Improve ROI By Integrating Change Management with Projects

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How To Integrate Change Management with Project Management

How often do we see projects not realize their full Return on Investment (ROI) because people didn’t accept the new change? It happens a lot.  Studies show 70% of change management initiatives don’t hit their objectives.

Change management, the methodology of increasing adoption while decreasing resistance works best when included with project management.  Integrating them together creates a powerful force to hit project objectives by including user adoption techniques. Need an introduction to change management? Review this article.

If change management is done outside of a project, it doesn’t have the structure and may not get the sponsorship and resources to overcome resistance to change. If projects are done without change management, the project will not have the expertise to advise, measure and ensure the project outcomes actually happen.

A 2015 Prosci study shows that “Enhanced integration with project management” is one of the top three change management trends. “Aligning change management with project process and improvement methodologies” over the next 5 years will continue to be a trend. As of 2017, only 30% of projects apply change management.

How Do We Integrate Project Management & Change Management?

Once we understand the importance of merging change management and project management, we need to see how we can do this.  This article gives the fundamental areas to include in a people change. I’ll provide an overview of some of the key pieces of change management I’ve found helpful to include in project documents and plans. The areas I will focus on are change management highlights in the 5 project areas as defined by Project Management Institute (PMI):

  • Conception & Initiation
  • Planning
  • Launch
  • Monitor & Control
  • Project Close

For simplicity, I’ve described waterfall and not agile projects, as most project managers are familiar with the traditional waterfall methods.  The change management concepts reviewed here can be applied to agile projects. Integrating project and change management creates a powerful tool for a successful change.

Conception & Initiation

Integrating project and change management creates a powerful tool for a successful change.

Image shows how to integrate change management into projects


Project Charter

Bringing change management in at the conception of a project increase the odds for success. The project charter, which captures the sense of urgency for the project, lays out the:

  • Scope
  • Objectives/Critical Success Factors
  • Measures
  • Risks
  • Dependencies
  • Project description
  • Sponsorship
  • Expected ROI

User adoption goals and how adoption will be measured needs to be included in the charter.  This will help ensure new products, services, or processes are not just implemented, but are embraced by the teams impacted by them.

In addition, the charter is typically approved and sometimes written by the Sponsor. Change Managers will need to work closely with sponsors on urgency communications, expected behaviors for the impacted groups and creating a group of influencing senior leaders to lead change. Therefore, Change Managers working with the Sponsor at the start is an important key to success.

Project Initiation

Project Initiation activities are also important to success. Partnering with the change manager during this phase will ensure all estimates in the other phases are planned and executed correctly.  For this article, I will provide the key components I have used in project initiation. Some activities a change manager will do are:

  • Assess the size and nature of the change
  • Assess the project team change management skills
  • Run impact assessments
  • Ensure clear roles and responsibilities (i.e., RACI chart) are set between team members


Along with project planning, change management has several plans that are typically used in implementations.  Having the time to plan prior to jumping into implementation will save the team a lot of headaches. Too often, change management is brought in after the charter and planning, which makes any work far less impactful. Remember, we don’t want to be in the 70% of change initiatives that fail.

The change management budget and milestones are probably obvious additions to the project.  Also, a communications plan will be needed to determine who, where, when, what and how users receive information about the new change.

Risk Management

Risk management in the Planning phase is about what the team thinks could happen and planning out mitigation or contingency plans. From a change management perspective, there will always be a resistance risk.  Change managers plan from the beginning for resistance to change.  Even if little is known about the project at this time, you can bet that there will be people who will not adopt the changes.  Brainstorming early will help with budget and scope estimations. It will also help with the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) as well as what will be needed for the Communication & Training Plans. Inevitably, a new resistance comes up as things changes during launch and the sooner the team can focus on the obvious risks now, the more they can focus on the new adoption challenges.  This will increase overall adoption rates for the project.

Communication Plan

The communication plan is a very important part of getting people to embrace change. John Kotter, in his book Leading Change, calls out that people leading change must create a sense of urgency, or the transformation will fail. Check out his video on establishing a sense of urgency. See his video to learn more.

The change manager has employee facing roles since their role is to increase adoption.  They work with the sponsor(s)/senior executives to help them communicate to the organization. In addition, they work with middle managers and supervisors, who can influence both upward to management and down to their teams.  Both are important because they are influencers that employees want to hear from and ask questions to. Senior executives and middle managers deliver communications, coach and support teams through the change to realize the future state of benefits. Communication plans that focus on delivering information through these communicators are more successful because employees know and care what senior executives and their managers have to say.

Training Plan

Change management for many people will be new.  Having a training plan is very important. The change manager helps people build competency in leading change. This includes the project team, sponsor, senior leadership and people managers. The change manager is the trainer and coach, using training tools to help build change management competencies.

With most companies cutting training resources, a Training Plan is important to drive adoption. We have probably all received a new system or process at some point in our careers, with no training and have been left to figure out how it works. That’s an inefficient use of people’s time. Investing in getting people quickly up to speed will, either by building intuitive tools or providing training, be much more efficient.

As a simple example, let’s say a new system is put into place for a project manager (who costs the company $100/ hr) to add a team member to their project management system. When it rolls out, it takes 45 minutes to add each team member because there was no funding for automatic information from the financial or HR systems. When we cut that time down to 3 minutes, we save $28K per Project Manager per year, when they add 8 people to their team. If we expand that out to a very large Project Management or Deployment Group, where there is an average of 35 project managers doing this daily, we save $980K, close to a million dollars and, as an added bonus, engagement goes up. Teaching project teams about rolling out inefficient systems can make a large impact on an organization!


The WBS (Work Breakdown Structure) details out the objectives and deliverables of the work that needs to get done. Change management milestones and deliverables need to be included.  Weaving change management plans into the overall project plan enables one seamless project plan. The change management team or manager is another part of the overall project.

Launch (also called Execution)

The launch phase is often where people will jump into a project, if they are not following project management best practices. Without going through the previous areas, the implementation success rate is more likely to fail.

Status & Tracking, KPIs, Quality & Forecasts

Checking project status and tracking deliverables are a big part of project launch, to ensure hitting the launch date, scope and budget.  From a change management perspective, all of the deliverables are tracked and status updates are also provided. One of the key deliverables is the adoption rate. A high adoption rate is desired and if the assessments, risk management, stakeholder management and other planning was done well, we’ll see the results in the launch phase. The goal is to have high enough adoption to deliver benefits and to ensure the change is sustainable after the project ends.

Monitor & Control Process

The Monitor & Control Process goes throughout the Launch phase.  The goal is to monitor performance measures and if there are gaps, to adjust work as needed.

Often, the “change control” process gets confused with change management. I’d like to clarify here that in Monitoring and Controlling, “change control” refers to change requests.  Change requests are the outputs of adjustments that are needed when there is a gap.  For example, if there is a budget gap, a change request would address how to close the gap by perhaps increasing the budget.

It helps to remember that change management is about the people side of change.  Change control is about managing the changes in the project.

Remember reading about Roles & Responsibilities?  This is one of the reasons it is important to have clear roles and what each team member is expected to be doing. A change manager may have to train the team on what a change manager does, as project teams often, understandably, confuse change management with change control.

Project Close

Yay! The project is ending. Change management work, ideally wants to end to. While the project team transitions the new future state to the operations or support teams, change managers transition differently.

Since change management is about people adopting the change, there is risk that once the project ends, people will go back to their old ways of working.  The transition the change manager does is to transition the new processes and behaviors to the people managers, with support from a CMO (Change Management Organization) to ensure standards continue to be met across the organization.

Lessons Learned

The project team will run a Lessons Learned exercise in the Project Close phase.  Lessons learned, also called After Action Reviews (AAR) or Post Mortem Reviews, collect key learnings to share with other projects.

For example, I once had a project that was international, which was new for the project managers in the group. In this project, a CPG business project for the famous TWIX® Peanut Butter brand, ingredients for a recipe got stuck in customs and went bad. This, and other similar incidents in the project, were captured in the Lessons Learned Meeting.  The team realized that there was no expertise in the company to help project teams with international logistics.  Escalating this up to senior management with a recommendation to create a new role to help project teams resulted in all project teams gaining an international resource. The next year, project teams started working on international projects, bringing in or exporting brands made in other countries!

Lessons Learned, while often skipped, can be of immense value to the organization.  Change management learnings, which focus on the people side of change will add efficiency, increase engagement, reduce cost and ensure projects can bring about the benefits they have worked hard to achieve.


In conclusion, 70% of change projects don’t have to fail. Integrating change management with change or transformation projects will improve our project benefits.

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