5 Change Management Tips for Project Managers

By Daniel Lock

Updated Over a Week Ago

Minute Read

Project managers often lean toward the mechanical processes of change, concentrating their efforts on project structure, strategy, and technical implementation.

However, doing so underestimates the impact of the human side: people who are impacted by the change, in turn, impact change success.

By realigning their focus to give equal weight to the human side of change, the project manager’s true worth will become evident.

What Difference Can a Project Manager Really Make?

In the early 2000s, Procter & Gamble’s innovative culture was failing. Less than 2 in 10 of its innovative projects met targets for revenues and profits.

To combat this, the company shifted its internal thinking. It repositioned emphasis away from technical processes and towards the mindset and empowerment of individuals and small teams.

Within 12 months, the incorporation of change management strategies into its project management led to the first major redesign of Tide’s liquid laundry detergent in 10 years.

This experience – treating change management psychology as an equal partner to project management methodology – was also found to provide a significant uplift in success by Wharton researcher Professor Ethan Mollick.

In his studies, he found that middle managers and project managers have an outsized impact on innovation and performance.

Professor Mollick asked IT project managers about the added value of middle managers.

He discovered that “After controlling for many factors, such as the genre of the game and the size of the project, I found that individual producers account for 22.3% of the variation in company revenue. Designers, by contrast, account for just 7.4% of the variation — a relatively marginal impact. For comparison, everything else that’s part of the firm, whether it’s senior managers or strategy or marketing, accounts for just 21.3% of the variation in firm performance.”

The question for you is, how do you become one of these effective project managers?

These five tips will help to explode your project management career.

1. Get Clear On The ‘Why’ to Create Urgency

The natural human condition is homeostasis – the equilibrium of the body’s internal environment. This is replicated in the emotional condition. People dislike change. And they veer toward a stable condition.

The first job of a project manager is to disrupt this propensity for stability. You must create an environment in which the project is given a sense of urgency.

You must encourage people to understand the negative consequences of making no changes and the positive impacts of making a change.

To create this case for action, ask and answer questions such as:

  • What is the default future of our department or organization?
  • If we don’t take action now, what is our future?
  • If we don’t act now, what risks will we be exposed to?
  • If we don’t act now, what opportunities will we miss?

It is then incumbent on you to continue to communicate this message, reinforcing the why at every opportunity.

2. Get Clear On The ‘What’ to Create Purpose

In project management, you are usually trying to change something. Hence the need for change management process to be embedded into project management methodology.

Often, organizations are vague about what is being changed. If people don’t know what they’re shooting for, it is difficult to hit the target.

Numerous studies have shown that specificity is key when setting goals, whether those goals are personal or organizational. Ambiguous goals give no clearly defined target.

For example, “I want to lose weight” is an ambiguous statement. “I want to lose five kilograms three months from today” is a clearly defined ambition, creating a sense of purpose.

To change mindsets and create purpose, be specific about your project and create discrete, measurable goals. Frame them in the fundamental interests of all stakeholders.

3. Create a Collaborative Environment

Collaboration is key to successful change and project management. A 2010 report published by Google, The Decisive Decade: how the acceleration of ideas will transform the workplace by 2020, showed there is an 81% correlation between collaboration and innovation:

In the same year, a large scale survey by McKinsey found that change management success exploded to 75% when employees felt that they were an integral part of the project.

To create this ownership and collaboration, people must see that they have opportunities for:

  • Self-expression
  • Fulfillment of concerns
  • Contribution to the success and realization of the project’s objectives

The collaborative environment is created when you empower people to be involved in ideation and the discovery of solutions to problems and help them feel responsible for their own successes.

4. Align Leadership

We all know that leadership is vital to success. It is impossible to steer a rudderless ship. Thanks to Douglas Hubbard, author of How to Measure Anything, we can put a figure on the impact of leadership on project success.

By analyzing large portfolio projects, he found that project sponsorship predicted between a 5% and 30% probability of success – more than any other factor.

To align leadership with the sponsorship of the project, first, identify the key stakeholder leaders. Ensure that they understand their key position and that their input makes a difference, helping to avoid mistakes and drive change with their detailed knowledge.

Next, ensure that leaders are provided clarity so they can deliver the message fully and clearly. That message is the why and the what, as described above.

Finally, have leaders cascade messages and empowerment from the top down, coaching front and middle managers to prepare their people for change.

5. Communicate as a Conversation

People don’t like being told what to do. They prefer to feel a part of the change process. So make change and project management a two-way conversation where you pull people into collaboration towards a goal.

In the book The Four Conversations: Daily Communication That Gets Results, authors Jeffrey and Laurie Ford described the four types of conversation that you’ll be involved in as a project manager:

  1. The initiative conversation, in which the possibility of the project is discussed
  2. The understanding conversation, in which details and implementation are discussed
  3. Performance conversations, with exchanges of requests and promises
  4. Completion and acknowledgment conversations, creating milestones, quick wins, measurement of performance, and a route to ‘real’ completion.

Use these four conversations to plan agendas and meetings until they become automatic. Ensure in every conversation that you create something new or important.


By incorporating both structural and psychological aspects into the change management process, as a project manager, you will make a real difference to teams and businesses.

These five change management tips will help you drive project management success by:

  • Creating a sense of urgency and a sense of purpose
  • Onboarding stakeholders in the project
  • Ensuring leaders become sponsors
  • Improving collaboration and engagement with a grand conversation

When the success of projects that you manage explodes, so, too, will your career.

How Do You Work on Change Management?

If you have ideas you feel like sharing that might be helpful to readers, share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

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Daniel Lock
Daniel Lock
Daniel Lock helps organizations unlock value and productivity through process improvement, project & change management. Find out more about him at daniellock.com.
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