Sometimes You Need a Project Manager Who Can “Double” as Change Agent
Learn why you need a project manager who can also serve as a change management professional
Sometimes a pending project has an aura of fear and angst. You know you need to knock this item off your list and finish it, yet you can’t get it started or, in some cases, restarted.
This is when you need to chant: What’s urgent is rarely important. What’s important is rarely urgent.
A client of mine shared this Dwight D. Eisenhower quote with me when we were strategizing on how to get an “important” stalled project jump-started.
Choosing a Project Manager
One way to jump-start a project like this is to select a project manager who can double as a change agent. This is a PM who is skilled in organization change management (OCM) techniques. This “double” agent (PM/OCM) can be a significant part of a project’s success.
Your PM/OCM can combine getting the project started and organized with unearthing the well-known issues raised in the past – and the unmentionable fears.
With this critical information, they will work with you to ensure put an approach together that addresses known risks and issues upfront. The result will be a faster implementation, which translates to a larger return on your investment.
When sponsoring a project managed by a PM/OCM, keep the following in mind:
1. Your PM/OCM will spend more upfront time on establishing rapport, trust, and relationships
There’s a reason you need a Project Manager with change skills. You know there’s resistance. Their job is to find out what’s really going on, where the resistance is, and what the source of it is.
Your change agent should spend time meeting one-on-one with each key stakeholder and team member. They need to establish rapport with them and understand what’s important.
A good change agent will push their own evaluation of the situation aside and really listen. When they do this, stakeholders will share their perspective, the history of the effort, and their concerns. This information allows you and your change agent to adjust your approach accordingly.
2. Use the risk log extensively
Your PM/OCM will prudently use the risk log. Concerns raised by key stakeholders and team members should be promptly added to a shared risk log.
People need to see that they have been heard. If their concern is captured in a public way, they know the PM/OCM is listening and will begin to see that person as someone they can trust.
Your PM/OCM will then use the risk log to prepare for the conversations they have with you. Together, you will work to ensure each risk has a mitigation plan that puts the provider of the risk at ease. Without mitigation documented, this person won’t be all in.
3. Be ready to tackle the soft stuff
Establish a more frequent than typical cadence meeting with your PM/OCM and key stakeholders. I suggest a 30-minute meeting every week or two. Structure these meetings so that you begin by providing updates to the PM/OCM. This demonstrates your engagement in the project. Then, allow time for the PM/OCM to discuss project risks and issues.
Also, try to address the root cause of a concern rather than its symptom. For example, a key stakeholder might not want to create customer communication and might claim it isn’t needed. The truth might be that the stakeholder is worried that competitors will swoop in and steal customers if a policy change is implemented.
Talk about why this person has this fear, and try to find a solution addressing that root cause. This will often come back to needing you, as the sponsor, to take action with the stakeholder.
4. Balance is key
In playing multiple roles, the PM/OCM has to understand the needs and sensitivities almost minute-by-minute, knowing when to dive in and when to pull back.
Remind them to put their hand up when the dual responsibility is too much to handle, and call for help.
Another key part of balancing the roles is not to see everything through one lens. Just because a change-focused project has an issue doesn’t make it a change-related issue: It could be a system problem or a process inefficiency. Remember to check yourself on your mindset.
In a recent project, there were concerns about how customers would react to a particular communication. One of the issues centered on a supporting computer system that produced data for communication.
An OCM-focused PM (or sponsor) might have downplayed the system risks and avoided digging into that concern. It’s always necessary to account for your biases in a situation like this.
This article was written in collaboration with John Kackley, a colleague of mine at Centric Consulting, who contributed his inquisitive questions and editorial expertise to this article. Thanks, John!