Change management vs. Project management

There are 5 main differences between change management and project management. Understanding them will help you make changes a reality. When we talk about managing a change, we tend to think about the business environment. But both disciplines go so much further. They are used in almost every aspect of our lives. They are intertwined and overlap in some parts, but at the same time, they are independent and quite different. In organisations, change fails at all levels because of the wrong usage of project management and misunderstanding of change management.

The common misconception is that project management is all you need to carry out transformations in organisations. At the same time, change management is “something” linked to culture and is a mere responsibility of the human resource department. In private life, we procrastinate with change because we don’t know how to manage personal transformations. We see projects as a weirdo outcast belonging to the business world. 

1. Strategy and execution

Change management is a strategical discipline to prepare and help individuals, teams and companies to make an organisational change. Sometimes pivotal. In organisations, change management focuses on people response to change and the adoption of new ways of working. Employee involvement is critical in driving change. 

Change management is becoming more and more popular for personal life changes. Family, friends, and social circle are equally essential and need to be involved just like employees.  

Project management is an execution discipline. It is centred on further deploying actions aligned by the change management strategy. 

On personal level transformations, it has been proven that project management works very efficiently and can speed up any personal change we want. 

So, even if your change has a smaller scope or is personal, you should use a change management framework to shape a plan, focus efforts and address resistance. A project method will help you to deploy your actions and get the results you expect. 

2. Roles and titles

Project management is a clearly defined position in companies. It can have a bigger or smaller scope role. Still, project positions usually have clearly defined responsibilities and are focused on operations or research and development. There are many available degrees for project management, and you need one to get a good quality job. Project managers are usually hired at middle management positions in the organisational structure. If they have direct teams, those tend to be small. 

Change managers or transformational managers and directors are usually at mid-high levels and top levels of an organisation structure. The job descriptions are much more extensive, with many requirements but somehow ambiguous. There is a broad spectrum of areas to transform depending on the company. As change promoters, they take care of planning, managing, communicating and reinforcing change. They know their organisation’s inside out, understand its culture and learn how to lead complex transformations.

3. Stages and structure

Change management does not follow a structured process. It does, however, have its typical stages:

  • Planning for change
  • Managing change
  • Reinforcing change

There are five popular change management models and framework, and 2 of them don’t have their origins in business; they result from observations of human behaviour and offer universal application: Kotler’s modelMcKinsey 7-S frameworkADKAR modelKübler-Ross Change CurveLewin’s Change equation.

There is no right or wrong model; there are different circumstances and scopes of information. And all need a project management method or process to deploy changes once the overall strategy, communication and plan of action are designed.

Projects, on the other hand, are very structured. Whether it is reengineering, waterfall, lean or agile – the method used must be according to the company’s transformation strategy, goals and culture.

All project methods have clearly defined phases. Following a structure is what guarantees results within established timeframes. There can be an overwhelming number of initiatives, tasks, requirements, and teams in a change journey. All that is synchronised by working with five main project stages:

  • Initiating
  • Planning
  • Executing
  • Monitoring and Controlling
  • Closing

Some methods include a few of these stages; others have them all. The most important thing about project management is to set clear goals, scope, teams and timeframes. 

4. Timeframe

Change management does not adhere to a strict timeline; the timeframes are approximate. The exact fulfilment depends on many factors, sometimes unknown upfront, which can surge during a change journey.

Projects are characterised by having a beginning and an end date. They are strictly temporary and have the purpose of delivering a specific and expected result. 

Change management programs can take a few years and are composed of many projects. The most frequent reason why a transformational journey extends in time is resource availability (people/effort and expenses), assuming there is no need for strategy revision.

Personal projects tend to be shorter term than projects in an organisation. 

5. KPI’s

In many ways, change managers are the promoters for a change. They must communicate the reason for the overall change program with employees and other stakeholders. At the same time, they are responsible to address the resistance to change and secure commitment. To achieve that, change managers have to work with stakeholders to help them understand how those changes impact different departments and roles and how to move forward effectively and efficiently.

Change management KPI’s to evaluate performance and progress are usually:

  • Employee feedback
  • Customer satisfaction
  • Absenteeism
  • Benefit and ROI
  • User adoption
  • Communication

Project managers focus primarily on fulfilling the strategic objectives defined by the change manager or director. They will typically have to transform processes, procedures, workflows, teamwork to deliver the expected results. They work closely with all organisation levels and often have to translate strategic objectives into specific tactical goals and vice-versa.  

The typical KPI’s to monitor the effectiveness of project work are:

  • Adherence to schedule
  • Time to market
  • Rework
  • Number of people trained
  • Customer satisfaction (key result)
  • Cost of maintenance

 

Project management helps implement changes in business and private life. It is an independent way of working. Change management relies totally on project management as a mean of executing actions. But we can use project management outside the scope of change. We work with project methodology in many different areas: construction, scientific research and development, political activities, writing a book… As long as we have to act in a temporary nature, a project is the best tool.