Change management and project management are two crucial disciplines required for executing a successful project or initiative. Both offer the essential framework necessary for smoothly implementing change and achieving the desired results. However, to ensure successful change and to deliver value across all aspects of the project, it's crucial to integrate change management and project management.

Decoding Change Management for IT Project Managers

Change management can mean different things depending on your role. For project managers, it often implies managing changing resources, processes, and people within a project. However, when we talk about change management in the context of Prosci, we're referring to the application of a structured process and tools aimed at managing the people side of change to achieve a desired outcome.

Project delivery has evolved to encompass various iterative approaches to solutions design and development, including Agile, particularly in technology projects. Regardless of the approach, you can adapt change management to work with sequential, iterative, and even hybrid approaches to solutions design, development, and delivery.

The Interplay of Project Management and Change Management

Project management and change management each contribute a critical ingredient to successful change. Although they vary in terms of focus and approach, each discipline is essential to moving your project and people from the transition state to the desired future state. Understanding how each discipline works alongside the other is the first step in achieving a unified value proposition and the strongest foundation possible for your change initiatives.

Change Management: More Than Just Communication

Change management's purpose is clear: to ensure that changes deliver intended results and outcomes by addressing one of the most critical elements of successful change, the people side of change.

Employee adoption and usage are the bridge between a great solution and ultimate results. In practice, change management plays out on several different levels within the organization.

  • Enterprise level - an organizational capability and competency
  • Project level - a benefit-realization and value-creation measure applied on particular initiatives
  • Individual level - an approach for enabling one person to change successfully

The Objective of Change Management at the Project Level

Change management at the project level is about ensuring that a project achieves its intended results and outcomes by supporting the individual transitions required by that project. When a new technology is installed, employees must adopt and use it to deliver value. When a new process is implemented, employees must adopt and use it to deliver value. Project-level change management provides the specific strategies, plans, actions, and steps that focus on impacted employees and work in alignment with a project deployment.

Change management, at the project level, can be applied to any project or initiative that impacts how employees do their jobs. Some changes impact hundreds of employees while others impact thousands. Changes can be driven by external factors, internal factors, or some combination of both. Changes can impact processes, systems, tools, organization structures, or job roles (or any combination thereof). But if a change requires employees to do their jobs differently (by exhibiting new behaviors, following new processes, using new tools), then there is a role for project-level change management.

Understanding Change Management at the Project Level

As change management practitioners, it is crucial that we understand what change management is and, more importantly, how we present what change management is to the project teams we work with.

We could begin with a technical definition:

Change management is the application of a structured process and set of tools to manage the people side of change to achieve a desired outcome.

-Prosci's formal definition of change management

While this is accurate, it may not be the most effective way to describe what change management is if our goal is to build commitment and support for change management. Think about the definition above compared to these:

Change management is a…

  • Benefit-realization tool
  • Way to ensure achievement of results and outcomes
  • Approach for driving greater ROI
  • Vehicle for optimizing adoption and usage
  • Tool for avoiding excessive project cost
  • Approach for mitigating project risk

While these statements don't tell you exactly what change management is, each conveys what change management is in the context of what our audiences (project managers and senior leaders) care about and what concerns them: benefit realization, results, outcomes, ROI, adoption, usage, cost and risk.

So, to answer the question, "What is change management at the project level?" we need to know who we are speaking to. To the project managers and senior leaders we are working to engage, change management is a solution to a problem they are experiencing (such as projects not delivering intended results and outcomes). When defining change management to a change management practitioner, change management is the structured approach for creating a strategy to drive employee adoption and usage, so projects achieve intended results and outcomes.

Implementing Change Management at the Project Level

While the best definition of change management might vary depending on the audience, benchmarking research indicates some fairly straightforward steps for applying change management at the project level. Here are four tips for getting started on applying change management:

1. Apply a structured methodology

Over the last decade, the discipline of change management has evolved and matured. The "soft and fuzzy" side of change is now addressed with rigor, structure, process, and tools. Using a structured methodology helps you be direct and targeted and helps you avoid missing key considerations.

2. Customize and scale your approach

In change management, one size does not fit all. The change management strategy and plans for an incremental change impacting 50 employees will look very different than the plans for a radical transformation impacting 5,000 employees. You can follow a similar change management process, but the resulting outputs must be scaled and customized based on the change itself and those being impacted.

3. Dedicate (or find) a resource

If no one is assigned to change management, chances are it won't get done. Prosci's research shows a direct correlation between having a dedicated resource and change management effectiveness. A dedicated resource provides focus and a single point of contact. The resource can be someone on the team or someone supporting the team, but there needs to be someone focusing on change management.

4. Work in collaboration with the project team

Change management cannot be applied at the project level in a vacuum without engagement from the project team. Clearly articulate the relationship between the project team and change management resources. Define the roles and responsibilities. Work deliberately to create a partnership with a singular goal in mind--delivering the intended results and outcomes of the project.

Apply Change Management to Organizational Projects and Initiatives

At the project level, change management is a benefit-realization and value-creation measure applied on particular initiatives. It is a structured approach to create customized and scaled strategies and plans to drive employee adoption and usage. It is a way to ensure that a project achieves intended benefits and outcomes, realizes ROI, mitigates costs and risks, and creates value. It is a way to ensure that projects and initiatives are more successful.

Correlating Change Management with Outcomes

If you are a change management professional, you are well aware of the pivotal role your work plays in achieving successful project results and desired outcomes. But sharing what you do, how well you do it, and even how much people will benefit usually isn't enough for executives, project leaders, and other decision makers. You need to talk about what you deliver in tangible terms. To give you support, including resources and budget, leaders want data.

Prosci's benchmarking studies offer the data and insights you need to substantiate your ideas and present a compelling case for change management. During the most recent Best Practices in Change Management research study, Prosci asked more than 2,600 change practitioners these key questions:

  • To what degree did the project meet objectives?
  • To what degree was the project on schedule?
  • To what degree was the project on budget?
  • What is the overall effectiveness of your change management program?

Analyzing their responses, Prosci correlated data from the final question on change management effectiveness with the three dimensions of project success: meeting objectives, staying on schedule, and staying on budget. The result? The more effectively they managed the people side of change, the better the outcomes.

The Importance of Early Integration of Change Management

To see how integration takes place, let's consider a business improvement process and a change management process. At a high level, most business improvement changes (TQM, BPR, Six Sigma, reorganization, etc.) contain five phases:

  • Project initiation
  • Project definition and planning
  • Project implementation
  • Project measurement and control
  • Project close

Although the change management process will vary according to the methodology you choose, the same five areas above are represented:

  • Phase 1 - Prepare Approach
  • Phase 2 - Manage Change
  • Phase 3 - Sustain Outcomes

When integrating change management with your project management approach, your starting point changes what you do first. If you begin change management when you begin your project, you are able to integrate the change management steps into the project steps. If change management comes in much later in a project, you'll have to implement change management much differently.

The Value of Early Integration of Change Management

Although integrating change management can add value at virtually any time in the project lifecycle, maximizing potential benefits requires an early start. If you start at project initiation, you can increase your project's return on investment while avoiding many of the costs and risks that have long-term impacts on your organization, including missed milestones, budget overruns, employee resistance, and much more.


Change management is an essential discipline that focuses on the people side of change. By integrating it with project management, organizations can ensure that both the technical and people aspects of a change are addressed, leading to a higher likelihood of project success. Whether change management is introduced at the beginning of a project or added later in the process, it plays a pivotal role in helping organizations navigate change and achieve their desired outcomes.