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The Critical Role of Change Management in Project Success

Authors: Dave Lozinger and Dawn Mahan

What kind of change management are we talking about?

There are various types of “change management” discussed in organizations, including limiting scope change on projects and system change control (hello, tech friends!). Since we are focused on how to help you be successful in navigating the intense terrain of Projectland, there is another kind of change management we need to cover.

Most projects introduce a change of some sort. For example, a new bridge between two states presents other options. The bridge will reduce commute times and traffic on current major roads, maps will need to change, and commuters who may have reached their destinations with their eyes closed will need to learn a new route. Additionally, people who live nearby may need to get used to road noise.

If you are a project leader, incorporating how your project could impact people could make or break whether or not your project is considered a success. Continuing with our example: even if you build the perfect bridge, did you really deliver a successful project if no one uses it and nearby homeowners protest the project due to road noise?

Many would say that you did not.

This flavor of “change management” can be described as follows:

The process, tools, and techniques to manage the people side of change are essential to achieve the required outcomes.

Project leaders need to take a holistic approach to figure out how to get people on board with the new way of doing things—as painlessly as possible. However, most humans resist change, even if it is going to make their lives easier. You’ve probably heard change-related resistance comments like:

  • If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

  • We’ve always done it this way.

  • We tried that before, and it didn’t work.

Change leadership is often considered synonymous with change management, but they are not exactly the same. Change leadership focuses on leading people through an organizational transformation—whether that's cultural or technological—so humans are aligned with new goals and strategies in order to achieve expected outcomes.

Avoiding change altogether is not an option.

I was recently in a client leadership team meeting, and the CIO said he was on a bench in the courtyard of his father’s assisted living facility. He said a man over one hundred years old saw him there and asked what he was doing. He showed the gentleman his phone, which was connected to a video call on Microsoft Teams. He pointed out that one lady was in Brazil, one guy was in Israel, one gent was in New York City, this woman was in Key West, etc. This CIO happens to care very much about people, connection, and about doing the right thing. He asked us, “Can you imagine how much change this man has experienced in his one-hundred-plus years?”

It is impossible to avoid change. While it is true there are many businesses that have been successful for multiple generations, it doesn’t mean they have remained unchanged. In fact, most of them have had to change quite a bit over time to continue being successful; just like our CIO’s new friend adapted over the past ten decades to survive and, hopefully, live his best life. Change is an organic part of business and often a necessary component of growth.

Look at change management from a business perspective.

We’ve seen many projects led by technology, engineering, or other experts that essentially chose machines over people as the cornerstone of their careers, completely forgetting about humans. This never ends well.

No matter what field you are in, the first thing to do is look at change management from a business perspective. The tools, techniques, and technologies are important, but we can make the case that they are not as important as the people and processes involved in making changes happen. Change management is about ensuring that the right people are involved in planning, implementation, and evaluation so that performance is improved by the changes your project will bring.

The project manager shouldn't do all of the work.

Although project managers are responsible for managing the change in their projects, they do not need to do all the work themselves. A project manager should focus on leading the team, managing the process to get the project done right, helping team members be successful, and ensuring the right steps are taken so people are ready for the change the project brings.

On large, complex projects, there can be a role called a “Change Lead” or “Change Manager” who makes sure the change workstream is planned, fits into the schedule in parallel with the delivery of the product, service, or result, and ensures the people in the organization have the plan to win after the project has been closed.

For tech projects, this could mean increasing the adoption of a new tool. For our bridge example above, this could mean a decrease in average commute time during rush hour in the area.

Change management becomes complicated when it gets personal.

You will often hear us say, “It’s about the people, people!” However, when change management gets personal, it becomes complicated, messy, and sometimes downright hostile. When people are attached to the way they do things, they get comfortable and resist change. Change can feel like a threat. Have you heard the phrase, “Don’t rock the boat?” People don't like it when they feel they are sailing along a route they know well, and a storm is on the horizon. Your project is their storm. No one likes to feel like their world is being threatened!

Behavioral scientists have found that we are creatures of habit. We often don't realize how much our habits dictate our behavior and make us less flexible when dealing with new situations or challenges in life (or business). If I were to ask you right now what time it is, knowing your current location and time zone, would your answer be accurate within five minutes? Or is it closer to fifteen minutes? The truth is that most of us are not very good at gauging how long something takes us. Most people are not used to judging time in increments smaller than twenty minutes or so. Our superpower in miscalculating time can lead us astray when designing processes and systems because we tend not to consider all factors involved that could go wrong and only focus on the “happy path.”

7 Summary Tips to Succeed in Projectland

  1. Change requires leadership, as most humans resist change, even if it is going to make their lives easier.

  2. Change is an organic part of business and often a necessary component of growth. Don’t avoid it. Embrace it.

  3. Project managers don't need to go it alone. Assign a talented Change Team Lead to focus on proper planning, scheduling, impact analysis, deliverables and support for the change.

  4. People resist change and may perceive it as a threat, so be sure to consider all factors involved when designing processes and systems.

  5. Be sure to engage stakeholders in the planning and implementation of your change. People are more likely to embrace changes they helped create.

  6. Change deliverables often include effective communication, training, and documentation like job aids or Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs).

  7. Create a Change Management Plan to set clear expectations for everyone involved with the change.

For more practical tips on change management in Projectland and to watch Dave and Dawn’s LinkedIn Live conversation, visit PMOtraining’s YouTube channel (be sure to subscribe!).


To learn more about how to manage projects using more pro techniques, check out our course! Dawn spent a year working with the pros at Udemy to distill over 20 years of experience into 5-minuteish videos to help project people navigate Projectland with ease. If your employer offers Udemy Business, get the course HERE. (It’s free for you!)

If your employer doesn’t offer Udemy Business, don’t worry!

Use our special REFERRAL Link here to check it out. The first few videos are free!


About the Authors:

Dawn Mahan, PMP is an award-winning consultant, international speaker, coined the term “Projectland,” is a Top 3% trainer on Udemy, and founder of PMOtraining, LLC. Her work preparing young professionals to work inside major corporations through YearUp has been featured in MarketWatch, Morningstar, Yahoo! Finance, and more.

To book Dawn to speak inside your organization, contact Ricardo Brett at

Dave Lozinger PMP PMO project manager projectland

Dave Lozinger, MS, PMP is a superstar project change leader, former Navy fighter pilot, and an award-winning flight instructor. Using his military training to lead extensive and impactful projects, Dave is a wealth of knowledge and a catalyst for impactful change.

Learn more about Dave in our blog HERE.


Get more tips! For bite-sized tips to help you succeed in Projectland and in-depth opportunities to learn from Projectland experts via LinkedIn Live, follow us on Project Guru Academy. Project Guru Academy is a brand new division of PMOtraining, LLC.


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