across their organisation, and recognise the need to have a consistent methodology in place and be in more control of these activities.
This is clearly a positive step for an organisation to take, establishing good project governance and practices is something I know they won’t regret (assuming it is followed through properly). However, there is something else that is often neglected and then regretted further down the line. It is the challenge of not just delivering projects, but the wider piece around ensuring they are effectively adopted, embedded and sustainable within the organisation. Or to put it simply – the integration of project management and change management within the PMO.
Let’s look at what often happens
PMOs traditionally concentrate on providing governance in order to ensure that projects are delivered to the triple constraints of time, scope and budget. The focus is predominantly on the condition of the project (scope, time, budget) and to a lesser extent on the people in the organisation, the affect it will have on them and the strategies that need to be in place to ensure effective adoption. In addition, the cumulative people impact of changes across the entire organisation are commonly not considered.
Particularly in larger organisations, and especially with IT projects, it is common for much of the project team to be external and commonly there is limited business representation and meaningful end user interaction. This means that processes (old and new) and the associated impacts aren’t fully understood leading to issues and delays in delivering the project. As a result communications are often late and training / training materials aren’t ready or of sufficient quality. Often businesses are too scared to communicate as key stakeholders don’t have all the answers, but the result is radio silence which leads people to feel in the dark and disengaged from the project.
The panacea – the integrated Project & Change Management Office (PCMO)
More recently, we are seeing increased success in organisations that choose to implement change management resources and practices within their PMO. The project methodology and governance model are adapted to integrate change management best practices and deliverables that ensure a focus on preparing for and managing successful change.
The change part of the PCMO understands the holistic impact in more detail and is more connected to business users. They can provide appropriate representation at key project stage gates and ensure there is adequate attention on business readiness, not just solution readiness. Decisions and conversations across the business are underpinned by key change management activities and deliverables including: change strategy, business impact assessment, end user engagement plans, sponsor roadmaps, communications, and change measurement surveys and associated corrections.
PCMOs typically have a project management lead and change management lead working closely together with project managers, project teams, change managers and business stakeholders. The conflict point between project and change usually comes when delivery to the triple constraints meets the business being ready, able and willing to accept the change. It is a balancing act, leadership support is essential, and the PCMO works to ensure that the best approach is taken that maximises overall success for the organisation (not just the project).
I recently worked with a client within the PCMO for a large transformation programme and witnessed first-hand the value that it brings. Under pressure to deliver on time and to budget a solution was proposed by the project team that met the requirement, but involved a number of steps and was far from elegant. Within the PCMO meeting, and understanding the impact and existing perceptions about the project, the change manager was able to insist that the user experience was prioritised, despite it resulting in extra cost, pressure on the project timeline and additional work for the project team. The outcome was a far simpler process and this has resulted in happy, engaged users who are proactive in using the new solution. I am certain, judging by previous experience, that if there had not been an integrated PCMO the original solution would have been selected and adoption and overall perception of the project would have been severely hampered.
So why aren’t more organisations adopting this PCMO approach?
For some organisations even a PMO is seen as a luxury, so integrating a change management office is perceived as one cost/overhead too many.
In my experience, though, the investment in PCMO does pay its own way by reducing cost and schedule overruns, improving speed of adoption (ROI), embedding the right behaviours, and ensuring that you manage resistance to change early so you can adapt and intervene.
As mentioned earlier, change and adaption is the new norm, so whilst a focus on project management will help manage the portfolio and support efficiency delivery, without change being integral to the process there is a real risk that businesses are not going to capitalise on opportunities or deal with challenges if they are not considering their main asset – the workforce. This is not to say that project management as a discipline hasn’t come a long way in improving its focus on benefits and managing change, however more needs to be done to ensure that change management and people are at the heart of the conversation. Ultimately, it will help ensure that organisations are able to deal with regular change and ensure that they always make change stick.
At Afiniti, we regularly advise our clients on setting up PMOs / PCMOs, so if you are thinking about taking this next step for your organisation get in touch and we would be happy to discuss this further. Likewise, if you have any examples you would like to share around integrating change management within a PMO it would be great to hear from you too.