business change management and project managementHow do business change management and project management fit together?

I am often asked how business change management and project management work together during organisational change. Those wishing for a quick and simple answer are usually disappointed. Like so much about business change, its relationship with project management is not straightforward.


The main thing to realise is that project management and change management are two distinct but complementary disciplines. Both are needed for successful change but how they fit together can vary. In my own career as a business change manager I have experienced many different approaches. I have often worked alongside project managers on specific change projects, or been responsible for all the change management on larger programmes of change. In another role I sat as a subject matter expert in the portfolio office, shaping the business change approach for the organisation. I have even managed projects and business change as part of the same role. Like so much else in business change, there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach and many different possibilities are available.

The difference between project management and business change

When change is introduced into an organisation, it generally consists of three things:

The object of the change

This is the thing that is actually changing. It could be anything within the organisation, e.g. a computer system, a target operating model, a focus on a new market

The associated activities

These are all the processes, ways of working and behaviours which accompany the object of the change. They will need to be done differently to make the change work

The people involved and affected by the change

Everyone needs to play an active part in the change. Those involved in making the change happen need to be able to participate effectively. Those affected by the change need to know what is changing and why, and what they need to do differently. Most importantly, everyone needs to support the change enough to decide to behave in the ways necessary for it to be successful. This is the role of business change management, as shown in the diagram below.

Business change management and project management

It is well known that organisational change has high failure rates. Back in the 1970s and early ’80s with the big IT infrastructure projects, failure was mostly caused by projects overrunning, overspending or not delivering what the organisation actually wanted. Project management was developed to try and reduce these failures. It has now grown into a mature and respected profession.

Failure rates, however, continue to be high. Projects are now delivering more changes into organisations, but these changes still fail if they are not adopted and utilised by the people affected. The best product in the world will not benefit anyone if it is not used properly.

So to put it simply, project management is responsible for developing and putting change into the organisation. Business change management is responsible for ensuring people adopt and utilise the change. It is only when both of these things happen that the benefits are realised and the change is a success.

How does business change work with project management?

There is no prescribed way for change and project professionals to work together. My roles have varied depending on how the project function is set up, the skills and personality of the project managers, how much impact the change will have on users, and how people within the organisation feel about the change. I have to be very flexible on what I do, and what others do.

Below are a few pointers I have found helpful in these situations:

Work closely and openly with your project colleagues

Everyone needs to be very clear on who is responsible for what during the change. Responsibilities will probably alter regularly throughout the project. You need to be in constant communication amongst yourselves – any internal confusion which affects stakeholders is not allowed.

Team working is a must

There is little room for individual ego in business change management. Providing the work gets done and the stakeholders are supported, it doesn’t matter who does what. If you are working with a project manager who is keen to lead on business change, let them. Your role then is to keep an eye on their work and subtly coach them if you can see areas for improvement.

Be the voice of the business

A vital role business change plays within any project function is to be the voice of the users during the change. You need to check every possible activity and decision for its effect on users. No-one else in the project profession will be thinking in this way – they will all be focussed on their own priorities such as the delivery schedule or the budget.

The project team are also your stakeholders

There is an additional role for the business change manager which is subtle and rarely acknowledged. This is a diplomacy and peace-maker role. You need to ensure all the tensions, conflicts, misunderstandings and emotions found in every change team are kept under control and not allowed to jeopardise the change. The project professionals are also you stakeholders and may be in need of your skills as much as any other group during the change.

So it doesn’t matter how business change management and project management work together. It is just vital to have both  to give your change the best possible chance of success.

Next article – the importance of a proper impact assessment

Click here to find out why a proper impact assessment is vital for successful change, and to download a free case study on how to do an impact assessment using the McKinsey 7S model.

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