UMS Group on best practices in project change management

27 July 2020 6 min. read

Without change management projects often fail, not because of technical or organisational barriers, but because of human resistance to change. To help firms avoid such a fate, experts from UMS Group sat down with to share some of the best practices in change management, and how to concretely translate them into a project.

Change management is required whenever something interrupts day-to-day operations. Events requiring change management can rank from obvious organisational transformations like mergers to small operational adjustments like the integration of a legacy Excel template into a new CRM-tool. An organised and well communicated change process can ease tensions while securing sustained employee engagement and thus pave the way for a smoother transition process.

In their work, advisors at UMS Group work on a day-to-day basis with clients on change. According to the firm, one of the most frequently named reason for failing a project is resistance to change. In most cases this is not because change management is ignored but because it is hardly perceived as an active role. Instead, it requires a continued stream of open communication, interlinked with executive support and education across a firm.

Best practices in project change management

“The main objective of change management is getting your people on board,” the experts explained. “In order to do so, you need to communicate with your people. Simply pointing out that change is happening will not chang anything. Open communication is needed to set the right mind-set. Do not try to persuade anybody but try to make them think and point them into one, uniform direction.”

The firm’s experts elaborated that for communication to be successful, executive support is a big help. That is not to say a manager’s authority does not carry enough weight to get things done, but by showing the highest relevant body is on-board, it becomes much easier to convey knowledge to employees regarding why the change is happening in the first place, what the desired outcome is, and what will happen if nothing is done.

The change manager plays a large role in this process, tasked with “actively facilitating stakeholder management across all hierarchical layers. This means establishing a change network. Creating an open line for everyone to express interest in certain topics, contribute ideas but also voice resistance. Targeted education is used not only to provide information but also to create awareness across the organisation.”

Translating plans into actions

Once change managers have set the basis for good change management via a solid communication strategy, the time is right to consider how to translate change management best practices into a practical approach at the project level. According to UMS Group, a first step is to incorporate change into the regular meetings and cycles, such as the daily / weekly stand-ups.

The consultants elaborated, “Stand-up meetings are a fast way to share progress, remove roadblocks and to stay aligned. Every team member stands up and presents their recent progress and upcoming deliverables of the project to the rest of the team.”

Introducing a weekly stand-up just for change can also help, according to the consultancy. In such a session, there is no project progress per se, but it allows for the creation of a positive work atmosphere, as well as a platform for motivation and stakeholder management by following a clear change agenda.

Recording progress is also essential to monitoring the effectiveness of any change being implemented. UMS stated, “Change management needs to be a priority with key deliverables. Remember: if you cannot measure it, it does not exist. You will see that your project outcome will be better because of it.”

Introducing ambassadors to a project also comes highly recommended. As any change process is likely to not only affect a particular project team, but the business, ambassadors can help combine the two sets of interests. This means somebody from a different part of the business unit, who is generally connected to the topic at hand, can represent the needs of that unit to ensure that an integrated approach is followed.

In the case of one recent UMS project, the firm said the number of involved ambassadors “nearly equalled the number of project members,” though the proportion necessary may vary from project to project.

Regarding how change managers could include ambassadors into a project, UMS explained, “Start by inviting them to all of your team meetings. Moreover, start thinking about linking them to various workgroups. If the outcome of this workgroup will impact the ambassador’s department, simply include that ambassador in the workgroup.”

“In this manner, you have an easy way to circulate information and you can also benefit from the ambassador’s knowledge. At a project level, ambassadors help you to keep your project aligned with the business.”

Build a safe environment

In the view of UMS Group’s experts, change managers should further establish a safe environment for change, and embed change methods into the project set-up. Beyond ensuring a project is inclusive for members of other units, change managers also need to work to create an environment where all members of a business feel clued in and welcome. In order to do this, but to avoid crowding a project, one key tactic is to make use of less formal settings.

“Obviously, you cannot include every employee affected by the change in your project and you don’t have to,” UMS expanded. “An approved method is ‘Lunch and Learn Sessions,’ where during lunch in a relaxed atmosphere, we offer different sessions to everyone that may be interested. This can be purely knowledge-based, for example providing training. On the other hand, those sessions can be used to create a free flow of information about upcoming topics and processes. There are literally no limits to the design of ‘Lunch and Learn’ – just adapt it to your needs and audience.”

Another important measure change managers can take to ensure they create a welcoming environment is by remaining as a separate role from a project manager. While UMS stated that the role of a change manager can sometimes be combined with the role of the project manager – if being performed actively – in large and complex projects this may reduce the feelings among staff that a change manager is there to support them. For example, one benefit of an external change manager is that employees might be more willing to openly discuss doubts and challenges with someone outside the business’ normal hierarchy and even outside the organisation.

According to UMS, no matter if change management is being performed as a separate role or as part of the project manager’s responsibilities, it is inevitable for the change manager to also be involved in the project work itself. In this way the change manager can be part of the team, thus affecting the change process – but with keeping a distinct role means they will maintain that distance needed for employees to be more open to them.