Rita Mallius: Project + change + communications = 6 learnings on how to manage the big picture

Communications is the most important tool a project manager has. If the manager does not ask, listen, tell and guide, the project is likely to fail before it even starts. This type of internal project communications is needed to run the project and is usually a well-known part of project manager’s daily work.

Often things get tricky when you need to manage and communicate changes to those affected by the project and whose work might even change. Who should manage the change caused by the project, and at which phase communications is needed? How change management is tied into project management? How to make sure the aimed benefits are reached?

I joined CCEA recently and got the opportunity to work in a project where we build a change management and communications model for our global customer. The model is based on the best practices identified by CCEA, and includes processes, instructions and templates to be utilized in various project phases. Below, I have gathered my most important learnings from this project.

1. Tie the change management and communications assessment, planning and execution into the project management model. Ensure that in the early phases of the project, it is evaluated why the project is executed and who it will affect. Take care that the change management and communications are resourced, planned, and tied with the project’s decision points.

2. Concentrate on the big picture: processes, roles, and responsibilities. If you are missing the big picture, ad-hoc change management and communications plans rarely improve overall quality. Define the responsibilities of the project manager and change management specialist. Do not expect everything from the project manager.

3. Understand that the needed level of change management and communications does not correlate with the complexity of the project. Assess the need by asking, how deeply the project will impact on people’s daily life. To succeed, does the project need changes in ways of working, mindset, or skills?

4. Do not reinvent the wheel. Create explicit templates for change management and communications. Gather typical stakeholders, change management means and communications channels of the organization, and integrate them into the plan templates. It is much easier to delete the unnecessary ones, than to start from a blank.

5. Listen, ask for help and collaborate. Engage project employees and change management supporters in building up the model. Ask for feedback and develop the model based on experience.

6. Take the model as a part of people’s daily work. Everyone needs to understand the purpose and practices of change management. Depending solely on instructions and guidelines rarely lead to top results. Educate, reinforce, and help others to understand.