Change Management in Projects – Why Project Managers Also Have to Be Change Managers


This article provides you as project managers with ideas for the successful realization of organizational projects involving change management. You will learn how to:

  • Incorporate change management into your projects early and in a structured manner
  • Turn affected people into involved parties – besides the actual achievement of objectives
  • Ensure the accompanying organizational change

The 8-step process by Professor John P. Kotter will present you with a practice-oriented method of change management in phases. This is bound to help you achieve the change within your organization more easily.

These topics are waiting for you in the article:

Let us get started!

Definition Change Management

Change management is a business process of organizations. This process is meant to contribute to the successful accomplishment of changes. The focus of change management is on managing a change rather than performing actual tasks in the context of a change. (Source: Gareis, 2017)

The Challenge for Project Managers

Increasing digital transformation produces a great many projects. Managing these projects is not only about the technical implementation. It is just as much about establishing the necessary organizational changes.

Besides, these far-reaching change projects concern many members of staff, who may not have come into contact with projects before at all. It is necessary to take them along and convince them. This is what makes change management in projects and their environments so important.

If you are a project manager entrusted with an organizational project, your challenge lies in knowing about change management to be able to implement the changes. Your future task will consist of two parts:

  1. Explaining how you plan to implement the project.
  2. Explaining convincingly why the project was initiated and what you aim to achieve with it.

Which in turn means: as a project manager, you not only have the responsibility for implementing a project (project management elements). You also must be competent in change management. In this way, you ensure the long-term creation of value within your organization (change management elements).

For the clarification of the term change, please note here: we are not referring to changes regarding aspects of scope or content of a project. Rather, we are concerned with organizational changes through projects.

You might also enjoy reading about the latest Project Management Trends.

Why to Practice Change Management

Change in human behavior is difficult to achieve!

As a project manager, one thing should be clear from the outset: changing the behavior of humans is not an impossible but still a fairly difficult task.

You will probably know from experience, how hard it can be to change your own behavior. Whether it be giving up smoking, for example, sticking to a diet or finally doing more sports – this usually requires a lot of drive and conviction.

Even if the reasons for an important change are perfectly obvious – we easily find excuses.

But what makes it so difficult to put changes into effect?

There are many potential reasons:

  • Feeling that the present state is quite comfortable
  • Fear of the unknown
  • Feeling of failure
  • Fear of being incompetent
  • Desire for security, routine, and dependability
  • Lack of motivation
  • Sense of being overwhelmed by the new
  • Lack of perseverance
  • Lack of faith in one’s own abilities
  • The purpose of the change has not been conveyed

All of these are reasons which can make a project fail.

This is how resistance within the organization can arise during project implementation. It manifests itself in the following ways:

  • Increased sickness or other absence rates
  • Decisions already made are brought into question repeatedly
  • Special cases turn into a recurring point of discussion
  • Solutions are dissected right down to the last detail
  • Tasks already assigned are re-delegated again

Appropriate change management can counteract this and support the success of the project or change.

Differences between Project and Change Management

To be able to counteract this intra-organizational resistance in the project, you must re-align your focus as a project manager. This is no longer about the question of how to execute the project. Rather, you now must ask: “why are we doing the project” and “what is the project supposed to accomplish?

Differences between project management and change management consist in function and focus. In the same way, the skills necessary for the respective role differ, too:

Project management skills

Project management requires the following skill set:

  • Analytical skill
  • Planning skills
  • Organizational skills
  • Attention to detail and processes

Only with these skills can projects be implemented “on time, budget and quality”.

Change management skills

What you need in change management is:

  • Knowledge of human nature as the key to success.

As a project manager, you must know or learn to encourage people to give up their set patterns of behavior and ways of working.

As a project manager, you have a further function in this case: that of the change manager. Thus, you are also responsible for changing the knowledge, attitude and behavior of the team members on the project.

And this also extends to the staff members affected by the effects of your project.

Additional Expertise in Project Management: Focusing on People

As illustrated below, change management supports project management. The goal is to get from the current status of an enterprise, via a transitional state, to a desired future state.

Change Management 1
Figure 1: Based on Prosci (2017)

As a project manager, you no longer have to look at project plans, work packages, processes, milestones, etc. only from the perspective of project management. You must switch to the perspective of change management. This will help you take into consideration the human aspects of the changes within your organization, which originate in your projects.

Your activities in change management accompany all involved members of the organization from the present to the future state. This is the only way you can succeed in obtaining the actual benefit from your projects. What is more, this approach goes far beyond what you could achieve with project management alone.

The Consequences of Insufficient Change Knowledge

Unfortunately, organizations are ready to invest money in training courses concerning project management methods and tools, but only rarely will change management be considered financially.

The result is a lack of knowledge on change topics. This in turn can lead to:

  • Project delays
  • Incomplete project results
  • In some cases, even project aborts

In a nutshell, resistance, apathy and lack of commitment have a substantial impact on the project output and the project schedule. They can only be minimized, or even eliminated entirely, if the people affected are brought back to the fore.

Another interesting read in this context: How to Introduce Resource Management

Change Management Example: Introducing a CRM System as a Change in the Organization

An example from my own experience is the implementation of an IT-supported CRM system in the enterprise. (A similar example would be setting up an enterprise-wide PPM system.) This introduction applied to many departments in the enterprise.

For the IT department, this represented “only” another piece of software they had to install. For the members of the departments sales (back office and field service), marketing, product and customer service, it was however a huge rebuilding phase. Established processes and structures in the enterprise changed all of a sudden.

Workflows and techniques practiced for many years had to be reorganized, amended or relearned.

Change mananagement is also central to successful PMO setup.


Therefore, this reorganization went far beyond the enhancement or the introduction of a simple piece of software. Only by getting the affected staff members on board with all their fears and doubts, could the project be completed successfully within one year.

Practical tip: Your task as a project manager in the capacity of change manager is to place the people concerned at the center from the beginning. Moreover, see arising resistance for what it is: namely the desperate attempt to maintain the status quo.

If you can channel these forces, which manifest themselves in the resistance against the change, into a positive transformation process, you will achieve a huge benefit: as a project manager, you will have additional personnel potential and resources to fall back on.

Practical tip: Involve the affected stakeholders into the change process occasioned by your project at an early stage.

This enables the stakeholders to:

  • Understand the “why”
  • Help shape the change
  • Implement the changes in their working sphere in a constructive way

Change Management Phases in Projects: The 8-Step Process by Kotter

The 8-Step Process by Professor John P. Kotter (Harvard Business School) outlines how project managers can meet the challenges of change management. This concept developed in 1996 extends Kurt Lewin’s 3-Step Model from the year 1947.

Kotter’s stage model is a holistic approach with which to implement a change within an organization successfully.

Kotter’s point is this. To make a radical change really happen, it is necessary to pass through all eight stages in the given order.

Watch out: Kotter points out that skipping individual steps creates only an illusion of rapid progress but will never lead to a satisfying result.

Kotter describes his strategy in detail in his book Leading Change (2011).

Change Management 2
Figure 2: The change management 8-Step Process by Professor John P. Kotter (my representation)

Steps 1 to 3: Creating the Climate for Change

Step 1: Create a Sense of Urgency

It is important to establish a sense of the urgency or the necessity of the project from the beginning. The more staff members within the organization and the project team catch on, the higher the motivation will be to set the project in motion.

As a project manager, always demonstrate honestly and convincingly, why the project needs to be accomplished. Often, it is helpful to outline not only the chances of the project but also worst-case scenarios. Those are scenarios which could occur if the project did not go smoothly.

As a general rule, we can say: the more people are talking about the project, the more this sense of urgency will also develop within the organization.

Step 2: Form a Powerful Coalition

After convincing the people within the organization of the necessity of your project, your work continues. In your position as a project manager, you have to keep up this sense of urgency consistently by winning over key people within the enterprise for your project.

These people do not necessarily owe their influence on the staff members to their position in the organization chart. Frequently, other criteria are decisive, such as status, years in the enterprise, specialized knowledge, etc.

One thing is important, however. If possible, all levels of the organization affected by the project should include such key personalities. Likewise, the latter should have adequate leadership qualities, powers and expertise.

Your task as a project manager is to keep this coalition of key personalities alive through meetings. Thus, the sense of the urgency and necessity of the project will persist within the organization.

Step 3: Create a Vision and a Strategy of Change

The next tasks for you as a project manager are:

  1. Create an easy-to-understand and easily remembered vision of your ideas and solutions surrounding the project
  2. Develop a concrete strategy based on this to assist you in achieving the goal of the project

The better people know where they are heading, the more they can concentrate on putting the set vision into practice.

According to Kotter, the vision should feature six characteristics:

  1. Conceivable: The vision must give a clear and credible picture of the future.
  2. Worthwhile: The vision should appeal to the long-term interests of the stakeholders within the organization.
  3. Feasible: The vision must be realistic and achievable.
  4. Focused: The vision must be clearly formulated in order to serve as a decision aid.
  5. Flexible: When necessary, the vision should respond to altered circumstances.
  6. Communicable: The vision should be easy to communicate and fast to explain.

Steps 4 to 6: Engaging and Enabling the Entire Organization

Stage 4: Communicate the Vision of the Change

You have to make sure that the vision is permanently fixed in the hearts and minds of the staff members. To achieve this, you have to bring it up again and again in meetings, emails, presentations, etc. Thus, you convey the core message in an especially broad and tailored way.

As a project manager, you should thus use every opportunity to communicate your vision behind the project within the organization. This is the only way you will manage to maintain the acceptance and the commitment of the staff members over the entire life cycle of the project.

Step 5: Empower Those Involved and Remove Obstacles

At this point, the vision has been communicated effectively in the organization and the majority of people is ready to get on board with the changes. Now, you need to identify and remove the last remaining obstacles. This includes the structures and the systems of the organization. You must adapt them to the requirements of the project. We are talking about e.g. job descriptions, knowledge and information systems as well as incentive and compensation systems.

Change management should accompany the Introduction of Project Portfolio Management.

Only thus, can the employees act in their area and take on responsibility for the announced changes, which such a project entails. This gives people the opportunity of finding innovative solutions to ultimately obtain the desired project results.

In this phase, it is important to create a culture which promotes and rewards the exchange of knowledge within the organization. You as a project manager play an important part in working towards this.

Step 6: Create Quick Wins

Nothing motivates like success. For this reason, you should obtain partial successes early in the project. This will allow you to carry the momentum and energy gathered initially into the further course of the project.

Achieving short-term positive results is crucial to the long-term success of change initiatives. This is the only way to keep critics in check or ideally even sway them. For this, you need to identify goals attainable in the short term in your project planning and position them accordingly in your project schedule.

Such successes will enable you to prove that your project and the associated changes pay off for the enterprise and the staff.

Steps 7 to 8: Implementing and Sustaining the Changes

Step 7: Consolidate Your Gains and Introduce Further Changes

Kotter states that it would be fatal to rest on one’s laurels too soon. Real change takes time and runs deep. But every partial success achieved in the project offers the possibility to build on it.

It is up to you as a project and change manager to maintain the sense of urgency and necessity in the team and within the organization. Try to find additional backers for the project and the changes involved.

It is also of crucial importance to make the corporate culture consistent with all the new behavior patterns and practices resulting from the change.

Step 8: Anchor New Approaches in the Corporate Culture

With the conclusion of the project, it is vital to anchor the changes obtained firmly in the corporate culture. Now is the time to prove that the new way is better than the old.

Otherwise, there is risk that criticism of the project and its results may resurface.

You should communicate and publish the successes and changes you achieved actively in the entire enterprise.

In addition, senior staff and key people must continue to support the change. Likewise, you need to align newly recruited staff to the new way.

Conclusion – Change Management in Projects

This article has looked at organizational changes through projects. There are more and more of them, e.g., due to digital transformation. Such organizational projects will always entail changes concerning the staff members and the way they work.

In the future, the success of such projects will be measured differently. It will still be relevant whether goals have been reached on time and on budget. But more and more attention will be on whether the project’s intended change in the organization actually came to pass.

In substance, a project might also be implemented without change management. However, change management increases the chance that the project result is:

  1. Profitably introduced to the enterprise
  2. Accepted by the staff in the long term

As a project manager, you should engage in change management to master two challenges:

  1. Ever more complex projects
  2. Their impact on the organization

To date, the project management associations, such as PMI, IPMA, PRINCE, etc., barely address these change processes.

But, with the 8-step process by Kotter, this article has introduced you to a suitable method. This model is bound to make you more successful when implementing your projects with all the organizational change processes involved.

Our final tips:

Get to know the individually adaptable “PPM Paradise” – the optimal environment for your enterprise-wide project, program, portfolio and resource management (PPM). Download the free eBook “The PPM Paradise” now (just click, no form).

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What have been your experiences with change management in projects? Do you feel we have missed an important point? We look forward to receiving your comment below. 

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Change Management Karin BaldaufAbout the author: Karin Baldauf has degrees in Business Administration and Business Software Technologies. She has worked in various positions of project management for 16 years. As a project manager, she successfully completed projects in the areas of mechanical engineering and automation, the textile industry as well as IT. Nowadays, she is director of corporate marketing & communications at faigle Group – an Austrian plastics manufacturing group. Her special interest in project management is directed at the connection to the areas of change management and knowledge management for a particular reason. Her previous employer, Meusburger, developed “WBI”, a simple and pragmatic method of knowledge management. They also teach this system to interested parties.

More detail about Karin Baldauf on LinkedIn.


Andersen, Henrik Horn (2015): Project manager of the future. From project to business value with change management.

Changefirst (2009): How change management improves your project management. Making projects more successful.

Gareis, Roland; Gareis, Lorenz (2017): Projekt. Programm. Change.: Lehr- und Handbuch für Intrapreneure projektorientierter Organisationen. Vienna: Manz’sche Verlags- und Universitätsbuchhandlung.

Kotter, John P. (2011): Leading Change: Wie Sie Ihr Unternehmen in acht Schritten erfolgreich verändern. Munich: Franz Vahlen Verlag.

Lauer, Thomas (2010): Change Management. Berlin Heidelberg: Springer Verlag

Pitagorskiy, George (2011): Project Managers are Change Managers.

Prosci (2017): Definition of Change Management in context.

Wrike (2014): Top 5 Project Management Myths busted.


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