Change Management and Project Management: The Key Differences

Change And Management And Project Management

Markets are becoming increasingly complex, with AI and AI-powered tools being the highlight of 2023. If there was ever a sign that traditionally project-managed companies should start investing in new management frameworks, 2023 was the biggest sign yet. 

The modern workspace is evolving in every single way: different tools and workspace programs, employee demands for remote work, and more. 

Now, it’s not your fault. Transitioning from one framework to the other is a huge commitment, and if done wrong, it can result in resignations and even poorer performance. But that’s where change managers come in. Unlike project managers, change managers are experts in transitioning organisations and guiding them into a different work culture.

What is Change Management?

Change management is the structured approach of guiding individuals and organisations through transitions and transformations. It handles the processes, tools, and techniques used to ensure that change initiatives are implemented smoothly, effectively, and with minimal disruption.

Successfully navigating change is not all about technical aspects, but also about addressing the human and emotional factors involved. People naturally resist change due to fear of the unknown, potential disruption to routines, and perceived impact on security and comfort. When organisations neglect the human side, several consequences can arise:

  • Resistance and resentment: Employees may actively oppose the change, leading to decreased productivity, low morale, and even high turnover.
  • Miscommunication and misunderstanding: Unclear communication or lack of employee involvement can breed confusion and hinder the adoption of new working methods.
  • Loss of productivity and efficiency: Confusion, resistance, and lack of training will lead to delays, mistakes, and decreased overall performance.
  • Erosion of trust and confidence: Failure to address concerns and provide adequate support to maintain trust between employees and leadership, further hindering the change process.

This isn’t pseudo-specialisation or some gimmick either, change management is a real niche, and there are tools and processes for it. Here are some examples of what a change manager deals with: ADKAR model, readiness and impact assessment, communication plans, etc. 

What Does a Change Manager Do?

A change manager focuses on the people involved in the change. They guide teams and individuals into the new culture and use strategies to make the change as seamless as possible. 

Traditional Project Management Processes

Project management is the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet project requirements. Project managers ensure all necessary tasks are identified, assigned, and completed efficiently. They break down the project into smaller, manageable tasks and create realistic timelines. 

The focus of project managers is all tied to getting tasks done and accomplishing results. Their speciality is submitting deliverables as experts in their field. 

Methodologies like Agile, Scrum, or Waterfall are iterative and have more communication than other frameworks. But, there’s no guarantee that all the employees will follow the guidelines or be invested in the new framework, and to solve that, you need a change manager. 

Comparing Similarities of Change Management and Project Management

While change management and project management operate in distinct spheres, they ultimately share the goal of improving organisational performance. Both disciplines require structured frameworks, effective communication, and strong leadership.

  • Structured approaches: Change management utilises models like ADKAR and Kotter’s 8-Step Change Model to guide transitions, while project management employs methodologies like Agile, Waterfall, and Scrum to manage project life cycles effectively. 
  • Communication and leadership: Change managers must communicate compelling visions, address concerns openly, and inspire buy-in among stakeholders. Similarly, project managers rely on clear communication to keep teams informed, aligned, and motivated toward achieving project objectives.
  • Organisational Performance: Both aim to improve the company’s performance and goals. 

Both change and project disciplines converge, ultimately wanting employee success. But that’s where their similarities end, and their differences and strengths emerge as separate skill sets. 

Key Differences Between Change Managers and Project Managers?

Change management is a separate position for a reason: it specialises in employee care, performance, and loyalty through tough times. This crucial discipline is how you get employees to stay with your business for 10 to 20 years and be the top performers in their category. These employees are priceless in experience, culture, and expertise. 

A good change manager will empower and excite employees about change and improvements. With strong interpersonal skills, empathy, and a good understanding of employee psychology, change managers build trust from employees to the company. Changes like this increase engagement and reliability, and improve job satisfaction.

Integrating Change and Project Management

Now, imagine if you have happy employees with a great schedule and precise tasks. Combining project and change management improves efficiency in the workspace even more when the two managers collaborate and work together. 

Integrating both disciplines ensures project goals and objectives are aligned with desired changes. Change management focuses will have a clearer understanding of company goals, avoiding conflicting efforts and maximising the impact of both initiatives. On the other hand, project managers can fully utilise employees who are feeling great and lay off others who are overwhelmed.

Change And Management And Project Management
Change And Management And Project Management

Challenges and Best Practices of Managing Change

Integrating change and project management will undoubtedly face some potent challenges that can undermine its effectiveness. Let’s delve into the most common roadblocks and explore best practices to navigate them smoothly:

  • Resistance to Change: The human factor can’t be ignored. Fear of the unknown, disrupted routines and concerns about workload or skill gaps can manifest as resistance, hindering project progress and adoption of new ways of working.
  • Misaligned Goals: Disconnects between project objectives and overarching organisational change goals can breed confusion, wasted effort, and, ultimately, failure. Without a clear and unified vision, teams might end up pulling in different directions.
  • Communication Barriers: Inadequate or unclear communication will foster mistrust, anxiety, and misunderstandings. When stakeholders lack information about the change or its purpose, rumours and negativity can spread, further fueling resistance. The same is true vice versa when employees hear that stakeholders want to do the organisational change because they think it will make them more money. 

The best way to manage the chaotic side of change is to make sure that the people affected are looked out for from start to finish. This means being communicative with the change, making the transition easy, and finding ways to show employees how the change is ultimately a good thing for them

Investing in talent development programs is a good start. Getting your most active team members a certificate for the new framework you’re adopting is a popular way to introduce a new framework to the entire team. Start small and address common challenges with proactive best practices and consistent skill-building. 

Conclusion: Change Management vs Project Management

Change management is not a gimmick, and neither are your employees. If adopting a new framework is crucial for your company’s success, pay the extra charge for hiring a change manager. Doing so best guarantees that the framework integration will be easy for your employees. 

Even the best project manager needs to work on managing organisational change while meeting deadlines and keeping up the team’s performance. 

You can think of it this way: you need to hire a proper change manager to avoid losing money in underperforming employees and even resignations.

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