Project Managers and Change: A Paradox

Almost every project brings about change.  Extensive thought, time, and effort related to managing change is (and should be) part of a project’s scope.  It’s essential to understand not just the goal of a project, but how an organization’s people and processes may be impacted by that goal, whether negatively or positively.

Project ManagementResistance to change is natural, even if the change ahead promises great results.  A key success factor for delivering a project is to deal effectively with change, and experienced project managers are often heard reiterating and emphasizing the importance of change management to project success. And therein lies the rub.

As astonishing as it may seem, I’ve noticed that project managers are often some of the most change resistant individuals in an organization.  Have you ever suggested to an experienced IT PM, “hey, why not leave waterfall behind and give agile a try?”; or  try suggesting to a colleague, “You know that project charter template that we’ve been using for the last 15 years? Time to move on”.

But when you do…be prepared for some serious change resistance. Many project managers and leaders benefit greatly from re-use.  Templates applicable for one project typically port over to the next project.  And this is done with no small measure of success.  So it’s natural to stick with what you know.  It worked before, it will work again.  But before you know it, years have passed and you’re still using the same templates, same tools, same approaches.

I understand the perspective which advocates, “if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it”.  It’s a perfectly fine perspective.  Adequate, one might say.  In fact, it speaks to the very essence of adequacy.  Or, mediocrity, some might argue.  It certainly doesn’t inspire one to run off and, say, innovate?  Create?  Improve?

And yes, I’m being deliberately provocative.

I embrace best practices, tried and true techniques, and “lessons learned” as much as next guy or gal.  But can anyone realistically say that there is never room for improvement?  That the methods and tools and processes that they’ve been using for the past 10, 15, 20 years are still providing the best possible value to today’s projects?

Technology and innovation continue to push us further, to do more, achieve more.  Today, I can talk to my watch, and have it check my calendar, set up an appointment, send a message, and create a reminder. Without having to type, swipe, tap, or press a single button.  As project managers and project leaders, what are you doing differently now than 10 years ago?  What new techniques, practices, approaches have you used to deliver better project outcomes?

I understand the comfort and confidence in doing things in a familiar way because “it works”.  But to truly bring value to our projects, we should be challenging ourselves to ask the question, “can it work better?”