JavaNEW and IMPROVED: A Lesson in Change Management and Project Management

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A little while ago, Facebook made some “new and improved” changes to its appearance and I found many of my “friends” using their status updates, their walls and messaging to communicate how unhappy they were with the “new” Facebook.

When I responded to these “friends” and dug deeper, I learned that it wasn’t so much that they didn’t like the new design, layout, and functions, but they just didn’t like change.

You’ll find a similar reaction to nearly any business decision that results in change. Whether it’s the business decision to move a favorite television show to a new day and time or a decision to fold two departments into one, most people cringe at the idea of change.

To effectively gain acceptance of change and chart an implementation plan, there are two management approaches to pursue, side-by-side: Change Management and Project Management.

To illustrate the difference between the two, here are the business definitions:

Change management is a structured approach to managing change in individuals, teams, organizations, and societies that enables the transition from a current state to a desired future state.

In other words, it is the way to move individuals, teams, organizations, and societies from vision to reality.

Project management is the discipline of organizing and managing resources in such a way that a project is completed within defined scope, quality, time, and cost constraints.

You can also think of it as the art and science of getting things done.

When you boil these definitions down to their bare bones, it is clear that you can’t have one without the other. Although Change Management provides a vision and the purpose of that vision, Project Management is everything that has to happen to realize the vision.

If you’ve worked in a company where you feel like there’s just one change after another, you might ask: “Can’t we just stabilize and stop trying to change everything?” That was the ideal before the information age. Now, with global markets that are interrelated, outsourcing, labor mobility, and immediate communication, there’s no choice.

So, if change is here to stay, then how do we deal with it? Look at a few ways to approach change and how Project Management can give Change Management the traction it needs to succeed.

German-born psychologist Kurt Lewin developed an early model of change in which he described it as a three-stage process.


He called the first stage “unfreezing.” This involves overcoming inertia and dismantling the existing “mindset.” In a company, this would be when a management team explains a vision and tells everyone why the company needs to go down this road. If there is no explanation that is real or believable, people stay frozen in the old “mindset.”


In the second stage, the change occurs. This is typically a period of confusion and transition when people are aware that the old ways are being challenged, but may not have a clear picture to replace them with yet. Without continued communication during this stage, the change can become stalled and get “caught” in the company.


The third and final stage is called “refreezing.” This is when the new mindset has been consistently articulated and supported, and it is crystallizing. People are getting comfortable with the new way of doing things. Refreezing is successful when the communication actually begins to match the behavior that is happening in the organization.

When you look at Lewin’s model from both a Change Management and Project Management perspective, the message and vision are driven from the Change Management strategy, but how that message takes hold in the organization and gets translated to actual work is in the hands of Project Management. How that gets done inevitably will be a series of projects that stem from the goals of the Change Management initiative.

Now that you understand how Change Management and Project Management work together to accomplish change, look at how to remove the common roadblocks that get in the way of change being realized.

Remove the Roadblocks to Change

Engage. When you engage people from the beginning of a change instead of reacting case by case as they push back, you increase speed, improve morale, and keep the focus on the results you want to achieve.

One. Make sure your leadership team speaks with one voice and vision. Change is disconcerting enough, but even more so when the leaders are not on the same page.

Peel. Make sure you peel back all the layers of the organization. As a plan moves from strategy to design and implementation, it affects every level of the organization, so if you only focus on one layer or level, your change will get stuck. This is where good Project Management skills are critical because Project Management principles build cross-functional teams that understand how to pull change through any size organization—one project at a time.

Answer. Don’t tell people information like you’re blowing smoke through a megaphone. Instead, answer their questions, and in a time of change, there are really three questions: What is the change? Why is it happening? How is it happening? “Why” questions drive to the purpose and make it possible to find new and better ways of doing things. “How” gives people a sense of calm because they can see a way to participate in their own destiny.

Incentivize. It’s now common knowledge that most humans don’t like change, so to keep them in the game, you have to make it worth their while. It’s not necessarily financial, it may be more about recognition or lifestyle-based. Maybe one of your best people wants to work from home two days a week and in exchange for that will provide a higher level of commitment to meet the goals.

Over-communicate. When you’re working on a plan and you’ve been living with it for months, it’s easy to make the mistake that you think others will easily understand all the finer points. When in doubt, choose to over-communicate. I can’t think of a case when a program failed because there was too much communication.

You are here. Know where your company is before you initiate any kind of change. How’s morale? What’s bubbling or brewing beneath the surface? Don’t underestimate the power of culture. Before you dive in, spend some time “taking the temperature” of your organization and knowing what people are saying, feeling, and doing.

If, Then. Once you know what is happening at the cultural level of your organization, you will know what has to change before you can change. For example, if you find that morale is low because people are underpaid in the industry, you need to rectify that perception (or reality) before you embark on a major initiative that is going to ask even more of your workforce.

Measure. Know how you will measure success from the start. Regardless of the size of your program or project, your people need to know what success looks like. Is it increasing productivity by 10% or increasing sales 5%?

Empathetic. Change is personal. Think about it—for many people, their work is central to their identity. We all talk about work-life balance and we want it, but when we meet someone the first question we ask is: “What do you do?” So, when you’re talking about change, don’t default to an impersonal corporate voice. Instead, use your best voice of honesty.

Now that you understand change and how to move it forward in a quick and painless fashion, have an open mind when your favorite social networking hub, your “sure-thing” television line-up, or your corporate restructuring has something new in store for you. To quote, Bob Dylan, “the times they are a changin’.”

About the Author

Michelle LaBrosse is the founder and Chief Cheetah of Cheetah Learning. An international expert on accelerated learning and Project Management, she has grown Cheetah Learning into the market leader for Project Management training and professional development. The Project Management Institute,, selected Michelle as one of the 25 Most Influential Women in Project Management in the world, and only one of two women selected from the training and education industry. Michelle is a graduate of the Harvard Business School’s Owner & President Management program for entrepreneurs, and is the author of Cheetah Project Management and Cheetah Negotiations.


Kurt Lewin’s early model of change:

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