Project Managers ARE Change Agents

This week’s post has been written by my friend and colleague, Laura Barnard, in response to my post last week.

Laura is the Founder and CEO of PMO Strategies, the host of PMO Strategies Podcast and the Founder of PMO IMPACT Summit.  In 2021, she was named the Top Global PMO Influencer, the only award of its kind, by the PMO Global Alliance. She is also a contributor to www.ProjectBites.com.

She responded quickly to my post entitled “Project Managers Are NOT Change Agents”.  Well said….

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Hmmm….I see it differently…

Project managers are the facilitators of change and need to be successful in the eyes of the business leaders, they need to be able to bring people together to do the change together:  with people instead of to people. They absolutely ARE agents of change if they are doing it right.

I agree that they don’t OWN the change (the sponsor, product owner, or business owner own the change), but they are the facilitators of that change by bringing the people together to focus them on making that change a reality – from the leaders in the organization through to the people doing the work.

Only one person has their hand on all the pieces. The project manager knows how it all comes together and can see the whole chess board – knowing what pieces must move where for this project to not simply achieve outputs (a.k.a. deliverables), but also achieve outcomes.  

That’s what business leaders want to see – outcomes, not just outputs. Outputs don’t guarantee the project was worth doing or that anyone will benefit from what was created from those outputs – if we focus too much on checking the boxes of creating deliverables. Outcomes that achieve the business goals – that’s what we’re driving for here. No matter how hard you push people to create outputs, they won’t necessarily get to the right outcomes unless you focus on bringing all the stakeholders and team members through the process with you. From idea to IMPACT – everyone must be aligned toward the goal of getting to results.

As business leaders, educators, consultants, and thought-leaders, we must equip project managers to drive this change – through people. We much teach them how to do it. Abdicating responsibility of the people parts of change leaves the PM only with the role of project administration, box checking, and work machines can do. That PM is replaceable, cheap, and not very valuable. That’s not a leader. That’s a project administrator. Project administrators can be replaced. Project leaders are valuable strategic business assets. They are the IMPACT Drivers of the organization.

There’s art and there’s science to project management. We are all taught the science when we get our certifications. The art is the change management – doing change with people and through them instead of to them. How do you get buy in, attention, support, focus, and results? Change management. Not beating people over the head or chasing them down for status. And certainly not by focusing on outputs.

Organizational change management – the people side of change delivery – is the way PMs stop being task administrators and start being leaders.

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Thank you Laura.

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4 thoughts on “Project Managers ARE Change Agents”

  1. Outputs vs. Outcomes. Makes for interesting conversation. Either way, they need to contribute to the bottom line, and the Strategic Plan. You may not be a Change Agent, but the Stakeholders certainly see you as the overall Ambassador of Change and expect you to drive it to a successful outcome. You authored the Charter, right? It’s all up to you now.

  2. I agree with Laura. I work in IT for a large non-profit with thousands of employees. My job is to run projects that changes IT networks, hosts phones systems, etc. When changing a locations infrastructure we need to be able to work the users and direct them through the fear of change. In many instances these changes affect how they do their work. A lot of times I am the sounding board between the network techs, support techs and the user. Helping them understand each other to make sure that the final product works as needed for the location in which we are implementing it for.

  3. Lorne Boyle, PMP FCMC

    While a project prepares a solution for an organization, change management prepares the organization for the solution.

    Whether Project Managers are change agents or not is the subsidiary question that Ms. Barnard has articulated quite well. It is a business decision on objectives that is the primary question.

    In projects I deliver, I advocate that the change management function MUST be included in the project delivery function. IF improved business outcomes are the desirable project delivery, change management MUST be included in the project’s processes.

    All too often with implementation of a new business process, the project “success” occurs upon software installation. Let’s say, an updated computer system (okay, Billing is a good example) is installed. In many technology projects, success is considered upon software implementation without due regard to validating process support, staff emotions (usually anxiety about the change and exasperation of lost of business productivity) and reinforcement of training skills required to use the new system. I call this the “hand grenade approach to implementation” where the business side (the USERS) of the organization go into a tailspin because they’re unprepared and unsupported to use the new system.

    A project sponsor must accept that a project has scope, schedule and budget as objectives AS WELL AS risk mitigation, quality and benefits for the project within the organization. While it behooves a technology project to implement and leave, I submit you never should implement a technology project; you must always have the business deliverable as the objective. The business deliverable is supported by technology, but no tire shop or international corporation has praised a new billing system, rather what that software can do for the business. This means a project manager has a subsequent project phase AFTER the technical implementation – The additional phase can be called Transition to Operations, Change Reinforcement or even Process Exploitation.

    It is what the sponsor requires that drives a project. If you’re a project ADMINISTRATOR who needs to schedule a system cut over, so be it, but rest assured, there is more work to be done to improve business productivity than software implementation If you’re a project MANAGER, then you must insist that you establish the project to be that agent of change with follow-on phases to validate improved productivity.

    What if your sponsor disagrees to include effort past software or process implementation? Walk away….because your actions will probably set you up to be next candidate to manage the remediation project.

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